Professional gold buyers sometimes insist that if a piece of jewelry is stamped "18-carat," for instance, that means it must be 18 carats.

"I say, 'I'm sorry, sir, I understand your concern, but somebody who made that piece of jewelry 40 years ago screwed you," Williams says.

Because of the high price of gold, people are melting down items that appear to be valuable — but difficult-to-sell — antiques.

Gold prices reached a record high of $1,266 per troy ounce last month.
Gold prices reached a record high of $1,266 per troy ounce last month.
Jim Clark
Jim Clark

"I've seen beautiful sets of sterling flatware, tea sets — real Americana," he says. "Nobody buys pocket watches anymore. The crap gets melted down."

If a financial meltdown occurs, or the price of gold keeps soaring upward, people may wish they had held on to their spare gold. For sure, the folks who bought gold a few years ago are happy they still own it.

Paul Thompson of Coins N Things remembers chatting with a customer in the late 1990s who had just cashed in his 401(k), sold his house, and put "every penny" into gold and silver.

"He was convinced that the world — the economy as we knew it — would be coming to an end," Thompson says. "I listened to him, but I was kind of hoping for me and my children's sake that he was wrong."

The collapse never came. But with gold at about $300 an ounce back then, "looking back now, he's done quite well."

Time will tell whether those buying gold now, at four times that price, will also do well — or face a personal financial crisis when the market crashes.

As hundreds who bought precious metals from Clark and Unkefer can attest, more than just market forces are at work in this industry. Even seemingly sound companies may be criminally managed, making the game even riskier.

As the ancient Romans would have said: Caveat emptor.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets