Find a Pawnshop's Hidden Jewelry Treasures

Those of us that have been bitten by the jewelry bug have probably already discovered the potential for great vintage buys on sites like eBay and Esty, but did you know that your local pawnshop often holds hidden gems as well? Pawnshops are one of the biggest buying sectors in the country for unwanted scrap gold and jewelry, and many people take items there for loans, only to never go back and reclaim them. There are great deals to be had – if one is careful and takes the necessary steps to ensure that their discount purchase is a wise one. Use the following tips and tricks when shopping estate jewelry selections to ensure that you make good buys when shopping for overlooked values.


A jeweler's loupe and other tools of the trade are essential when buying estate pieces

A jeweler's loupe and other tools of the trade are essential when buying estate pieces.

1. Invest in Basic Tools

Portable field tools go a long way in helping to separate the good buys from the lemons when buying pawnshop jewelry. Invest in a pocket scale for estimating gold weight, a good 10x magnification jeweler’s loupe, and a black light to help distinguish between garnets and rubies. Cumulatively, these items will cost less than $100 and are all easily found on Amazon. They are some of the biggest allies you can bring along and a worthy investment.

The scale will allow you to knowledgably negotiate the price of your piece by factoring in precious metal weights, while the black light will pick up on florescence in rubies and other colored stones that are easily confused with garnets (and are frequently worth substantially more than the latter). Of the three, the loupe is most critical. Not only does it allow you to more easily identify breaks and other damage that substantially impact the value of a potential piece, it also makes it easier to see maker’s marks for rare collectible pieces and to confirm the precious metal content of an item through its stamps.

2. Get to Know the Shop Owners

In the world of buying and selling jewelry, relationships are critical. Take the time to get to know the shop owner – clearly communicate what types of items you are looking for, share a few tips and tricks you have discovered about buying, and reward their loyalty with your regular patronage. Invest a bit of yourself in the shops with the best pieces, and soon you will find that they value you as a loyal customer by letting you know when new pieces come in that may interest you and being more willing to negotiate pricing.

3. Shop the Little Guys

Big, nationally known chains have complicated inventory systems that regularly rotate merchandise from store to store, making it much more difficult to score a deal on older pieces. Small shops sometimes hold on to old inventory for years – and because they are eager to liquidate old inventory, their prices are frequently more friendly for merchandise they have held for longer than six months.

4. Find Out when New Merchandise is Added

Most shops have scheduled days for getting new merchandise onto the sales floor. Find out when inventory comes out, and it will help you to be the first to see new, desirable items as they come into the store or out of pawn.

5. Find out when Items are Scheduled for Markdown

On the flip side, it is often helpful to know what the mark-down policies are for your favorite shops. Some reduce the price every thirty days until sold, while others make substantial mark-downs at the six-month point. I recently purchased a vintage coral ring for less than twenty percent of its retail value because it had been in the store for almost a year – it pays to know mark-down schedules.

You can also examine the price tag’s condition to tell you how long a piece has been in the showcase. A wrinkled, faded, dusty tag is a good indicator that the piece has been sitting for some time.

6. Look for Outdated, Well-Made Pieces

Trends come and go, but quality is forever. Outdated styling on a quality piece can frequently be a great buy, because if the piece is well-made, there is a strong chance the stones are higher quality as well. Be on the lookout for beautiful gems that can be pulled from outdated settings and reimagined into modern, beautiful pieces.

7. Always Get an Independent Appraisal on Higher Cost Items

When buying jewelry from pawn shops, there is often a very narrow window of time for refunds if a piece has been misrepresented. If an item costs more than $500, always get an independent verification of the gemstones and precious metals from a trusted jeweler – and not the one recommended by the pawn shop.

Using these tips and tricks should soon have you claiming your share of the great deals to be had out there. Happy hunting – and send us photos of your favorite finds!

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