Tradio: Find treasures out in the real world: More on Prospecting
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Steve Duke: We did have a request to go over what we had talked about a couple of weeks ago about prospecting. You know, in just a quick synopsis like they do on television now, we will rewind from a couple of weeks ago.
We talked about how if you are going to go out there to the garage sales, to the flea markets, and then you are going to start looking for gold and silver, what are some of the things you are going to take with you and what are you going to look for? You are going to take that magnet with you because you can put it in your pocket. You are going to take a loop which is some sort of magnifying device. You are going to bring some cash with you and you are ready to roll.
You are going to start running around. If we are looking for silver, the first thing we are going to do is look for anything that is a silver color. Quickly, we are going to flip it over and look on the bottom of it and we are going to look for that word “sterling.”
We talked about how if you see the word “sterling” on a piece of silver or silver material, it is telling you that it is at least 90% silver. It should be 92.5% silver, but very few pieces you are going to find will actually live up to the sterling standards that were invented back in the 1500s when they first started making items out of silver coins that were 92.5% pure silver.
We are going to look for that. We are going to look for pieces that may say “Mexico” on them. Under the word “Mexico” you will see the number 925. This means it is theoretically 92.5% silver.
We also said that just because it is marked like that does not always necessarily mean it is silver. Many times you will see pieces of jewelry that might be marked “Mexico;” it might say “925.” It is going to have sort of a gray look to it, almost like a greenish-gray look to it. I am going to tell you that it is not silver. How can you tell?
Well, your magnet is not necessarily going to stick to it. That’s of no help. Probably the only way you can really tell is by putting acid on it. It is funny because I have had a lot of people call lately saying, “What kind of acid to I put on it? Can I use muriatic acid from the pool and things like that?”
The acids we use are concentrated nitric acid and they have been diluted down to different strengths so that we are able to test for silver; we are able to test for 10-karat gold, 14-karat gold, and 18-karat gold. Over a period of time it comes with knowledge, which I told you over and over again, is the most important thing you can have.
If you turn around and you have bought some of these pieces of jewelry, if you bring them over to Westchester Gold and Diamonds, we are in the Bear Plaza by ABC Liquors. We buy all kinds of stuff like this.
A lot of times people will bring it in and say, “Steve, I listened to you and I bought this stuff. You told me to look for the 925,” and I look at it and say, “Yes, but didn’t I tell you to look for that grayish-green color?”
They go, “Yeah,” and I’ll go, “Now look at this compared to this color.” All of a sudden the light bulb goes on in their mind and they go, “Oh, that is a little different shade.”
What I do is take a file and file it. Sometimes it is silver-plated, so we file through the plating, we pour acid on it, and it turns bright green. When it turns green, this tells you it is not silver. When we put acid on silver, if it is genuine sterling or if it is a higher grade of silver, it will get a milky-looking color to it. This tells us that the acid is reacting with the silver and this is why it turns that milky color.
You are not going to have the advantage of taking acid with you to these garage sales. If you do, people are going to look at you like, “What are you doing? You’re screwing up my jewelry here! You’re putting acid on it! Then you’re going to leave it back in the tray and people are going to pick it up and it is going to burn their skin!” You are not going to be really popular.
A lot of people say, “I don’t care if I’m popular as long as I’m making money.” That’s great, but learn a little bit. Make a couple of mistakes and bring them by. We are more than happy to show you the mistakes you have made on different pieces.
However, in general, like I said, if you are looking at a silver piece or looking at flatware, turn it over and it will say “sterling” somewhere on there. You may see the letters “IS” which stands for International Silver Company. They made silver-plate. You may see “Roger’s Bros.” They made silver-plate. There is one company of Roger’s Bros. that actually did sterling, so again, you are looking for that word “sterling” on it.
You might see something silver-colored that says “800” on it or “900.” This tells you that it is 80% or 90% silver, but the fineness, the purity of any kind of silver or gold item, if it is European, will be marked in a three-digit number, not a two-digit number. A lot of European stuff you see will have a “90” on it. This does not mean it is 90% silver.
You have to be careful, but if you see three digits, this will basically tell you the fineness or the purity of that particular item.
You had a look on your face. You were enthralled by that?
Host: Well, I just wondered. Now I have some stuff I need to go look at.
Steve: There you go. I have a lot of people come in and say, “What about this European silver?” and I will say, “We don’t have a number on it, but let’s look at some of these little marks that are stamped into the silver.”
Many times we have what we call “touch marks” or “hall marks,” and if it is European, they did not always put a number on it; they would put a symbol on it.
The English will have what we call a “lion puissant.” A lion will be facing to the left and it will have its foot up in the air. This isn’t because he is stopping to take a break. It is just the way they pictured their lion. When you see this, it is their sterling standard mark. It means it is 925 silver.
There is an unusual thing with a lot of the European countries, especially England. A piece is put together as one large piece and then it has two little handles on it. Each of those handles was made individually and then they were soldered onto the solid piece. In this case, you will find that little lion puissant on each of those two handles. If you don’t, there is some sort of a problem unless the piece was casted as one piece.
