Thursday, July 22, 2010

Understanding the Gold Market

If anyone has been paying attention, I am sure you have noticed the discussion about the current gold market and its sky rocketing prices. In the past few months gold has been reaching record heights of over $1250 and ounce.  There are many factors at play that have caused this rise in the market.  The gold market is tied into the global economy and money supply. It is in demand as a luxury item,
industrial material, and as an investment.  Supply is affected by mining production and the rate that recycled gold reenters the market.  The market can be volatile and predictions range as to what the gold market will do next; however, many experts are predicting that gold will continue to rise to even greater heights in the next 5 to to 10 years.

The first explanation as to the current state of the gold market lies with gold's positive correlation to an increased global money supply and our current global economic situation. There are two situations that can cause an increase in monetary supply and both can result in an increase in gold prices.  An increase in monetary supply can occur as a result of economic growth.  Increased general wealth means that there is more disposable income to be spent on luxury items such as jewelry and gold causing a greater demand for these products.  The second scenario is more closely matched to the one we currently find ourselves. If there is increased money supplies and little to no economic growth, this causes fears of inflation and causes investors to find safety by investing in hard assets.  Since 2007 we have been in the midst of an economic downturn in the United States and worldwide. The most recent financial crisis occurred in Europe where the European Union approved an unprecedented $1 trillion dollar loan package for emergency loans, bail outs, and IMF support. As the euro fell 12% against the USD, the global stock market took a big hit. In the wake of this economic melt down, governments across the globe have instituted policies to soften the economic blow and to attempt to create some recovery.  One of these strategies is quantitative easing.  This is a monetary policy that is used to increase money supplies and therefore stimulate a stagnant economy.  Central Banks purchase assets from financial institutions using money that they have ultimately, created out of nothing.  This strategy has the potential to backfire by devaluing currency and causing inflation. As the global money supply increases with little economic growth, fears of inflation increase causing investors to turn to hard assets, such as gold, to protect their wealth.  People are seeking the safety of gold in a market where currencies are falling and fluctuating.  This has caused the gold market in Europe to take off. It looks as though gold is benefiting, as it represents some stability to investors in an unstable market. 

It is impossible to look at the gold market with out taking on a global perspective because, the global demand for gold is very diverse. Over that past 5 years, the largest global demand for gold came from jewelry and more than 50% of this demand came from India, China, Turkey, and the Middle East. Demand for investments only accounts for about 20% of demand coming mostly from India, Europe, and the United States and only 12% of demand comes from industrial needs, mostly from Japan.  To understand the gold market fully it is important to look at the global influences.  Since the gold jewelry market creates the largest demand, we will look briefly at what influences are at play.  Jewelry demand tends to fluctuate seasonally brought on by various holidays and celebrations around the world.  The fourth quarter usually results in the highest gold jewelry demand.  This is caused by the occurrence of end of the year celebrations, Christmas, and Diwali.  The 1st quarter usually lends the second highest demand due to the Chinese New Year, National Day, Valentine's Day, and the Italian Wedding Season.  India has the largest market for gold jewelry with the U.S coming in second.  Jewelry demand is also expected to stay strong in China and India in the coming years

Another factor affecting the fluctuations of the gold market is supply.  Gold can be mined from every continent on Earth except for Antarctica where it is prohibited. In the past several years mining output has leveled off and supplies have actually fallen in 5 of the last 8 years.  This is due to a decrease in spending and exploration. With investments increasing and jewelry consumption expected to jump 19% this year, it is a simple situation of supply and demand.  Demand has been increasing while supply has been staying relatively constant. In addition to new production driven by mining, much of the gold in circulation comes from recycled gold.  Recycled or scrap gold plays an important role in the gold market and represents approximately 1/4 of the gold supply.  Since gold is virtually indestructible, in theory, all of the gold ever mined still exists today. Recycled gold comes mostly from jewelry and only applies to jewelry that has been melted down refined and turned back to gold bars. Because the gold price has risen so high, imports have decreased in some areas making recycled gold an important addition to keep up the flow of supplies.

