Liz Neely has combed her jewelry box, looked through collectibles, and evaluated whether she really needs her camera. On Wednesday, the 28-year-old Lake Forest woman and her husband, Nate, 30, an unemployed electrician, hoped some watches from Nate's grandfather might help them make this month's rent.
"I've come to the point where I look for anything I can part with," she said. "It's not easy getting to that point."
They presented five to Jack Levenson, co-owner of The Jewelery Box in Lake Forest. Of the five, two helped them get cash - a Breitling and a Gucci. The Neely's are among a growing list of customers digging deeper into treasures they hope business owners like Levenson and his partner, Christine Anzell can buy for cash.
Five months ago, jewelry owners began hosting gold-selling parties, finding an eager public willing to part with precious scrap metal as the economy turned bad. Now, jewelers are finding that an even weaker economy and an increase in the unemployed, has pushed the desperate to near destitute, forcing those down-on-their-luck to raid prized family heirlooms to make the mortgage payments, keep the cars running and feed their kids.
In the last few weeks, Levenson and Anzell have taken in high-end pieces not typically seen before. They've tripled their estate collection and now offer luxury and designer pieces like a Concord watch, valued at $9,250, a 5-karat gold wedding set for $45,000, Tiffany earrings retailing $8,750, a Rolex two-tone Oyster Perpetual Day-Date worth $7,500 and dozens of Kruger Rands.
Customers come from cities Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Coto De Caza, Anaheim and Nellie Gail in Laguna Hills. "In the spring 90 percent of the jewelry we took in was scrap, broken chains and single earrings - it was things people had no use for and wanted cash," said Levenson. "It's been a dramatic change - based on their needs they're digging deep into their assets. People are hurting a lot."
The increase in high-end jewelry and watches is building inventory for some jewelers and changing how they do business. Instead of spending $100,000 on new product from jewelry line representatives, some business owners simply rely on the public for new inventory.
At Raffi's Fine Jewelry in Laguna Hills, owner Raffi Torossian has seen the change too. Instead of advertising his store's jewels, he advertises to buy gold and jewelry. "The market has changed quite a bit," he said. "Before we would get into a credit line of $100,000." Instead, Torossian is getting lots of jewelry with diamonds sized from 4 to 8 karats and he's seeing more high-end clientele forced to part with valuables to make ends meet.
"They're having to get rid of it so they don't fall apart," he said. "You see people with tears in their eyes. It makes me sad." Recently, Anzell helped a woman in her early 30s. She had come in to sell her wedding ring. It was dated and small and there wasn't a lot Anzell could do with the ring to resell it in her store. The woman told her 'I just need something.' Anzell asked 'how much?' - the woman told her $200. "I gave her $250," Anzell said. "She said she was using it to buy diapers for her children. I just went to the back of the store and cried."
In another case, a woman from Anaheim Hills came in with a 7.5 karat diamond ring, a gold necklace, two pairs of diamond-stud earrings and a concord watch. She told Levenson, she was going through a divorce and had been trying to sell her $2.5 million house and needed cash. "It's always about needing cash," said Anzell.
"I've been in retail my whole life and never done business like this."
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