Any time, by law in England, a piece is affixed to another sterling piece, those individual pieces all have to be tested to make sure their fineness or their purity is actually sterling.
These are some of the things you want to look at when you are looking at silver items.
What about the gold items you want to look at? First, you want to test them with that magnet. They should not really stick to your magnet. If they go flying up there, it is not gold.
I am going to digress a moment here because I sat there with a metaller just about two weeks ago and I had a pile of chains we had bought that were marked 14-karat. We tested them with acid and they were magnetic. I have had a lot of conversations with metallers over the years and everyone has told me that if it is magnetic, it will not be gold.
Because gold and silver prospecting has become so big, there are lots of companies which have come out with x-ray machines and spectroscope machines that will tell you the fineness of a particular type of metal. These machines were actually used in the scrap yards for years and years. Now, all of a sudden, they have been adapted to a lot of the pawn shops, and gold buyers are starting to use them.
By shooting an x-ray into the machine, you cannot necessarily shoot all the way into the inside of that metal, but you can measure a little bit passed the surface and it will give you a reading on this machine. Not only will it tell you whether it is gold or silver, but it will list the trace elements such as iron, copper, and nickel. It will actually give you a breakdown of everything and it gives you a little readout.
The only drawback is that the least expensive machine that does this is about $17,500. There are other machines like one which fits right on the counter which is certainly a pretty machine. That one is $21,500. I just had a salesman in the store the other day.
They are great machines. They are really cool and they give you a really good reading as far as what it should come out at. Now there is about a 3/10 variation in there.
You may be thinking, “Who cares about all of this stuff?” Well, we buy a lot of gold from individuals over the course of a year. We buy from a lot of our dealers. I have tested gold for years, over 30-some years, with acid and I have become pretty good at being able to tell you what karat the gold is.
Many times, when you send your gold off to the refiners, they sit there and do what we call a “fire assay.” They melt all of this gold into a homogenous blob. Then it is drilled and that drilling is taken and melted again. It is put on a spectroscope and then it is checked six different times. Then they give you a reading and they average it all and tell you the fineness of your gold.
Well, there are problems with this. Many times when you melt your gold, you might start with one ounce of gold, it is melted, and all of a sudden, you get back a report that you only have ¾ of an ounce of gold. Gold does not just dissipate; it doesn’t boil away like water or something like that.
What happens? There is a lot of solder in gold. Many times your chains have solder with which they are put together. With rings, many times the heads or the piece that holds the stones in place were put together with solder.
When you melt this gold, a lot of it burns up. The solder actually vaporizes and you are left with your basic gold.
Sometimes you might lose a little bit of it, but you do not lose a full quarter-ounce of it. There is no way to really know how much gold you really lost unless you melt all of your own gold ahead of time and you burn off all of the impurities. Then you send it to a refiner and you have to rely on their fire assay.
Over the years, I have learned that I have basically lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by trusting what the refiners told me. In this business, you learn through experience and through mistakes. Because someone is the largest refiner does not always mean you are going to get the most for your money. There are many smaller refiners that will pay more because they are out there trying and they are doing it legitimately.
It is amazing with these spectroscope machines now that I can turn around and melt my own gold, take a reading with one of these spectroscopes, and have a pretty good idea of what the fineness should be. Then when I send it to get a fire assay, there is a huge variation.
If you are doing a large volume, these machines come in pretty handy. Just on one melt alone, the difference of money can be great. The last one I did, the difference was between $2,000 and $3,000 from what they told me and what it actually was.
I said to the refiner, “Just send my gold back,” and they said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “I already have a spectroscope on it and you are not even close.”
“Well, we’ll do another fire assay for you.” He did another fire assay and all of a sudden, mysteriously, it came back where it was supposed to be.
When you are out there prospecting, you do not have to worry about buying a $17,000 machine unless you are going to be buying millions and millions of dollars worth of gold. Then it will pay for itself.
You are out there eyeballing stuff; you are learning; you are prospecting; you are buying stuff at a price where, if you make a mistake, it is not going to affect your lifestyle. I tell people that this is important. There are a lot of people who are out of work now. They are out there with a limited amount of funds to work with, and they are taking shots.
They have listened to me on radio here and they have read some of the Tradio episodes on my Web page, and they have taken it to heart. They have gone out and actually started making good money by prospecting. This is what I am trying to get you guys to do. I am out there to try to help you.
Would I buy everything you are buying? Yes, I would be more than happy to. We would certainly appreciate buying whatever you find. Our margin of profit is going to be a whole lot smaller than yours will be, but along with the fact that you are selling things to us, we are there to try to explain and teach you a little bit, too. I am always happy to do that. I don’t mind doing that.
Lots of people think this is a secret. Well, it is called the School of Hard Knocks.
Host: How could it be a secret? You educate us each and every week.
Steve: I try. I was fortunate to fall into this business and do well. I wouldn’t be doing this well if it were not for a lot of people, my customers and so on, in Charlotte County. I appreciate that, so I do not mind trying to give back a little bit of knowledge to them.
