Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Head East For an Eye Feast

Sometimes the best cure for the Christmas crazies is a long road trip. Once you get past Issaquah, Interstate 90 can be a peaceful drive any time of year, but especially during the winter. Currently on exhibition at the Jundt Museum of Art on the Gonzaga campus in downtown Spokane, is

Magic of the Objects:The Art Work of Leslie W. LePere.

Les LePere is an artist who wears many hats. Half of the year he works the family wheat farm near Ritzville, Washington and the other half of the year he is a full-time artist. Leslie has an MFA from WSU and is probably best known for designing all of author Tom Robbin's book covers.

However, book covers are just a wheat kernel in the grain elevator of close to fifty years of disciplined investigation.  The Jundt survey exhibition includes his student work, commercial art, watercolors, drawings, prints and enamel collaborations he did with his friend and art partner, the late Ken Cory, known together as the Pencil Brothers.

Robert E. Lee Disliked Cabooses 1971

Lepere's work combines the ordinary with the surreal, vast landscapes with intimate domestic interiors, silliness and humor with formal art principals. It is American, it is Western and it is archetypal. You don't have to be an arts connoisseur to see that this man can draw.

Broken Dreams, Fulfilled Promises 2001

So hit the road for a delectable eye feast. You can find good food along the way at The Valley Cafe in Ellensburg, Micheal's on the Lake in Moss Lake and the Starbucks's in Ritzville. Spokane has many fine eateries and restored historic buildings downtown. Treat yourself. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Antidote to the Christmas Crazies

For those of us lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, there are four fantastic museum shows currently up to give us an antidote to the insanity of the Christmas season. Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon, is a knockout blockbuster at the Seattle Art Museum. This is the quality of show you can usually only see in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. People, this show is better than King Tut. Besides the amazing horde of ancient gold jewelry, masks, regalia, and liturgical objects,

Lambayeque gloves decorated with standing figures and geometric motifs
750-1375 A.D.
there are fabulous ceramics, textiles, paintings and photographs. Hiram Bingham, the archeologist who "discovered" Machu Picchu, took an enormous black and white photograph sometime between 1911-1913, recording what the place looked like before tourists showed up and some of his original field notes are also on view. The exhibit is only up through January 5, so hustle over there soon. Best times to avoid crowds are 10:00 a.m. when the museum opens, or later in the day before it closes. Go on a full stomach and plan for plenty of time; this is a large exhibit. The stunning catalogue would make an excellent holiday gift.

Downstairs from the Peru exhibit on the 2nd floor is a long over-due retrospective of Haida master artist, Robert Davidson, entitled  Robert Davidson / Abstract Impulse. This man is the best contemporary interpreter of the Haida aesthetic and one of my personal heroes. He is also an accomplished jeweler and a selection of his silver bracelets are on display in the exhibit.  His work will be up through February 16 at SAM. Don't miss it or the gorgeous catalogue. 

Across the pond in Bellevue at the Bellevue Arts Museum, A World of Paper, A World of Fashion:
Isabella de Borchgrave Meets Mariano Fortuny, is a shimmering, visual delight. Isabella Borchgrave is a Belgian artist who creates paper homage to historic costume and couture. This exhibit celebrates the work of the early 20th century fashion designer, Mariano Fortuny and especially his famous delphos dress, a clingy, pleated gown wore by famous women of the time ( Isadora Duncan, Sara Bernhardt, Mrs Conde Nast, etc.) The exhibit is up through February 16th.

Sir Henry Raeburn, portrait of Lady Annie Moir

Last but not least, a short drive away in Tacoma at Tacoma Arts Museum, will bring you to an oasis of serenity at Sitting For History: Exploring Identity Trough Portraiture, on display through January 12. Curated by Margaret Bullock, "This exhibition challenges people to take a minute and contemplate the hows and whys of portraits both past and present to help us better understand the images that others share of themselves and how we choose to depict ourselves.” Tacoma has less traffic, convenient parking and nice places to eat. Go there. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin Carving: An American Folk Tradition

It's almost Halloween and time for shaking off your inhibitions and carving a pumpkin or two. Our family has always made a night of it and every year we draft a few more people into this annual ritual.
 In my opinion, the best carvers are little kids. This is because they have not yet been subjected to the Martha Stuartization of American decor. Because of Martha, pumpkin carving has become a contest of who can do the most "professional" carving with subtle layers cut with surgical knives creating shading and intricate patterns.