Because of the increases in the current gold market, many people have decided that now is a good time to sell.  Gold prices have reached all time highs over the past several months due to numerous factors including the current global economic situation and the increase in global monetary supply. Many people who are in need of extra income in a rough economic time, are turning to their own gold possessions and are thinking about selling.  With prices higher than they have ever been, and for those who don't want to risk a possible down turn in the future market, now is the perfect time to sell (granted one has done their research and has found a reputable company to sell to).  Predictions as to how far this current market will rise are wide spread.  Some are unsure how much further the market can push before reaching its ceiling while others predict that among this economic uncertainty, that gold will continue to $2,000 an ounce or higher.  Either way it seems that things are bright for gold right now whether you are buying or selling and with a market that is influenced by such a wide variety of factor in a changing global market it is hard to tell where the gold future lies.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

White Gold

Gold is the most popular setting for jewelry across the world. The two most popular types of gold are white gold and yellow gold. Until the 1920’s, white gold was virtually unheard of, but now it is the preferred metal for many in everything from earrings to engagement rings. In 1990 we saw an all time high in demand for white gold, most specifically, in engagement and wedding rings. Why did this demand for white gold change from the ever-classy yellow gold?

We have all seen the styles in the shop windows change from spandex to baggy sweaters, distressed jeans to micro mini skirts and now, back to spandex. Styles change every day whether it be clothes, furniture, cars, or paint colors. Jewelry is no exception.

Many women began to prefer white gold over yellow gold because the color looked nicer against their skin, it matched their clothing better, their trusted friend wore it, or simply because it appealed to them more. People began to view yellow gold as old-fashioned and out of date. They sought something new, fresh, and different than the yellow gold that they associated with their mother and grandmother.
Platinum became more popular in the 1920’s than it ever had before. Platinum was exactly what people were looking for: fresh, new and gorgeous. Unfortunately, platinum proved much more expensive than the average pocket book could handle. Because platinum was so expensive, many people opted for white gold, which looks identical to platinum if done right.

There are two ways to get white gold. One way is the mixture of the metals used in creating the jewelry. Gold is an extremely soft metal and is always mixed with an alloy such as copper or silver to make it harder and practical for wear. Depending on what alloys are used and in what percentages, the gold could be white, yellow, pink, purple, and even green.

The second way to create white gold is to coat yellow gold in rhodium, a liquid made from platinum. When a yellow gold piece is dipped in rhodium it gets a coating that lightens the color and makes it look like white gold. The more rhodium on a piece, the whiter it will appear. The effect is like painting a wall. The wall appears to be white, but underneath is it still yellow.

When buying a piece of jewelry, it is impossible to tell whether it is solid white gold or yellow gold coated in rhodium unless the jeweler knows. The markings are the exact same.  Both look equally beautiful and generally cost the same.

The unfortunate side to yellow gold dipped in rhodium is that, like paint on a wall, the rhodium can rub off with wear and time. Sometimes the rhodium can begin to wear off after as little as four to six months. When that happens you will begin to see a yellow tinge showing through.

The only way to protect your jewelry from doing this is to take very good care of it. Do not wear your jewelry in the shower, when doing yard work or any other activity that may cause more contact with your jewelry than necessary.

Within in the past few months, style has begun to change again and yellow gold is peeking its head through. We are beginning to see more yellow gold than we have since the 1980’s. We will just have to wait and see if yellow gold comes out on top of white gold again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cleaning Your Coins: A Bad Idea

    We have received many questions about the proper way to clean a coin. Many people want to clean their coins until they shine before they bring them in to sell or put on display. Unfortunately, unless you are an expert, cleaning often causes irreparable damage and detracts from the coin’s value.

When you attempt to clean your coin with soap and water, a towel, alcohol, silver polish…etc, you may be scraping away at the natural coating and damaging the coin. Cleaning products are too harsh on most coins and can bring the value of a $50 coin down to $10 in one careful cleaning.