On the gold items, you used your magnet. What I wound up doing with a lot of these chains that were magnetic was to shoot them with a spectroscope. A majority of them came out to be lower karat gold than they were supposed to be, but there was a certain amount of gold in them.
If you take a piece of gold jewelry and it goes flying to the magnet, it is definitely not gold. If it just has a little bit of magnetic power to it, it is going to be lower karat gold than what it is supposed to be, but you probably have a possibility that it could be gold. If you can buy it cheap enough, it may be worth taking a chance on it.
If it goes flying to the magnet, it is definitely not gold. How do you tell what karat gold it is? This comes later, if you want to buy acid and learn.
Let’s just say we are out there at the flea market or at a garage sale and you look down and see this yellow piece of thing, what are you looking for? Just like the sterling silver, it is going to be marked. Usually, if it is a chain or a bracelet, somewhere on the end there is a little piece that attaches to the clasp. This is called a tab.
On that tab, lots of times will say “Italy” and on the other side it might have a number. Go to the other side of that bracelet and look. It might say “14K;” it might say “585.” The number 585 means it is approximately 58.5% pure. That is what 14-karat gold would be.
It might say “10-karat.” It might say “417” which tells you that it is approximately 41.7% pure. This would be 10-karat gold.
It might say “18K” on it or it could say “750.” This means it is 75% gold and 25% alloy. Does the alloy really matter? It doesn’t that much as far as what the value of that particular gold item is going to be because you are looking at the purity of the gold. You are not really going to get back the different alloys.
Does it mean a difference to you as a consumer sometimes? I am going to say “yes,” because sometimes people come and buy a piece of jewelry from us and it is marked 14-karat gold and it might have a high nickel content. They may have put 58% gold and maybe 42% nickel.
Many times people are allergic to nickel and as soon as they put that jewelry on they get little blisters on their skin. If that happens to you, you are probably allergic to the alloys in that particular piece.
You know, I have had people come in and go, “I just bought this chain and my neck is all broken out.”
We say, “Okay, try this chain,” and they wear it home and find that they did not break out from it. It is the different alloys. They alloy it with copper; they alloy it with nickel; they alloy it with silver. Nickel seems to be a culprit that I find a lot of people are allergic to.
Sometimes you get what we call “gold smudge.” When you put that piece of jewelry on, even though it is marked 14K, you get this black mark on your neck or your finger wherever that gold is touching. This means you have a high acid content in your body and you are reacting, again, to the alloys.
It could be the nickel, but more so, if you are getting a gold smudge, you are reacting to the copper or silver content of the piece of gold.
You are out there looking for the silver stuff; you are out there looking for the gold items. They are going to have those markings on them, but, again, the fineness or the purity of the silver or gold should be marked in three numbers. The fact that it is marked in 14K or 10K or 18K means these are American markings. These are not the European markings. The Italian stuff will have a three-digit number to tell you the fineness of that particular piece.
There is also something out there called platinum. Platinum is finally back to being over the price of gold. It hasn’t been so for about three or four years. It has always been historically much higher than gold.
It is back to being a little bit above gold again. You may find this while you are looking for that little group of rings that might be there for sale at that garage sale. You are looking there and it will say “Plat.” This doesn’t mean it is plated; this stands for “platinum.”
You might see 90% marked 90 with a percentage and then you see the word “platinum.” Then you see the “10% Irrid.” That “Irrid” stands for irridium. Irridium is another element which is extremely expensive. It is very, very difficult to refine out of platinum and it makes platinum more malleable. It gives it a lower melting point, makes it a little bit easier to work with when you are making jewelry.
If you happen to see that inside of a ring, again, it is a precious metal; it is platinum. When you pick it up, you will notice that it seems a lot heavier than it should be because platinum is extremely dense for the simple fact that it is 90% or 100% of that one particular element.
The reason gold gets lighter than platinum is that you only have a certain percentage of gold and the rest of the alloys with which they alloy it are not as dense. Your gold becomes lighter with less gold content. Your 10-karat gold is going to be lighter than a chain of the same size that is 18-karat gold; same thing with 14-karat gold.
These are all things you want to look at when you are out there prospecting. If you have questions about prospecting, stop by and see me at Westchester Gold. I am always happy to help you. Any time we can help you, we are right there to do it. Come on it; we would love to buy your items from you.
We do not buy everything just gold or metal content. You may bump into something you bought that has an intrinsic value as an object that we will resell. We will pay you a premium for it. We are not going to buy everything for scrap gold price. Most of your gold buyers are going to do that.
I am Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold and Diamonds. I would like to thank you all for listening.
Have Questions about your antiques, estate jewelry, collectibles or old treasures?
If you have questions for Steve Duke to answer about your jewelry, antiques or collectibles, just send a photo of the item and your question directly to Steve Duke at WGDiamonds@HotMail.com and Steve will research it for you and you may be contacted to participate in an upcoming Tradio episode. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number along with your question and email it to: WGDiamonds@HotMail.com