What contemporary pumpkins need now is more personality and less virtuoso technique. 
Below are some of my favorites from over the years.

 George, the Nice Boy, by Ellie Wild-Works 2011.
The Barfing Pumpkin, by Sophie Wild-Works 2011
Thor, by Tucker Beasley, 2013
Pumpkin with Asymmetrical Ears, by Miranda Beasley, 2013
Pumpkin carving tools can be purchased at most drugstores. They are now including books of patterns to trace with the tools. Caution! Destroy these patterns before they can do more harm. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

My Favorite Time of Year

I'm sure many of you share my disgust with the activity or lack of it in Congress right now. Every morning I read the paper, get mad and then try to focus on something positive as an antidote. Fortunately, the trees in my neighborhood are putting on their annual fall show.
 Most mornings I pass this tree on my way to work, but I only notice it in the fall. A little bit south of this tree is Kubota Garden, a little known jewel in south Seattle just off of Renton Ave S and Norfolk.
Kubota Garden began as a labor of love for Fujitaro Kubota. In 1927 he bought 5 acres of swampland in Rainier Beach and increased it to 30 acres in 1930. Kubota Garden served as a cultural center for the Japanese community in Seattle as well as a home, office and nursery for his landscaping business. His work was well respected and his company designed and built the landscaping on the Seattle University campus and the Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Then, during World War II, the garden was abandoned for 4 years as Mr. Kubota and his family were interned at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. 
After the war, his sons Tak and Tom rebuilt the business.  When I first moved to Rainier Beach in 1983, the garden was overgrown and neglected. Fortunately, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board declared the core 4.5 acres to be a historic landmark for the City of Seattle and in 1987 the city bought the garden from the Kubota family. It has now been fully restored and is maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation and volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation.
   Come visit Kubota Garden and enjoy the mature colorful plantings, bridges and fountains. It's open every day from dawn to dusk. Don't forget to bring your camera.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Something for Me

I've been making and designing jewelry for a long time, but most of what I make ends up at a gallery for sale. Very rarely over the years have I made something for myself. Recently, I designed some pendants just for me. They are sentimental talismans about two important people in my life who are no longer living.
 The pendant shown above is a photograph of my grandmother, Alice Clement Worden, at age 40. My grandmother believed in me and paid for my college education. She loved good clothes, fine leather goods, furs and jewelry. She also traveled by herself at a time when married women didn't do that sort of thing. Below is an image of the back of this pendant, just a touch of mink.

Another pendant is about my sister, Linda Worden Moon. This image is the two of us when I was about 4 and Linda was about 2. We were together all the time then and my mother often dressed us in identical dresses. Since those were the days of hand-me-downs, that meant Linda got stuck wearing both hers and mine.

On the back I put a lock of her hair under plastic. When I wear the pendants, everyone from grocery cashiers to stock brokers comment on them with enthusiasm and they have inspired several commissions.
So how much would it cost for us to make a custom pendant for you? They start at about $1200. depending on how much work we have to put into the photo and the material choices. These two pendants happen to be made in brass, but we are making some in silver too. The original images are scanned and Photoshoped to clean up the image and size it for a pendant. If you are thinking about something special for Christmas, send me an email at wordenjewelry@gmail.com. We need at least three weeks lead time to make a pendant. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

How I spent My Summer Staycation

Last month I took some time off to rest, recharge and be a tourist in my own area. I went to four museums; the new Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, the Future Beauty exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, Buster Simpson’s retrospective, Surveyor, at the Frye Museum of Art and twice saw Patti Warashina’s retrospective, Wit and Wisdom at Bellevue Arts Museum. 

Baindrdge Island Museum of Art, Winslow, WA

The new Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is really easy to find, just take the ferry to Winslow, drive out of the parking lot and there it is on your left. I went especially to see the work of the late Heikki Seppa, an internationally known silversmith who taught at Washington University in St Louis for many years and retired on Bainbridge Island. Unfortunately, the display of his work is in a cramped hallway and one third of the work was in display cases too high to view properly. The other exhibits are a survey of Northwest art and crafts with no big surprises. In fact, the actual building and grounds are so gorgeous that they kind of upstage the art.  Check it out, I think they have the best museum shop in the region.

