As the economy continues to wobble, everyone's eyeing money-making opportunities "” including those found in the family jewelry box. Gold, at $1,220 per ounce the day we wrote this story, could finance a vacation, pay a bill or fund a sought-after purchase.

"Prices are extremely high now," says Clay Wallen, co-owner of Hyde Park Rare Coin. "If you have pieces that are broken or you will never wear, now is a good time to go to a reputable dealer, cash in and put it in stock or toward a vacation."

But before you sell Great Aunt Ida's hideous brooch, do a little research to get the best price.

"The most important thing to understand is the carat of the gold you have and how local companies do business," Wallen says. "It's prudent to do business with a company with a splendid Better Business Bureau record and one that's preferably been at the same location several years. Know who you are dealing with and who is behind the company.

"I've had people who've cleaned out a desk drawer thinking they have junk and walk out with $500.

Here are the basics:

Most gold in the U.S. is 10 carat, 14 carat or 18 carat gold. (Example: 14 carat gold is 14 parts pure gold, 10 parts alloy). "Twenty-four karat is pure and doesn't generally occur in jewelry outside the Middle East or Southeast Asia," where gold is their personal wealth, says Wallen.

Precious metals are weighted in ounces troy. Each ounce contains 20 pennyweights, or 31.1 grams.

Before you visit buyers, consider getting the pieces appraised. A "neutral" appraiser, someone not buying, is the best person to tell you what a piece is worth. Some charge by the piece. If you have several pieces you can usually arrange for an hourly rate. Then you'll have an accurate weight, gold content and a ballpark figure. Aim to get about 85 percent of that.

Don't overlook broken pieces, especially anything 18 or 24 carat. Most businesses buy to reclaim the gold. They only care about how much gold it contains, not whether it's attractive.

"Shop around" Wallen advises. "That gives the customer peace of mind that they are dealing with someone who will give them the best price."

Ask if the buyer has a license issued by the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Financial Institutions, but keep in mind that jewelry stores don't need a license if their purchases of precious metals are 25 percent or less of their annual retail sales, and that temporary licenses are issued for short-term purchasing events at locations other than their regular place of business. To check on a license, go to

Platinum jewelry, mostly used in ring settings, is even more valuable . . . $1,740 per ounce the day we checked.

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