     Learning how to clean a coin properly takes years of research and experimentation and even then, you run the risk of damaging it. If you are interested in learning the proper way to clean your coins, do your research. Talk to other coin collectors about methods that have worked for them and practice before taking the chance of damaging a valuable coin. The best way to practice is to get a pile of junk coins that are worth only their face value (such as new coins that are still in circulation) and experiment with different methods. Each time you clean a coin, look at what damage the cleaning caused. Did it scratch the coin? Did it remove a coating? If you see damage, you probably either used a product that was too harsh or you put too much pressure on the coin. Remember, this experimentation can take a lifetime. If you are not dedicated to learning and putting lots of time into this, don’t attempt it.

If you have ancient coins or coins covered in grime and dirt, you can try soaking them in olive oil for just a few minutes. This will loosen the dirt so that you can read the coin properly. Remember to be very gentle with the coins and be sure not to leave them in oil for too long as this may cause more damage than good.

The safest way to assure that your coins do not depreciate in value and that they remain in the best condition possible is to leave them dirty. They may not be as attractive or impressive to display, however they are worth a lot more than if you try to clean them and end up damaging them. It is generally not worth the risk to attempt to clean valuable coins. The rule of thumb for cleaning your coins is: Don’t. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Treasure Hunting in Your Own Home

Over the past several months, our customers have been unearthing all kinds of treasures. You may be surprised by the hidden gems you can uncover when sifting through your junk and jewelry drawers. The change on your night stand may be worth many times it’s face value! Here are some helpful tips when treasure hunting in your home. Keep in mind, however, that not all junk is treasure.

- When you are sorting through U.S. dimes, quarters, dollars, or ½ dollars look for dates starting before 1964. Coins dating earlier than this were still made with partial silver. If you are a coin enthusiast you may also want to look for other specific dates or error coins that may be very valuable.

- Look for gold pieces. Remember that not all gold colored jewelry is real gold. It may be gold plated, filled, or even just painted to mimic real gold. An easy home test is to hold a magnet to the piece. If the magnet is attracted, it is not real gold. If the magnet is not attracted, it may be real gold and it is probably worth sending it in to be tested. If you have a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe you can also check your jewelry for markings indicating the karat amount of your gold pieces.

- Look for items stamped pure or sterling silver. Markings on sterling silver may read:

- .924 Sterling Silver
- 925
- Sterling
- Sterling Silver
- Or it may bear some type of manufacturer’s hallmark

You may find cutlery, plates, vessels, trinkets, and jewelry (among other items) that are made from pure or sterling silver.

You never know what you may find buried in your home. At the bottom of a pile of cheap plated rings, you may find one that is solid 14KT gold. The ceramic figurine hidden in the back of your closet may actually be a highly in-demand collectible. You don’t know what you have until you start looking through it, and with gold prices still expected to climb, now is a perfect time to get started.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bronze Sculptures: Part Two

Robert Graham "Gabriela" 105/250...For more information on this sculpture, please contact us

The most popular and commonly used casting method for fine art bronze sculptures is lost wax casting, cire perdue, which is an ancient process that dates back thousands of years. This type of casting was first used in ancient Mesopotamia, and around 550 BCE, it is believed that the Greeks further mastered the technique, as they were the first to scale their figures up to life size.  The construction of life sized bronze statues involved many complications and required special techniques; the trick was casting hollow sculptures, which were lighter weight for transportation and required less metal to produce.  Many sculptures were initially made from welded metal sheets, which led to the lost wax casting method.

Lost Wax bronze casting, also called “Lost Mould” when materials other than wax are used, is a casting process that involves creating a bronze object from a sculptural model and can vary with each foundry.  Traditionally, a form is modeled from a soft-bodied material like wax or clay, then is covered with a softer inner mold and a rigid outer mold.  Inner molds may consist or latex or silicone rubber, where as outer molds are typically made of plaster or fiberglass. 

After the mold is made, the original model is removed, and the inside of the mold is poured and coated with molten wax until a desired thickness is reached.  This new wax shape is an exact replica of the original model, but is hollow (in some cases solid – for smaller sculptures).  It is pulled from the mold and may be re-detailed by the artist or artisan, after which, wax rods and a pouring cup are attached to form a tree-like structure (a process called spruing).  This provides channels for metal to flow in and air to escape during the casting.  The sprued wax form is then dipped in a ceramic-like shell mold material and is placed in a kiln, which hardens the shell mold and melts out the wax inside.