Junya Watanabe Comme des Garcons

Future Beauty at the downtown SAM is only up through Sunday Sept. 8th and it is a stunning and thorough selection of Japanese fashion in the 1990’s. Even if you don’t care about fashion, you will love this exhibit as the clothes are more sculpture than wearable. My daughter Avery and I ooohed and ahhhed our way through it and bought the catalogue. Hurry down if you haven’t seen it yet.

Buster Simpson Secured Embrace

Buster Simpson has definitely earned a retrospective at the Frye, but this show isn’t for everyone. The unfortunate reality of much conceptual art is that the documentation of an event or temporary installation rarely does justice to the original experience. What I liked about the show was the memories it brought back of the Belltown neighborhood in the 1970’s and 1980’s before that area of town became gentrified. Buster’s awareness of the challenges in that neighborhood and others are an important historical record, interpreted through his unique voice.

Patti Warashina Bottom Feeder

Patti Warashina’s retrospective Wit and Wisdom is hands-down my favorite museum exhibition of 2013.  I have been through it from start to finish and finish to start two times now and will undoubtedly go again. It encompasses her student work from the 1960’s through to the present day and covers the entire third floor of the museum. It would be hard to name a more prolific artist; the woman raised two kids while teaching full time and has made more art than anyone I know. The ceramic sculptures range from miniature to huge with thoughtful narratives frequently implied. My favorite objects were the sake sets, many with political overtones. Wit and Wisdom continues through October 27, 2013. Do Not Miss This Show!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tacoma's Jewel Box

Nestled in the heart of Tacoma Art Museum is one of the best public art jewelry collections on the West Coast.  It all started in 1997 when TAM  produced a retrospective of Ken Cory's artwork,  entitled, Play Disguised: The Jewelry of Ken Cory.  At that time Ken's family gifted a large group of his work to the museum, including this belt buckle from 1975, entitled Autumn Sunset (aka Candy Corn).  
  When TAM  made the commitment to collect jewelry made by Northwest artists,  a local collector made a generous contribution to endow a jewelry purchase fund in honor of well-known jewelry artist, Ramona Solberg.  Gifts began to flow in and now the collection has 200 pieces, including promised gifts.  With so many jewelry artists in the region, it was time for a regional museum to collect this work.

The collection Also includes jewelry by nationally known artists who have influenced the jewelers in our region, like this beautiful gold and silver brooch with rutilated quartz by Eleanor Moty from 1992,  called Torsion Brooch.   

What is really cool about this collection is that a lot of it is accessible.  When you get off the elevator from the parking lot, the first thing you see is a display case with art jewelry. Then, wander up the ramp to the galleries, where there is a special gallery just for jewelry with open storage. Open storage refers to the cases, custom built for the collection, with special display drawers that the public is invited to open and view more jewelry. Every drawer offers new delights, a little voyeuristic adventure like snooping through somebody's closet. Come to Tacoma and snoop!
Nancy Worden 2004, Frozen Dreams Necklace on stand

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

People and Cars

What is it about people and cars? I've been looking through a lot of old family photos and there is a whole category of people photographed with cars.
   Above is an image of me from around 1957 sitting in a toy car posing with neighborhood kids. 
I'm glad I enshrined this photo in a box I made in 1974, because I lost the original print.

 Whatever the reason for this popular genre, it is very useful for dating a photo. Above is an image of my mom, and her sister and brother standing in front of a car captured in a brooch we made in 2012. I'm guessing this photo was taken in 1946 or 1947 as my mom looks about 12 or 13 and the car looks like the late 1930's or maybe 1940.
 I don't know the people in the photo above but they were old friends of my grandmothers'.
 I can date it to the late 1920s from the clothes and the car.

Here is a picture of my grandmother Alice Clement Worden, standing in front of a Buick from about 1939. She would have been about 40 years old. Grandpa switched to Fords in the 1960s.

This is Alice's great grandaughter Avery Reed at age 3 in front of my first Dodge caravan that I bought new in 1991. For the sake of family history, please take some photos with cars this summer and don't forget to PRINT them out on paper.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Memorials and Mementos

Memorial Day came and went while most of us enjoyed our 3-day vacation doing chores around the house or kicking back with friends and family. In April my friend Mary Ann and I were in Washington DC touring the memorials there. At the Vietnam War Memorial we listened to a volunteer veteran explain the notations after the names and watched him help people take a rubbing from the wall. The Lincoln Memorial was very crowded with people from all over the world. The new Martin Luther King Memorial is quite grand and the word monolithic came to mind.  This larger-than-life full-length portrait of King is carved from stone reminiscent of Mount Rushmore or Stone Mountain in Georgia. He is looking towards the water and the Jefferson Memorial, surrounded by a wall carved with quotes from his speeches.

The one that was the most poignant for us, however, was the new Korean War Memorial. The day we were there, a Sunday, we ran into a large group of older veterans, called Honor Flight from Montana, making the rounds. Many of the vets were in wheelchairs and one Korean War veteran was telling the story of landing on the beach in Korea the same day as Gen. MacArthur. A female representative of the VFW recorded his oral history as he talked and asked him questions.  I was absorbed in his story and keeping it together until I turned and saw a group of Koreans leaving a wreath and wiping their eyes and then I shed a few tears myself. Mary Ann took these pictures as mementos of that day.

Korean War Veteran with figures of the Korean War Memorial in the background.

A memento is an object made or saved to remember a person or an event by and it can be a piece of jewelry. Queen Victoria is frequently credited for starting a fad for mourning jewelry. Her reign from 1837-1901 coincided with the development of photography and mass produced jewelry making it possible for ordinary people to own a photograph or a locket.  She loved jewelry and when her husband Albert died, she went into mourning wearing black clothes, black stones and jewelry made from his hair for the rest of her life.  You can still find Victorian hair jewelry in antique stores today though not all of it is about death. People exchanged locks of hair for many reasons including friendship and betrothal.

 Queen Victoria wearing a bracelet made with the hair of her late husband, Prince Albert.

I have integrated hair in my work off and on for many years. A brooch I made in the early 1990s intended as an amusing comment on hairdressers has inadvertently become mourning jewelry for me as it contains a lock of my sister's hair. Hair doesn't rot and preserves the DNA of the person it came from.
No More Bad Haircuts, 1994, brooch, silver, gemstones and found objects. Copyright Nancy Worden 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dull at Dulles

I have just returned from a trip to our nation's capital and I had many experiences worth blogging about there, but the one that comes to mind today is the difference between how Washington DC and Seattle display art. While in the other Washington we went to the memorials and saw plenty of art at the different museums in the Smithsonian. However I can't recall seeing any public art on the street and certainly there was none to be seen at Dulles Airport. Dulles was renovated three years ago and everywhere you look there is glass and steel but no art. We did see a sculpture stand with a plastic box on top, but there was no art inside. Instead, there were wax models of the food that can be had at McDonald's on display.

This is sharp contrast to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. There is art everywhere at SeaTac, on the walls, above the elevators, in the restrooms, on the ceilings, in the windows, and above the baggage carousels, I mean EVERYWHERE. It is as if Washington DC believes that art belongs in museums whereas in Seattle we believe art should be seen in museums AND everywhere else.

Traveling Light by Linda Beaumont, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Here is the reason why. 40 years ago, in 1973, the city of Seattle and King County both adopted legislation creating the 1% for Art program where 1% of certain project costs are set aside to purchase and display art that visually enhances public facilities. In 1974, the state of Washington established the AIPP program to acquire artwork for K-12 public schools, colleges, universities, and state agencies, funded by one half of 1% of the states portion of construction costs. This is why we have art all over the city of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington. If you Google on Dulles Airport you will not see art listed anywhere on that site. However, click on http://www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Passenger-Services/Airport-Art/Pages/default.aspx, and you will see a link for a map of all the artwork at SeaTac Airport and there is A LOT of it. The Port of Seattle, who oversees the airport, actually started buying art in 1969 when the Port Commission voted to set aside $300,000 for permanent works. When the Port remodeled and expanded Concourses B, C, and D in 1990, 1% of the construction budget was set aside for art. The Port invested an additional $1.8 million in art with the opening of Concourse A and the expansion of the South terminal area.

As an artist who creates work for the human body, I haven't applied for any commissions at the airport, but I have made one public art piece. In 1994 I was selected to create something for the City of Seattle Portable Art Collection.  I came up with, The Importance of Good Manners, a collection of tiaras celebrating different aspects of the culture of Seattle. The three tiaras celebrate philanthropy, hospitality, and political correctness. The crowns live in a beautiful gilded display case and travel around to different public buildings and offices in Seattle. Can you guess which is which?

So who chooses this stuff?  In 2008 I was asked by 4Culture, formerly known as the King County Arts Commission, to serve on a jury to select artwork for a new county employee office building and parking garage in Seattle. The jury was made up of me, two county employees who actually worked in the building, and a representative of the contractor who constructed the buildings. We went through more than a hundred applications over several days and weeks and finally agreed on two artists who would create the work. It was a difficult process and I learned a lot about how public art must integrate with the lives of real people. Similar committees were formed for all of the public art that we enjoy.

Next time you are visiting an airport, look to see if there is any art. My guess is that the ones that do have art also have legislation to finance it. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

What is a hero?

What is a hero? 

The tradition of decorating heroes is very old and common to human cultures all over the world throughout time. Joseph Campbell spent his lifetime studying the hero archetype in mythology and defined a hero as an individual who leaves the community to embark on a difficult quest or adventure and then returns home to share knowledge gained from the journey.  The concept of hero is often confused with athlete or pop culture role models in contemporary America, however the US military clearly defines a hero. The military hero is an individual who has performed above and beyond expectations and risked or gave their life to save the lives of others.  Special jewelry is awarded for extraordinary conduct. For instance, the Purple Heart is awarded to members of the military wounded or killed in combat. It is the oldest medal still given to members of the US military. It bears the profile of George Washington because it began as the Badge of Military Merit, initiated by General Washington in the Revolutionary War.  Why is it purple? During Revolutionary wartimes, firearms were made of both iron and wood and the preferred wood for rifle stocks at that time was the Purple Heart wood.

The highest medal given to a member of the armed forces for valor in combat is the Medal of Honor aka the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is sparingly bestowed, especially on living soldiers, as most recipients do not survive the action they are awarded for.  It is the only military medal worn around the neck and is always presented by the President of the United States. Different versions of the medal are designed for different branches of the service, but it is always in the shape of a star and usually includes the figure or profile of the Goddess Minerva, wearing a helmet in the center. Minerva was the Roman Goddess of War.  I have seen an Air Force version on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle made of gold with pearls and enamels, a beautiful and fitting tribute to the airman it belongs to.

                                                      Former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha

This morning's Seattle Times had a front page story on one of the last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II. The post office is issuing a stamp today with an image of the medal and faces of 12 of the WW2 recipients on the boarder of the stamp sheet. Four have died since 2012 when the USPS began designing the stamp and only two are in good enough shape to travel to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony.  Here is a link to the Seattle Times article about one of the two who will be honored today:

In 2000, Helen Drutt asked me to create a medal and I came up with a decoration for the Order of the Ear. This medal is to be awarded to a politician who demonstrates an extraordinary ability to listen to their constituents. So far, it has not been bestowed.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ostentatious Display

Ostentatious Display

Wednesday's Seattle Times (February 20, 2013) was literally bursting with information about jewelry. Page A5 had a full-page ad for Porcellos Estate Buyers claiming they were desperate to buy jewelry and coins. Page A7 had an article about a big diamond heist at the Brussels airport. The robbery was timed to the minute and went so smoothly that police are convinced it was an inside job. Pages A8 and 9 had an illustrated article entitled, Dark Side to Glitter of India's Gold Love addressing how the Indian cultural traditions of buying gold jewelry for a daughter's dowry and hoarding gold is actually damaging the economy of India. Page A8 and A10 gave us an update on the famous diamond rings of Linda Mastro. Linda is the wife of Michael Mastro, a former Seattle real estate magnate currently being held after fleeing the country to avoid turning over Linda's humongous (27.8carat and 15.93 carat) diamond rings to bankruptcy court. And to think there are people out there who consider jewelry silly stuff!

All of this attention to diamonds and gold is no surprise to me. While most of the work I make is about expressing an idea, the majority of the jewelry in the world is made for a different but very traditional purpose. Ostentatious display, or flaunting your wealth, is as old as jewelry itself. Diamonds are beautiful and gold is the queen of all metals and when you wear them on your body you send a message about what you value to the rest of the world. A diamond engagement ring declares that a woman is betrothed but it also shows the world what kind of money her prospective husband has.  Michael Mastro wanted to display his success so he purchased outrageously extravagant baubles for his wife. You can't wear a mansion or a Bentley but diamonds can go everywhere. And while parents in India claim they are buying gold as an insurance policy for their daughters, it is also about impressing the community with how big a dowry you can give her.

