"The high price of gold is a big deal and a big factor in the economy as a whole right now. You can't help but notice it, and people should be aware of what's going on right now," said Terri Hurley, owner of Bo's Jewelry and Pawn Shop.
White-collar workers, retirees and many others are digging through jewelry boxes and safety deposit boxes to cash in as gold prices flirt with $1,000 an ounce. Coins, old wedding rings, necklaces given by ex-boyfriends, hand-
me-down gold pieces -- everything is fair game when it brings this kind of profit.
Shop owners across the country are marveling about the phenomenon they say began in the latter part of 2007 and accelerated through the winter, reflecting torrid gold demand like none had ever seen. There are even gold parties, where people gather to sell their jewelry.
"It's time. If you got that stuff that's broken or are never gonna wear, what's it doing in your jewelry box? Get something new or sell it and take your family out for supper," said Sam Thomas, owner of Sam's Fine Jewelry in Sikeston.
While Thomas doesn't actually buy gold, when customers trade in their gold jewelry, he will send it into the refinery for them, he said.
"People are going through their stuff to find out if it is real gold," said Hurley, who added many items thought to be real gold are actually gold plated, gold vermeil (gold plated over sterling silver) or gold filled.
Thomas cautioned consumers to be careful of where they go to cash in their gold.
"A lot of places will give you less than what you should get," Thomas said. The price of a piece of a gold item is determined by its weight. For example, the current price of gold is for pure gold but a 10-karat piece of gold is 41.7 percent gold, Thomas said. If it's contaminated, it would be less, he said. Hurley said she uses an acid test to determine whether a piece of gold is the real deal.
In terms of gold being brought in for sale, Hurley said her Sikeston business has seen lots of broken jewelry and old jewelry not being worn anymore.
"As far as those reacting to this gold price, we're seeing everybody of all walks of life. It's not so much of a money need but to take advantage so they can get a higher price. It's a wise financial decision to sell when the price of gold is at its highest," Hurley said.
Gale Wessling, owner of Ready Cash Payday Loans in Sikeston, said now is the time to buy and sell gold -- not buy it and keep it.
"I would say go through your jewelry box and things you don't want and may not think are worth anything may very well be worth something," Wessling said.
Wessling said there has been some increase of traffic in his shop.
"I've noticed some increase of scrap gold -- not boxes of it but rings and necklaces here and there."
Wessling, who has been buying and selling gold, silver and diamonds for 35 years, said he remembers the 1980s when gold prices were record-breaking. "We thought years ago gold was done, but there were more people selling gold when it went up to $400 or $500 than today because what has happened is those people sold their class rings that were 10-karat gold," the small investor said. "Now they don't have it because the age of these kids now, their rings aren't real gold. Now they don't have that kind of gold to sell."
Wessling said he predicted 60 days ago, the price of gold would go over $1,000.
"Now it will start going back down. Where the oil goes that's where gold goes. If oil is higher, gold is higher," Wessling said.
But some think the price may go up to $2,000 and $3,000 an ounce, Wessling noted, adding the price of gold a year ago in March was $650 an ounce.
Pawn and jewelry shops have seen a trend of people selling gold and gold scraps for some time now -- not only because of the increase in the price of gold but because of a rise in the cost of living. Factors like high gas prices have contributed to more people selling their gold jewelry, Hurley said.
"It's sad," Hurley said. "Some people are selling their jewelry just to make money to feed themselves, and so they have to get rid of things. It's a tough economy. It really is."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.