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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Gold? Sold.


I love driving away from the charity shop, both my car and my conscience lighter than when I set out. Dropping off a whopping great bag of dust gathering knickknacks and clothes I'll never wear again is, for me, a truly cathartic experience. Knowing that someone else might get some use or pleasure out of said rejects, and that the money earned is for a good cause are both a bonus. But what I really like is the space where once there was clutter. The absence of things that I neither want nor need.

A dreaded drawer of useless clutter.
Funnily enough, however, I have never embarked on a selling kick. Once I decide I don't want something, I like to see it off the premises as swiftly as is humanly possible. I don't really have the patience to take pictures of it looking pretty, put it on EBay, wait for someone to buy it, and then schlep off down to the Post Office, most likely all for a measly profit. Sounds like a mug's game to me, even though I know full well that people make tidy little sums from doing just that.

So, this blog is all about my first experience of selling something. For the first time in my life I came out of a shop better off than I was when I went in. I suspect this will not happen many times in my life, so I'm glad to have an excuse to note it down for posterity.

For my 21st birthday, my then-boyfriend gave me a matching necklace and bracelet, in white gold.  Said boyfriend had persuaded my best friend on a FOUR HOUR shopping trip to help him choose it. During this shopping trip he forbade her from entering any clothes shops, but browsed in a camera shop for a good 45 minutes. On the way back, she asked if he'd wait whilst she popped into the supermarket. He said he didn't have time and left her to catch a bus. After all that, he'd chosen the jewellery on his own anyway. Unsurprisingly, my friend was not impressed.

I of course, was VERY impressed. WHITE GOLD? It was undoubtedly the most expensive present I'd ever received from a boyfriend. The necklace didn't half catch at those little hairs at the back of my neck, but I was besotted and wore it non-stop. Until he dumped me, when I took it off, put it, and the bracelet, back in the box, and forgot about it as swiftly as I could. It's been in the box, in a drawer at my mum's house, for nearly ten years. Every now and again I'd get it out and wonder what the heck to do with it. There is no pain associated with that relationship now, but no sentimentality either. We were a highly unlikely couple, and I was the only one who couldn't see it.

Blah blah blah. The necklace. On a whim, I decided to try and sell it, just to see what it felt like. 

The offending necklace, in use.

Once upon a time the small Spanish town of Estepona was all about family businesses; cafeterías, bakeries, boutiques for older ladies and quirky little jewellery shops selling a mix of antiques and modern pieces. Then, suddenly, between last summer and this Christmas, the WE BUY GOLD stores appeared. Not one or two of them, but at least six, with their gaudy signs and security windows. They look alien and ugly in this gentle place, a sign of the terrible times that have hit Spain during the current economic crisis. I feel an inherent distaste for places that seem to take advantage of people's encroaching poverty in order to make a fast profit. But then again, if selling an old piece of precious metal means the difference between having a family Christmas or not, maybe these places are not such a bad thing. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been selling something simply out of curiosity, and because I had no desire to keep it.

So, down in Estepona, mum and I trotted into the first of the big gold buying shops. I handed the necklace across the counter (protected by bullet-proof glass, of course) and we watched as the man set about rubbing the chain on a stone, leaving a faint orange scuff. Intriguing.  Then he took a little glass vial from his alchemist kit, and dripped some clear liquid onto the stone. The scuff made by the necklace disappeared. He repeated the process, dripping liquid from a second vial. Same again. Then again, from a third. By this time, mum and I had our noses pressed right up against the glass. “What” she asked, “has to happen, exactly?”

The alchemist´s equipment.

“I'm testing for the quality of the gold” he explained. "The little mark made by the gold has to stay on the stone.” He turned the vials towards us. The first said 18k. The second, 14k, the third, 9k. “The mark almost stays with the 9k solution, but it fades a bit, meaning this is pretty poor quality gold, just under nine karats. And it's very light too” he said, putting the necklace and bracelet derisively on his little scales. The $ signs disappeared from before my eyes, and mum and I whispered a synchronised “cheapskate” under our breaths. We were referring, or course, to the old boyfriend, rather than the gold guy.

Not quite nine karats. Get it?
“So, what's it worth?” I asked. He explained that he wasn't really allowed to buy gold that was under nine karats. He might be able to get authorisation from the big boss, but he could probably only give us €70, max. I was unimpressed, especially since the rubbing against the stone had buckled the delicate necklace so that it didn't have much value as a piece of jewellery anymore, either. “You could try the other places” he said, “they might give you a better price. If not, come back to me.”

This seemed sensible, so mum and I went round the corner to shop number two. Shop number two wouldn't touch my just-under-nine-karat-nonsense with a dirty barge pole. In shop number three, we had to queue behind a lady who was selling something for €450. She looked deeply sad when the gold purchaser wished her felices fiestas, happy holidays, and I was reminded that I really didn't have to worry about what I made from the necklace. This guy was also unimpressed with my flimsy offering, but proposed €50. I may have been relaxed about the price, but I wasn't quite silly enough to take €20 less than I'd already been offered. So, as is so often the case when shopping around, we ended up back at the place we started.

The necklace is admonished for being significantly under weight.

“No one else buys nine karat” I lied, demonstrating my clearly superior bartering instincts. He weighed the gold again, made a quick phone call, and we agreed on the €70. I suspect my ex-boyfriend paid slightly more than this in H. Samuel, back in the day, but there was no way in hell I was going home with the jewellery in my bag. I handed over my ID and the gold guy tapped away at his computer. Meanwhile, I asked mum to take some pictures with my phone. We snapped me in front of the sign:


Apparently these people buy gold. Who´d have thought it?


Signed, sealed, delivered.
We snapped the tools, and the jewellery sitting on the scales. When we snapped me signing the contract, the guy couldn't help himself. “You two really do like to keep memories of everything, don't you?” “Oh yes” we agreed, “now just hold still and smile whilst you hand over the cash.” I think he'll remember us.

I felt lighter when I left, and not just because I wasn´t carrying the necklace, which I think we have established didn't weigh very much. I suppose part of me wishes someone else could have found pleasure in wearing it, but there's also some magic in the idea of it being melted down and made into something new. Hopefully it will meet some other white gold and will be able to get over its complex about being so flimsy. It is probably too much to hope that it ever knows the glory of being greater than nine karats, but I certainly hope that its next incarnation is worn or enjoyed, and that it doesn't find its way back to a drawer too soon.

The gold guy gamely poses for a pic.

As for me, I have €70 sitting in my wallet and just dying to be spent on something that I'll really enjoy.



And, should the need ever arise, I now know that I have the killer instincts required to sell off the silver candlesticks for a tremendous profit. Or maybe not. 

Sixteen down, fourteen to go…