The Marilyn Monroe version of, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) says it all in the lyrics of the title song, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend:

“Men grow cold as girls grow old
and we all lose our charms in the end.
But square-cut or pear-shaped
these rocks don't lose their shape
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

So you don’t like diamonds? The materials used in jewelry are always political. Jewelry made from more modest materials also communicates your values. A contemporary jewelry artist, Gustav Reyes, makes rings from salvaged wood and his customers are often people concerned about the environment. (See the current issue of Ornament Magazine Vol.36#2) I have been using real money in my jewelry for a very long time as a comment on American culture. Below is a new bracelet we are making made from copper pennies (1981 or before) and shredded American paper money. I keep changing the title of this bracelet, but right now I'm calling it, “I Have Money”. It is completely handmade and retails for $450.  I’ll let you decide if it is ostentatious.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Insider's Guide to Selling Silver & Gold

An Insider’s View: Tips on Selling Gold & Silver for Cash

Do you have a small fortune sitting unused in your jewelry box? Gold and silver prices are still high enough to warrant unloading those broken serpentine chains and single earrings now. What follows are a few guidelines and some personal experience on selling gold and silver.

Do Your Homework

When you walk in to see a buyer, you need to be armed with as much information as possible. That way you will know when to take a good offer, and when to walk away.

Determining Iron Content:
Begin by checking your jewelry with a magnet to see if it has iron content.  If the magnet sticks, it won’t have scrap value, though it may have value as an antique. Show it to someone who knows antiques, if you suspect it is a valuable piece. Some antique jewelry has a value greater than that of the metal it contains.

Maker’s Marks
 Look for a maker’s mark that could add to the value of the piece, especially if it is a famous maker name like William Spratling. I have a copper and brass Art Smith bracelet that is worth nothing as scrap, but around $5,000 on the antique market.  Trolling on eBay might help you find an approximate value.  A maker’s mark is like a logo:  it could be a name, initials or special image.  I have two maker’s mark stamps, one for flat metal that says WORDEN and my registered hallmark, a tiny safety pin image for the curved inside of rings. 

Quality Marks
 Next, check for quality marks on the jewelry. You may need magnification for this. Quality marks are stamps on the jewelry or flatware to indicate how much gold or silver content is in the metal. For silver, look for Sterling or 925, which indicates a sterling alloy, 925 parts silver to 75 parts alloy, usually copper.  Coin silver contains less silver, but is still worth something.  Nickel silver, German silver, and pewter have no silver content at all.  If you see the word Plate or Silver Plate, the piece is silver plated over a cheaper metal like brass, and no one will buy it for scrap.  English silver is easiest to evaluate because there are at least four marks: quality (sterling is sometimes shown as a lion), a maker’s mark identifying the shop where it was made, a mark identifying the assay office where it was evaluated, and a mark for the reigning monarch when the piece was assayed. Unfortunately, many countries do not have the documentation traditions the English do. Also, the weight of silverware knives can be deceiving; they are usually die formed from thin silver sheet and then filled with resin to add weight.

The quality mark for gold is a number followed by a K for karat, which means the percentage of gold in the alloy. 18K (75% gold), 14K (58%), and 10K (42%) are common in jewelry.  Pure gold is 24K and too soft to be used for jewelry, but can be found in coins.  Asian cultures prefer 22K gold (very yellow, but very soft) and dental gold is 18K.  If the mark has a number followed by GF, that means it is gold fill, or primarily a base metal like brass with a thin sheet of gold fused to the surface and therefore junk.  Also, please keep in mind that buyers never offer 100% of the market price.  You are selling scrap that will have to be refined before it is sold again.

Weight Measurement
 After quality, gold and silver scrap prices are determined by weight.  The jewelry world uses two measuring systems, grams (metric) and troy ounces (unique to the jewelry trade). If you have a gram scale, weigh what you have, stones and all.  If you don’t have a gram scale, you could weigh the gold on a letter scale. HOWEVER, do not confuse the avoirdupois ounce (used by the US Postal Service) for troy ounces; they are different systems.  (To convert avoirdupois to troy ounces, multiply the weight of gold or silver by .91146.)  If you don’t have a small scale to weigh your jewelry, I would avoid selling it online.  It’s better to sell to someone who weighs and evaluates the quality in front of you. 

Valuing Stones
If the jewelry contains stones, especially bigger diamonds, check them out with a reputable jeweler. Used diamonds are a whole other market and their value is determined by cut, clarity and carat weight. (Carat is another specialty weight system unique to gemstones.) If the stones are quite large, a certified appraisal might be worth the money just to know what you have. A written appraisal by a certified appraiser costs around $100.  

