Eddie’s Tips: Sorting Precious Metal Scrap Saves Money

In this article, Eddie shares one of his first jewelry-making lessons—the importance of saving precious scrap metal.

Authored by Eddie Bell

Last edited: 1/2/2020
A workbench with tools on the benchtop

Rio Grande was founded in 1944 by my father, Saul Bell. A jeweler for more than 80 years, Saul was involved in every imaginable aspect of the jewelry industry, including manufacturing, diamond-setting, watch-making, wholesaling, and retailing. He loved to share his vast knowledge of the jewelry-making process. My brothers, sisters and I still benefit daily from his knowledge and wisdom, and I hope to pass on some of what I have learned from him and from other master jewelers through this series.

I was 13 years old when my father first let me sit at his jeweler's bench. I was so excited I can remember the moment like it was yesterday! I was helping him bezel-set a diamond by tapping a punch as he guided it around the bezel. I asked him to teach me to set stones. To my surprise, he got up and set me down to start learning the basics right then and there. As it turned out, it would be a long time before I set my first stone.

The first lesson? How to not lose the filings and saw dust I produced when filing and sawing metal. I think silver was $1.59 an ounce and gold was $35 an ounce at the time. Relative to today, that doesn't seem expensive but it was still precious, so nothing got mixed and nothing got away. He had a little tin box with a recessed sieve in the top that we used to sift the filings and saw dust from larger bits of metal. There were containers for each karat of gold and others for silver and platinum. Work was sorted by metal type and then by job type. All the 14-karat was worked in a batch, then the bench pan was cleaned and the scrap was segregated before starting to work with another alloy.

We kept a magnet on the bench and we used it to remove broken saw blades and anything magnetic from the scrap. This gave us some idea of what we had and helped us get the best return when selling the scrap. Fast-forward now to $17 silver, and gold at just over $1,200 an ounce, and it makes more sense than ever to be careful with precious metal bits, pieces, filings and saw dust. Use care to prevent mixing silver scrap with gold or gold-filled scrap. The refining process is different for silver and gold, and when they are mixed together, you have no idea how much of what you have and, in small quantities, the recovery cost can exceed the value of the metal.

If you'd like to convert your precious metal scrap to Rio Grande credit or a refund check, you can find instructions on the precious metals recycling service page of our website. Complete instructions can also be found on our precious metal scrap packing list, which you should print, fill out, and include with your shipment.

And for those of you who don't remember when the "Plumb Gold" rule went into effect, don't be surprised if old jewelry marked 10K and 14K assays to have 39% and 56% gold respectively rather than 41.66% and 58.33%. In the good old days, a half-karat tolerance was allowed and most manufacturers took all of it, so 14-karat was really 13-1/2-karat and 10-karat was 9-1/2-karat.

Did I mention that I was happy to earn 35¢ an hour in those good old days?