NEW YORK-Current high prices of precious metals, the weak dollar, and hard economic times are increasing public awareness that money is gold. Radio ads implore listeners to buy gold because of its steady value. Television spots hawk a gold testing kit so gold owners can test and weigh their own, taking advantage of gold's current high price. Traditionally, gold bullion (not coins) can be a stable if not dividend-paying investment.
It's not the only thing adding weight to what some observers are calling "the 21st-century gold rush." Gold parties are popping up-where charities and others raise money by recycling unneeded gold into coins or bullion for resale. Some come to buy and some come with a jewelry box full of broken necklace chains, lockets, or other gold trinkets they will never again wear. Websites advertise how to host a party and where to attend one.
At a recent gold party in New York, organizer Andrea Kampfner tested my wedding band. The custom, one-of-a-kind, chunky 18-carat gold ring weighed in at something around $160. But an item's weight in gold often can't compensate for sentimental value.
Gold market experts say it's important to educate yourself before buying or selling gold: In other words, avoid the companies that want to buy your gold and sell you a widescreen TV. Visit at least three, maybe five reputable dealers for estimates. Most importantly, they say, don't send your gold to one of many online services until you have gotten a fair and reliable estimate.
Americans surprisingly have trouble viewing gold as money, as many cultures have for thousands of years. The process of buying and selling precious metals seems to be shrouded in mystery and risky. In Asia, and particularly the Middle East, its value and stability are readily recognized: Small pieces of gold are commonly given as gifts to newlyweds, and at christenings or bar mitzvahs.
Reputable gold investors will sell increments as small as 1 gram (valued at $30-$40). Halach Gold, as one example, runs a program called 401g that allows its clients to set up a direct deposit similar to a retirement program, where shares of gold are purchased with each pay check. One big difference: Investors receive an actual piece of gold.
-James Allen Walker is a freelance photographer who keeps a blog of his assignments at WorldOntheRoad.com
The client/seller watches as the gold is tested and weighed.
The weight and purity are recorded and the client is paid.
A technician cuts hollow pieces in half and removes gems and non-gold items before melting.
Each piece of jewelry is tested for gold content and purity.
Gold jewelry ready for melting.
This electric melting machine supplies the almost 2000˚ Fahrenheit required to reach gold's melting point.
The molten gold is then poured into an ingot mold.
The resulting bar, because it was made of different qualities (12k to 22k), also contains other metals and will need to be analyzed by the foundry where it will be purified and turned into .999 pure gold bullion for resale.