Find $10,000 in Your Closet

by Jean Chatzky
Martha Wright in the New York City apartment of Elizabeth Frogel, who helped Wright sell her unwanted designer clothes on eBay. One example: the $2,000 Prada dress Wright is holding. She wore it only once.
Photograph: Photo: Ian Allen

Leslye Fagin is shedding. After separating from her husband two years ago, she sold her house in Marlboro, New Jersey, and built a new one for herself, her daughter and the 84-year-old family friend who lives with them. “I was looking for a fresh beginning, a simpler life. And I needed money to decorate my house,” she says. In particular, she would like to get rid of an impressive amount of jewelry. Some came from her husband, some from her mother, some she bought herself but doesn’t wear anymore. “My priorities have changed,” she says. “Now it’s all excess. And to be honest, I’d rather have the money. It would make me feel more secure.”

We meet at the New York office of a friend of mine who runs a jewelry-buying business. We tell him we don’t necessarily plan to sell the pieces to him, but we want to get a sense of their value from two or three experts. (Buyers, unlike appraisers who aren’t in the buying business, will quote a purchase price for free.) As Fagin lays out dozens of rings, bracelets, pins and necklaces on the counter, it becomes clear which mean the most to her: There’s a pair of spiral-patterned diamond earrings from designer Jose Hess, some diamond-accented Roberto Coin gold earrings (“They’re beautiful, but too much for the life I live now,” she says) and a heavy David Yurman gold necklace with a diamond clasp (“I remember buying this for $8,000; I loved it, but it feels wasteful to leave it sitting in a drawer when someone could enjoy it”).

My friend takes out his scale and sorts the items into piles: 14 karat gold, 18 karat gold, sterling silver, designer and not. Then he breathes deeply and says, “What you have here, for the most part, is only worth its weight.” Minus, of course, the cost of the labor to melt down the gold or resell the piece (up to 10 percent) and a 20 to 30 percent profit for the dealer. Fagin is disappointed; she feels he isn’t giving the brand names enough of a premium. She was hoping for $3,500 for the Yurman necklace, but he offers $2,000. If it were Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels, it would be a different story, he explains. He presents Fagin with the amount he would pay for the lot: $11,000, including $1,500 for the Roberto Coin earrings and $900 for the Jose Hess earrings.

Fagin’s confidence is shaken. “I don’t know if I’ll sell anything,” she says. “I don’t feel right letting these pieces go to people who don’t appreciate what they’re getting.” Then she remembers why she’s there. “Of course, it doesn’t make sense to hold on to things I’ll never wear again just because I think the sale number should be higher. I’d rather have the money.” Around the corner at Circa (circajewels.com), which deals primarily with used jewelry and operates nationwide, we go through much the same process. The buyer sorts and tests the metals, then makes an offer: $2,500 for the Yurman, $17,000 for everything. “I’m sooooo happy!” Fagin exclaims.

The difference in offers most likely lies in the fact that since Circa buys so much jewelry, its buyers arrive at a price based not just on weight and brand name but also on the design of a piece; they will offer more for items that are particularly beautiful or unusual, which pleases Fagin. In the end, she sells the Yurman necklace plus a dozen assorted pieces with no sentimental value, for a total of $6,200. Circa says it will make good on its offer for the remaining items anytime, and Fagin intends to go back. “It’s like having an insurance policy,” she says.

To sell your own jewelry, get bids from three dealers, but check with your local Better Business Bureau first to make sure they have no history of complaints. (This is important. The week we were out selling, New York State Representative Anthony Weiner called for an investigation into Cash4Gold, which buys through the mail, alleging that the company pays only 11 to 29 percent of the actual value of gold sent to it.) And understand that no store wants to be your first stop, for fear that you’ll use its offer to leverage a better one elsewhere. So don’t let the dealers know their place in the order of visits. In addition:

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Comments

Melissa Gans05.11.2011

I guess I don't see how a $1,348 return on a $15,000 investment is "still good money." The article seems to caution readers against spending too much on clothing that you may only wear once. So much for finding $10,000 in your closet.

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