The Thrifting Life
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The Thrifting Life

What About Jewelry in Thrift?

Photo by Stefano Intintoli on Unsplash

It is truly amazing how much jewelry is donated to and sold by thrift stores every day. Those globs of tangled up jewelry contain everything from Madi-Gras beads to costume jewelry, old keys, political campaign buttons, and yes, platinum and diamond rings.

When I first started in thrift seven-plus years ago, jewelry would mostly go in donated glass jars. Those mostly sold for ten to twenty dollars. The go-to jar as flower vases, so many are donated, it was a good way to repurpose some of them.

It was quick easy money as they went as fast as we could put them out.

Eventually, I wondered why they were so popular. I had been told that crafters bought them for their projects. That made sense but their popularity suggested something more.

Always liking to see first hand, I dug through a few batches of random jewelry. Every single time I found sterling silver and occasional gold items. It was a treasure hunt. Things like the sterling silver spoon twisted into a ring, Native American pendants, belt buckles, delicate gold chains, and more.

My favorite was an 1880s silver dollar attached to a belt buckle. It was so black it didn’t look like anything. It almost went into salvage but I took one more look and there it was, a real 1800s silver dollar that we sold for $300.

The funny thing was it had a $1 garage sale sticker on it. I wonder how many people walked by it.

I’m not particularly into jewelry, a gemologist, or even a metals expert so who knows what else I was missing. I finally understood why those jars were such hot sellers.

A recent check of jewelry for sale on Shop Goodwill showed over 4,000 pieces listed with over 150 selling for over $100.00. All found in donated jewelry.

Those jewelry glass jar buyers knew what I finally figured out. They were earning a good living just going through various garage sales and thrift store bulk jewelry. Good for them.

This is a video from a person that showed what he found from a bag of random jewelry at a thrift store. He found gold, silver, and a gemstone. I think he missed some collectible vintage jewelry and the Seiko watch he tossed aside should have been looked into further. He was all about gold and silver and obvious gems.

A Ruby Lane listing shows a triple string of blue beads. It just looked like blue beads to me but it’s Tanzanite listed for $950.00. That’s a great example of the value that is missed in the donated goods sorting and sales process.

Etsy has over 21,000 pieces of Bakelite jewelry for sale as of this writing. To the untrained eye, Bakelite looks like a normal run of the mill costume jewelry. I wonder how many of those listings came out of thrift store jewelry jars?

Almost anyone can figure out what 925 means, it takes training to understand the many nuances of jewelry.

A basic sort at the store level will uncover those obvious items noted earlier. It pays off at the store level, but it does take time. It helps if the same one or two people do it.

Almost any multi-store thrift operation will do well in a centralized process with knowledgeable employees.

A thrift eCommerce jewelry sorter and pricer that I know estimates the ROI on a dedicated jewelry sort and value process at over 400%. My experience lines up with hers. The return on investment in this area is almost unparalleled in thrift.

Real success requires dedicating one or more people to nothing but sorting and valuing jewelry. This works best with people that know and understand this niche. In a single store, it may be a great part time position.

This is an area that hiring experienced staff makes a huge difference. They don’t have to be certified gemologists, it does help if they have experience in the jewelry industry. Often jewelry store salespeople have a sufficient foundation. Online jewelry resellers (our glass jar friends) can become productive employees. More than anything they need to have an interest in and understanding of jewelry.

Continued training is key in this area. It is such a varied category no one knows everything. There are numerous formal and informal tools available. Since everyone starts at a different place it’s important to match training to need.

Processes should start at the donation door running clear through to shipping sold goods. Since jewelry is small and often valuable it is important to establish security and chain of custody protocols. Whether it’s a store level or centralized process this is an area that calls for consistency.

No telling what is hiding in those batches of jewelry. It’s best to treat everything as if it is gold and silver. Even in thrift, I have caught store-level employees stealing jewelry. It’s easy to palm and pocket. Pawnshops snap that stuff up.

Using Kaizen principles here will minimize losses and ensure a steady flow of goods. Organization and good flow are keys.

Every professional needs professional tools. This is one area that buying quality pays off. They will need jewelry scales, gem testers, hardness testers, and more. Good tools speed the process and increase accuracy.

With the right testing tools, it’s easy to put items out for sale with high confidence each item is what it is advertised to be.

For the most part, thrift stores are a terrible place to sell upscale jewelry. The exception may be boutique specialty stores. I’ll have a follow-up article that speaks directly to selling costume jewelry in a thrift environment.

For the good stuff, several platforms work. Those in the Goodwill Enterprise often find success at Ruby Lane as previously mentioned is good for the higher end. Amazon can work. Sarah suggests that eBay is not an ideal site for better quality jewelry. Etsy seems to be open to vintage jewelry.

The key to success is finding the right platform for the type of jewelry.

There is money in those shiny baubles. Starting or building on an existing process will pay off.

about me

I am a thrift, eCommerce, and retail business expert located near Chicago helping individuals and entrepreneurs grow and succeed. You can benefit from my twenty plus years of retail, and seven-plus years of thrift and eCommerce experience.

Check out my web site, for lots of thrift oriented resources. You will find plenty of free tips for retailers, resellers, eCommerce operators, and shoppers. I’m always happy to connect on LinkedIn.

You might also be interested in my Thrift Merchandising ebook on Amazon. It’s about merchandising thrift stores more like traditional stores. It’s free with a Kindle Unlimited membership.

Tim Gebauer — The Thrifter




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Tim Gebauer

Thrift and retail blogger. Helping small business succeed. Connect on linkedIn, my thrift reseller blog thethrifter or my amazon thrift merchandising e-book.