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Gold bricks and coins, displayed by Wilshire Coin in Santa Monica. With the economy in the dumps and gold at an all-time high, many peopel are selling old jewelry for cash. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — The days have been noticeably busier in Michael Kurt’s jewelry store lately.

The president of Jewels by Kurt on Wilshire Boulevard has for the past four months seen an influx of people selling their jewelry, hoping to make some money as the price of gold surges when the economic crisis deepens.

The business, which has been in operation since 1963 at the same location between Fourth and Fifth streets, purchases jewelry and will hold on to the article for 30 days before altering it in any way. The store produces its own merchandise.

Kurt said that he has seen a 150-200 percent increase in the amount of people inquiring about selling their gold.

“Since I’m a manufacturer, I need metals,” he said.

The trend has similarly been experienced by other jewelers and buyers over the past several months during which time the price of gold hit a high of more than $1,000 an ounce. Commercials for businesses such as Cash4Gold, to which jewelry can be sold through the mail, has added to the recent gold craze.

“People are needing money and along with that gold hasn’t been this high for a very long time,” Margaret Olsen, an accredited senior appraiser for the American Society of Appraisers, said. “Back in January 1980, gold reached a high of $850 and it has wallowed doing nothing for a very long time.

“Here we are 29 years later and gold was over $1,000 an ounce.”

While still up 6.6 percent from last year, the price of gold has dipped in recent days. Gold for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped 10 cents down to $942.50 an ounce.

But business remains busy at places like Wilshire Coin Exchange, which has seen more sellers coming into the 62-year-old store over the past two years.

“Whenever the price jumps up as considerably as it has recently or whenever we see a short-term increase, it picks up,” Glenn Sorgenstein, the CEO of Wilshire Coin Exchange, said.

The store, which is located off of Ninth Street and Wilshire Boulevard, operates on a two-way market, selling everything that it purchases.

The reasons for why customers sell their jewelry ranges from the economic to emotional.

“We hear everything from I was laid off to I’m taking advantage of a high price to a lot of young single women who said they broke up with their boyfriend and want to get rid of their stuff,” Sorgenstein said.

Among their regulars is Michael Weissian, a Montebello resident who started coming eight years ago to sell jewelry that he purchases through the Pennysaver.

Weissian said he is wary of mail-in businesses.

“I’d rather talk to a person live rather than put something in the mail,” he said.

In the two years since it was founded, Cash4Gold has become one of the largest buyers of gold jewelry from the public, conducting more than 700,000 transactions, according to a company spokesman.

“The customer satisfaction rating is extremely high, more than 93 percent of its customers cash their checks and even those who ask for their jewelry back have received a free appraisal of the precious metal content of their jewelry,” the company said.

Cash4Gold has recently been scrutinized in press reports that claim the company does not offer the full appraised value of jewelry that is mailed in, arguing that consumers might be better served opting for other sources.

The company stated that it purchases gold for its melt value and not for resale, adding that people who prefer not to visit pawn shops or jewelry stores to sell their unwanted gold benefit from the mail-in option.

“The company has made it clear in its public statements and on its Web site that it is not always the best price option for all customers,” Cash4Gold said. “Pawn shops and jewelry stores may pay more because they can resell the pieces.”

Those who are interested in selling their jewelry might want to educate themselves about the appraisal process before letting go of their valuables, including checking to see the price of gold, Olsen said.

Olsen also suggested checking the stamp on the back of the jewelry for the karats, pointing out that 24 karat gold is .999 pure, while 18 karat is .750 pure, 14 karat .583 pure and 10 karat gold .417 pure. Gold from other countries might not be as pure as indicated on the stamp, she warned.

Sellers should also check the reputation of the buyer.

“You want to do some research and homework to find out who you’re dealing with,” she said.

melodyh@smdp.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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