The shell mold then cools and is tested for leaks and durability, then is heated back up and poured with bronze.  The shell and metal are cooled, then the metal is broken out of the shell and is assembled (in the case of larger objects cast in sections) sandblasted, polished, and waxed until a desired decoration is achieved.

"Bronco Buster" by Frederic Remington. Remington began to employ the lost-wax casting process in 1898 with Roman Bronze Works in New York. His bronze sculptures are very desirable and highly reproduced by foundries using the same casting methodFor more information on this sculpture reproduction, please contact us

After a final polishing, corrosive materials may be applied to form a patina effect or the bronze may be gilded (coated with gold) to produce a matte gold luster.  Some artists may choose to embellish their sculptures with additional paint, metals, jewels, glass for eyes, or ivory.

"Eternal Story" by Dimitri Chiparus.  Chiparus was known for his charming Art Deco Chryselephantine (bronze and ivory) figural sculptures.  Our Chiparus reproductions, beautifully handcrafted at a Los Angeles-baed foundry, are decorated with paints, patina and mammoth ivory.  For more information on this sculpture, please contact us

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bronze Sculptures: Part One - A Brief History

The desirability to represent an image in three dimensions has existed for centuries.  As you stroll through a museum admiring the remnants of antiquity or visit a bustling contemporary art gallery, you will notice there are many stone, clay and metal materials that have been used faithfully throughout the ages.  There is one material that sticks out from the rest in terms of its durability, longevity and sculpting versatility: Bronze.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and has great versatility because of its strength and ability to hold its shape.  Unlike marble, stone or clay (which are more brittle) bronze requires less structural support and can be cast into a wider variety of complex forms that are less rigid, such as action poses.  Also, bronze possesses an unusual but desirable physical property that makes it expand during cooling, which allows sculptors to include intricate details into their molds.  When the bronze expands into these voids, the result is a more finely detailed sculpture.
Bronze has been used since the time of ancient Egypt, China, Rome and Greece.  About half of all sculpture produced during antiquity was composed of bronze.  Decoration on temples and other public buildings was among one of the earliest uses of bronze, as was the forging of ancient weapons and currency used by the Greeks and most other cultures of that time.  It became a valuable metal needed by leaders and city states to create armies, which was troublesome to the preservation of sculptures as many were melted down for more functional purposes.  Few ancient bronze statues have survived from this time, though occasionally, some are unearthed from archeological digs or undersea salvage.

 Bronze remained popular as a material used to craft tools until the early part of the Renaissance, when its purpose as an art form saw a revival.  As a sculptural medium, bronze became the rage in the 14th century, particularly in Italy  Donatello brought renewed interest

to bronze sculpture with his famous image of David and Lorenzo Ghiberti became known for his decorative casts that adorned doorways and other architectural elements throughout Florence. 

Lorenzo Ghiberti The Story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob from Porta del Paradiso

Sculpting from bronze saw a continued desirability throughout the Renaissance, with artists aiming for even more life-like qualities, bringing more realism to their work.  It wasn’t until another four centuries later that the Industrial Revolution would provide the tools necessary to make bronze sculptures available in editions. 

In the middle of the 1800’s, foundries sprang up in Paris and artists from all over the world would travel there to study and have their sculptures cast in bronze.  The medium captivated and entranced artists, who kept the art form alive and well, propelling it into the Modern art era. Rodin, Boccioni and, later, Henry Moore applied new ideas like Implied Motion and Abstraction to their work and often made large works that were placed in gardens and public spaces.  Some contemporary artists have even made bronze sculptures that were only about the material itself, showing how chemicals or weather affect the color and texture of the surface.

Matter of Time, Richard Serra, image source Guggenheim Bilbao

Whatever the approach and style may be, artists and artisans have perpetually connected with bronze as an art material, and have bended and molded it into something aesthetically fascinating. 

