Recycled Booty

My jewelry box bears within it the booty of 25 years’ worth of self-adornment, and when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I don’t wear about three-quarters of the stuff. Sure, my big-hoop gold earrings from the ’80s are making a comeback, but the snake-link chains and bracelets haven’t seen the light of day in years. “But it’s gold and silver!” cries the little voice. “You can’t just get rid of it!”

Yes, I can. Simon Mattar, owner of Rock-n-Gold Creations Fine Jewelry Design Center in Clairemont Mesa (858-571-4560; rockngold.com) offered to recycle the lot of it. “Customers come in with stuff they’ve accumulated over the years,” said Mattar. “We take gold, platinum, silver flatware, watches, any miscellaneous precious items. Chains — some of them broken — rings, etc. Most of the time, if the rings have gems in them from the lower-end market, the gems aren’t worth anything. But the gold and silver are. The prices fluctuate, but the price of gold today is $10 a gram for 14-carat, and $11.50 a gram for 18-carat. ‘Carat’ refers to the percentage of pure gold content. For example, 14-carat gold is 58 percent gold and the rest alloy, while 18-carat gold is 75 percent gold and the rest alloy. Alloys give the gold some hardness, or maybe some color. Rose gold will have a bit more copper in it.”

In most cases, Mattar’s policy is “just weigh and pay. We use an acid test to find out how pure the gold is. We’ll scratch the piece on a stone so that it leaves a little gold. Then we use bottles of acid — we have acids for 14-, 18-, and 24-carat gold, and also platinum. If the acid fizzles or bubbles green, we know it’s fake gold. If we use 18-carat acid and the gold disappears, then we know it’s not 18-carat gold. If it doesn’t disappear, we know it’s 18-carat. We’ll sort out the pieces, weigh and pay, and ship them off to a refinery, one with environmentally safe procedures. They’ll melt it in a high-heat furnace to remove the impurities; that’s how they separate out the alloys so that they wind up with pure, 24-carat gold.”

If a piece destined for the refinery has stones in it, “it goes into an acid bath that melts the gold away from the stones before it’s refined. If they’re commercial grade, they’re crushed and disposed of. But there are buyers for almost everything — some of the stones may go back on the market. Some things, they’ll sell them off for pennies to a broker, and they’ll go back on the market. Diamonds don’t wear; if they’re not chipped or broken, you can’t tell it’s being re-used except by the cut of the stone.” Even an unusable diamond will “most likely go to the tool market. Rubies might get crushed and used for sandblasting.” Occasionally, said Mattar, “someone will bring in a piece of estate jewelry that’s resalable. We’d pay more for that, and I’d sell it to a broker — unless it was something really exclusive or neat — maybe something with an Art Deco look.”

Instead of getting cash, the customer may opt to put the money toward a new piece of custom jewelry. “If they have a piece of family jewelry that they don’t like, or one that’s outdated, we can re-create a design for it. We can re-use the stones, and if they really want it, we can reuse the gold. We’ll clean it, heat it, and re-cast it. Though in that case, I can’t guarantee the recasting. If we’re melting different pieces, the different alloys could react to one another. For quality control, I recommend using all-new gold.”

Mattar is also happy to design a one-of-a-kind piece from scratch — he calls them his “Cool as Ever” creations. “I won’t design the same ring or piece twice. I create something special for each customer.” He laid out a sample case. “I had a customer come in who wanted a horse pendant. She brought me a picture of the style she liked. I took that and re-created it, made a counter sketch to get an idea of what she wanted. After that, I’ll make a three-piece drawing — actual size — showing top, back, and side. The customer sees the picture and makes minor adjustments — maybe they want it narrower or with fewer stones. Then, depending on the piece, I’ll make a computer-design layout or a hand-carved 3-D model out of wax. I put the stones in to make sure they fit and make necessary adjustments. Finally, the piece is cast and assembled.”

“Cool as Ever” pieces aren’t cheap. Prices vary depending on size and material, but Mattar told me that “the lowest-priced one I’ve ever done was $8000. What sets us apart is that we design and manufacture the jewelry onsite. We can focus on the quality straight across the board. All the stones we use are collection-good — basically, the best you can get. We go beyond most jewelers in that we cast pieces separately in order to get a high polish on every piece. That way, there’s a shine on the inner surface where the diamonds are going — we pay attention to that sort of detail. Then we solder or laser weld to connect it throughout. The benefit of the laser is that it gives you a stronger bond, and you don’t have a seam.”

Before I left, Mattar displayed for me one of his upper-end “Cool as Ever” creations: a European-style ring — diamond detailed with rubies and other stones — containing 42 grams of platinum. “Today,” he said, “it’s worth $32,000.”

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