Evanston jeweler aims for gold standard in precious metals purchases
Ira Rose, owner of Cottage Jewelry in Evanston, checks out a diamond in his office Aug. 6. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Cottage Jewelers
SPECIALTY: Jewelry sales, gold buying
ADDRESS: 530 Dempster, Evanston
INFORMATION: cottagejeweler.com, (847) 328-1420
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:10AM
EVANSTON — If you’re not wearing it, you might want to sell it.
There are some imitators in the gold-buying business but for sheer longevity it would be hard to beat Ira Rose and Cottage Jewelers.
Rose opened his shop at 530 Dempster in 1976 and started selling to the public in 1978.
Jimmy Carter was president, inflation was running about 21 percent, and gold selling for $860 an ounce — about half of what it stands at now.
“So figure,” he said adding up the years, “from 1978, I’ve been buying for 34 years.”
Back in the day, when he first erected the sign, people sold gold but it wasn’t as popular as now.
“Today it’s popular because the press promotes the fact that gold is so high,’’ he said. “It’s $1,615 an ounce. Between the advertising, the gold buyers and the press everyone knows about selling gold.”
Cottage Jewelers is a full-service store, doing brisk business in wedding and engagement rings, costume jewelry and antique jewelry.
But the store’s long-standing tradition of dealing with gold works in its favor, Rose said. Customers prefer dealing with a brick-and-mortar over the kiosks sprouting up in malls and along highways looking to score over the high gold prices, “because we’re a neighbor and member of the community,” he said.
One of his customers learned her lesson the hard way, visiting one of the new shops, in a nearby suburb. Offered $1,600 for the piece, she announced she was returning to Rose, her old jeweler, Ira Rose. As she walked out the door “they said ‘we’ll give you, $3,200,’ ” said Rose, relating the story. (Rose ended up writing her a check for $4,800).
For customers who may be having second thoughts about what their jewelry is worth, said Rose, “we always say ‘Go shop around and see us last.’ That way we can show them we have done our due diligence ... and can give the best price.”
People should expect transparency, he said.
“If you were going to sell gold to me right now I would go on my computer, which is my iPhone, and see what gold is selling for,” he said. “I see that gold is selling for $1,589. That’s the current price of gold at the minute. That’s the current fix — the current price of gold that commodity traders are trading at, our benchmark for what we pay.
On gold, the price is also set according to 24 karat, regarded as .999 pure gold.
“Now people say, ‘How does that work out?,’ ” Rose said. “Well if our current price is for 24- karat gold, what you get at 14-karat is 56 percent, which is only 56 net. So if you’re getting $1,600 you’re going to get only about half of that. There is the refining cost; there’s a shrinkage cost; and there’s an assay cost (the refinery has to test the metal). Plus, we have to make a small profit.”
A similar rule of thumb applies to other precious metals.
“Today, right now (pure) silver is $28 an ounce,” he said. “Sterling silver is 92.5-percent pure so you’re going to end up not getting $28 for your silver; you’re going to get around $22, minus a 6- to 8-percent commission.”
Gold may have fallen from its stratospheric levels of a year ago but business is still better-than-good.
“Tons all day,” said Rose, shaking out some items from a pouch.
Spilling the rings, bracelets and necklaces on his desk, he said: “We bought all this Indian jewelry from a guy. He just came in. He said, ‘We heard about you; we heard you give fair prices.’ ”
Picking through the pieces, Rose said: “You see here, coral; here’s turquoise; here’s obsidian; here’s fire agate.”
The door to the shop jingles. A short time later Rose’s assistant Martha comes to his office in the back of the shop and lays an object on his wood desk. Rose, 66, and his visitor study it for a moment.
“Molars. Gold teeth,” Rose says matter-of-factly. “The man is selling gold from his mouth. It happens all day.”
How much are they worth?
Rose puts the teeth on the aluminum scale, which is turned so the customer can read it at the same time. He then hits a few keys on his calculator.
For a pair of choppers?
Rose is nonplussed. “And the teeth are still in there. I’ll have to smash them out,” he said.
What will he use to eat? “He must have a new crown,’’ said Rose, ready to move on to a new topic. “Sometimes people bring in a chain or something that’s broken. (If there’s) a lot of gold or silver in it, it still has value. His teeth have value.”
Picking up the piece, the diamond sparkling, he said: “Here’s an engagement ring. A lot of divorced people — doctors, lawyers, everybody. They are bringing in their engagement rings and cashing them in.
“ A lot of women are thrilled to be divorced. (They say) ‘He gave it to me, I don’t want this.’ ”
The same goes for fine jewelry.
“The (baby) boomers are downsizing, not just with their homes — selling those big homes — they’re selling their fine jewelry, because they’re finding they have less and less occasion to wear them,” he said. “It sits in a drawer and they know if somebody passes away the kids are going to fight over it.
“And it will be much easier to distribute the money now than later and have the kids fighting over the money.”
Rose goes on: “I’m a boomer and I sold my own sterling-silver jewelry because I found at Thanksgiving all the kids and family could care less about sterling silver. What we care about now are long-standing relations, right? We don’t care about material things.
“So I sold my sterling silver at market price.”