Good Life: The Mix: How We Spend: Gold Diggers

Forget lunch dates and cocktail hours. Hard economic times have Main Liners turning to a new — and lucrative — type of party

Jane O’Mara anxiously pulls out a Ziploc baggie and dumps a mound of tarnished gold jewelry on the table. With black-rimmed magnifying glasses perched on his nose, Mario, a South Philly jeweler, slumps forward in his chair to inspect the pieces. Nearby, a dozen freshly primped women mill about, sipping chardonnay and grazing crudités, waiting for their turns. Ever since the price of gold hit an all-time high of $1,000 an ounce last spring, parties like this one in Wayne have been more popular than save-the-cute-animal fund-raisers.
And guests are more than willing to part with those iguana earrings purchased during a margarita moment in Acapulco, or the add-a-bead necklace received as a bat mitzvah gift. When Mario — he prefers not to give a last name — offered O’Mara $450 in cash for her booty, she pocketed the crisp bills enthusiastically. “It’s mostly jewelry from old boyfriends,” says the Wayne resident. “I’m getting rid of bad karma.”
Bitter ex-girlfriends aside, even Main Liners can’t help but relish the thought of more moolah to put toward Manolos and Mercedeses. A fellow partygoer from Ardmore happily trades in a bracelet and leaves the party $141 richer, declaring, “This is going toward filling my gas tank!” Valerie Feinstein, a West Chester resident (and sister of the host), is overjoyed that her broken gold chains fetched $400 — and anticipates spending it as quickly as she got it. Across the room, Berwyn’s Dana Scheponik is excitedly text-messaging friends with the news that her out-of-style trinkets are worth a whopping $470. “What woman doesn’t appreciate unexpected cash?” she wonders aloud, slipping the bills into her designer clutch.
Hawking gold at a pawnshop could imply desperation, which is precisely why Pia Varma, co-founder of Precious Metals Exchange of Delaware County, who also throws similar parties, has a Lansdowne store with ritzy maroon carpeting, a mahogany counter and sepia photographs of Philadelphia that are meant to say “elegant bank,” not “AC Cash-4-Gold.” She knows that middle-to-upper-class women who wouldn’t step foot inside a pawnshop will happily schlep to Radnor to sip some pinot grigio and dump the necklaces and bangles that were high fashion in the ’80s.
There’s an unassuming profiteer from this trade: the host. Which is one reason why this is the third gilded soiree that Malvern mom Nell Rose Phillips has thrown in the past two months. While Tupperware rewards its peppy party organizers with free airtight containers, gold party planners typically keep 10 percent of the value of the items cashed in by their friends. “It’s a good split,” says Phillips, who publicizes her parties mostly through word-of-mouth and social connections, and has seen and heard of guests trotting in with everything from lonely earrings to … teeth. And collecting cold, hard cash for an obsolete crown is certainly reason to show your grill.