The real price of a high metals market

Yesterday, I decided to scrap some metal. Spot prices have been rising every day and the timing was good for my personal economics. My sister and I traveled in to Jewelers Row and I decided my instincts would guide me on where to go. Once I had chosen, I looked around the dusty, small shop. It had been a busy day and there were piles of old silver holloware and gold everywhere. A bench jeweler was retipping some prongs, and the owner of the shop — Joseph — greeted me and my sister as we came in. I could see by his clear blue eyes and open face that he was an honest man. This was the place.

We went about the business of weighing and calculating, and my sister and I had already done the hard work of sorting clean scrap from sweeps, we had graded all of the gold parts and unwanted pieces in advance, and pre-weighed everything to get a rough idea of our total. Joseph noted and calculated, and told us how unusual it was to have knowledgeable customers in the shop and that he appreciated what we had done for him after such a busy day. My sister told him I was a jeweler, and then we began to talk shop. I admired some of the older pieces in the case, including a set of beautiful chased and repoussed holloware and old hand hammered silver serve ware. I said a high metals market was a good-bad thing, because all of this beautiful work would be lost. How sad it was to see the work of my metalsmith brothers destined for the crucible. How horrible it was to know that the history and hard work of my craft would be melted down and converted to a number on some investors spreadsheet somewhere, and that unknown goldsmith’s training, vision and labor meant nothing more than a pile of money in this greedy world.

Joseph stopped his calculations. He asked me if I wanted to see something spectacular and told the bench jeweler to lock the door. He went into the back, and brought out a huge, solid fine silver vessel. The surface was intricately chased and completely covered with intertwined floral decoration, borders and figures. I believe it was southeast asian, probably Thai, judging by the clothing on the figures. The entire vessel had been raised and chased by hand. It was very heavy and old, and there were still remnants of black pitch on the inside. I turned it over and over in my hands and felt the connection with its maker. Joseph told me he had a buyer for it — from a museum. I thanked him and told him how happy I was for that as we smiled at each other.

We finished our transaction and totaled out, chatting again about tools and we joked a little about the nice dinner my sister and I would have that night. I shook Joseph’s hand and thanked him for sharing that work with me, and for saving it from an undeserved fate in the flame. As our eyes met, I knew I had found a kindred soul, and that I would be in Joseph’s shop again.

As I type this, there is a transferred, black floral impression from pitch and polish on the heel of my right hand. It is a reminder of the work I touched yesterday and the connection I made with the history of my craft. No matter how high the price of our raw materials go, investment greed and the frenzy of hoarding metal can never take that from us. We make for the joy of making, not for the lust of taking.

Today’s tip: I keep several labeled covered plastic containers in my bench pan. As I generate scrap, I drop it in the proper container so I can take advantage of a good spot price and be ready to take my scrap in quickly.

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About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

5 responses to “The real price of a high metals market

  • Layne

    OH, Helen, it is indeed so sad to watch these items so meticulously crafted get melted down into $$. I had a few pieces that I sold for others, and I had trouble letting go. I’m glad that you had a great experience selling your scrap….it can often be so frustrating.

    • helendriggs

      Oh I know — I’ve heard horror stories. The worst are the pieces you’d buy for yourself — if you had the cash. Which is why you are scrapping in the first place, lol!

  • siranneal

    Nice blog..I’ve enjoyed reading the first/latest post you did. However, I find it difficult to read…maybe it’s My browser…not sure. I facet gemstones

    Would like to add you to My blogroll

    A

    • helendriggs

      I noticed on an older PC monitor the text is tough to read. But, I am a mac girl, so I build on my mac. Sorry!
      I haven’t faceted (at least on a faceting machine) but I have done freeform flat faces on opaque materials on the flat lap by eye. It’s fun!

  • monte e jones

    i love your blogs your my kind of lady, it was thefirst time i ever read them. i made you a favorite before i even finished the first one, you are really a great writer. i also love cool tools, keep up the good work dear.

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