Finding a Buyer

I sell scrap metal on a regular basis directly to refineries, but most only buy and sell to established businesses that have accounts with them.  I always weigh the scrap on my scales before sending it in. Recently several people have asked me where an ordinary person should go to sell gold jewelry. I decided to do some sleuthing and checked out some places in the Seattle area.

 The first place I went to was Bellevue Rare Coins on NE 4th Street in downtown Bellevue; my husband found them by Googling Where to Sell Gold Coins/Seattle.  The family-owned and -operated company opened its first store, West Seattle Coins, in 1979. They are experts on coins, precious metals, and estate jewelry.  Their website offers helpful advice and they give free verbal appraisals. 

I brought two early 20th century American silver dollars and some old Chinese coins.  They offered me a fair price on the silver dollars but were not interested in buying the Chinese coins. Although the coins are very old, they aren’t rare because many were minted.  They gave me a receipt for the silver coins and paid me in cash.  Thumbs up to Bellevue Rare Coins! It was a very pleasant experience.

 My second choice was American Gold in the South Center Mall area, a company that employs people to stand on street corners and wave signs at cars driving by.  I found the store in the back of an empty strip mall, hidden from the street and up a stairwell.  I got as far as the stairs and hesitated. I realized that no one from the street could see me enter with gold or leave with cash.  It was a perfect hold-up situation and gave me the creeps.  Many years of working in the jewelry biz have taught me to be paranoid. They might be legit, but the location felt wrong, even in broad daylight.  American Gold????? I kept moving.

Warning: don’t enter any establishment that is hidden from public view or gives you the creeps. Trust your instincts and take a friend.

 My third stop was Renton Cash for Gold, located in a room about the size of a closet on the side of a gas station on Rainier Avenue, a very busy street.  The entrance was visible from the street and there were lots of folks at the gas station mini-mart, so I felt safe.  I dressed down for this session, yoga clothes and no jewelry.  I presented a pleasant gentleman sitting at a desk behind a security door with a baggie of stuff: three silver costume jewelry pieces; a small, old gold ring with rubies and an emerald; and a ring I made for my mom in the 1980s of 14K gold set with a large piece of bright green jade and five high quality small diamonds on the side.  Since I made it, I knew what it was worth.

The gentleman went through the usual tests. First, he touched all the pieces with a magnet to see if they had any iron content. When nothing stuck to the magnet, he examined each piece with a jeweler’s loupe, searching for quality marks. Then he sorted the silver pieces into a pile and rubbed each one on a black touchstone until they left a mark.  He then applied drops of nitric acid to each mark and none of them fizzed. (Fizzing indicates the strong presence of more lowly metals like copper or brass.) Then he rubbed the two gold rings on another black touchstone and applied a drop from a different bottle of acid (a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric) to those marks. No fizzing again, a good sign.

 Last he weighed the silver pieces all together on a digital scale and punched some numbers into a calculator.  Then he did the same with the two gold rings, stones and all, and offered me 6 bucks for the silver junk and $200 for the two gold rings.  I laughed and said I’d keep them for that.   When he asked me why I laughed, I explained that I had made the jade ring and knew the value of the stones and karat and weight of the gold.  He raised his offer to $500 even after I told him I didn’t want to sell.  We had a candid chat after that and he admitted he knew nothing about stones.

 Because he used orthodox methods for testing gold and silver content, I told him I would recommend him to a friend who has some gold to sell and I will, if all she has to sell is gold jewelry without stones or antique value.  However, he never told me the price he was paying for scrap, so there is no way to compare his prices with online sites.  His prices also seemed to be negotiable. What’s my verdict on Renton Cash for Gold? The owner is honest, but ignorant about jewelry.  If you are going to go that route, be a comparative shopper and get other quotes.

A Word for Posterity

 Finally, I want to put in a word for posterity.  The history of gold and silver jewelry has been compromised because every time there is a war, recession or depression, people tend to yank the stones from the settings and melt down the metal for money.  That is probably why we have no surviving hat ornaments made by the famous Italian Renaissance jeweler Benvenuto Cellini although he claimed in his autobiography he made hundreds of them. King Henry VIII was notorious for having the royal gems pulled from jewelry every time he remarried, reusing the same stones in gifts for his new queen.  It was good business for the Tudor period jewelers, but bad for the history of jewelry. 

Please be careful you aren’t destroying something that has value as art.  Do your homework, and let the jewelry and its history live on.