At Continental, we are privileged to have several fine bronze sculptures in our inventory.  Part two of our bronze blog will explore some of these works, their creators and how they were made.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting to Know Your Porcelain Collectibles

Porcelain collectibles have been produced for hundreds of years and have a rich history of being used in many cultures and countries all over the world. They have moved in and out of our lives more often than we know… Perhaps you’ve used a Bone China plate for your morning breakfast or at an elegant Tea Ceremony, or maybe you spent your childhood admiring the Hard-paste figurines displayed in your grandparents cupboards and have since inherited them. Here at Continental, we’ve seen numerous types, styles, and shapes of porcelain, each with their own story and distinguishing characteristics. If you are a porcelain collector, wish to sell your collection, or have a general curiosity about these ceramics, we’ve assembled some information that will help you become more acquainted with your items.

Porcelain is a type of ceramic that is unique due to the composition of its component materials and high firing temperature. It is a vitrified pottery with a white, fine grained body that is usually translucent, as distinguished from earthenware which is coarse, porous and opaque. There are three main types of porcelain, each with their own characteristics:

- Hard-paste (True) porcelain is composed of kaolin and petunse and fires at around 1450 °C. When fired, kaolin provides strength in binding the piece together, while petunse fuses into a natural kind of glass that gives this porcelain its smoothness and brilliance. The sturdiness of hard paste porcelain allows for tighter modeling and more robust shapes, even in very delicate designs.
- Soft-paste porcelain is composed of the same materials as hard paste, but is fired at a lower temperature (around 1200 °C). Soft paste tends to be more granular and porous since the component materials do not fuse together in the case of hard paste porcelain. The lower firing temperature provides some benefits, including a wider palette of colors for decoration. Also, the surface is somewhat less white or brilliant and has an almost silky or marble-like feel to the touch, which can be a preferred look, especially on human figurines.
- Bone China is comprised of the same ingredients as hard paste (petunse and kaolin) but with added bone ash. Bone ash contains lime and phosphoric acid which help in fusing all of the materials together and allow for a more stable final product, even at the lower temperatures required for soft paste porcelain. For manufacturers, this means less damage due to cracking in the kiln and less waste or rejects, thus less cost. In decorative terms, an item with at least 30 percent mixture of bone ash can also achieve a similar brilliance and translucence typically seen on hard paste, but at the lower production costs of soft paste. Bone China was first introduced in England in 1750, and is rarely produced in other European countries or the US.

Porcelain collectibles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and can range in purpose from being lavishly decorative to being highly functional in your day to day lives. Most porcelain shapes are made by casting, throwing or being pressed into molds, sometimes going through further surface modifications such as carving, perforating, or embossing to achieve the final look. After the shapes are formed, they are commonly decorated with underglazes, glazes, painting or transfer printing (unglazed and undecorated porcelain is called Bisque).

As is the case with many ceramic items, after a porcelain collectible is formed, fired and decorated, it is usually marked by its maker. Ceramic marks, also called backstamps, are like fingerprints. They are a symbol of pride and workmanship of the maker and can often tell you origin, age and quality of the porcelain. Identifying these symbols is more than just reading a mark, it involves careful consideration of many elements to confirm authenticity.

Most porcelain marks on fine antique china are "underglaze"--meaning, they were applied to the piece prior to firing. For the first hundred years or so of porcelain production there were only two known pigments that could withstand the high firing temperature necessary: iron red and cobalt blue, with the latter being more popular.
Often times a piece of china will bear two marks: one beneath the glaze, indicating the factory that produced the blank, and the second above the glaze indicating the decorator of the piece.

Another common type of porcelain mark is the retailer or distributor's mark. In certain cases large importers would special order china to be marked with the name of domestic retailers. These stamps are no indication of either the place of manufacture or decoration.

It is good for dealers and collectors to practice caution when buying and selling porcelain items. The more prized the product by a certain manufacturer, the more likely it is that the maker’s mark has been imitated. On the flipside, an item with no mark at all could either be a recent reproduction or a one-of-a-kind antique piece!

Here are a few tips for distinguishing your porcelain marks and how to date them:

- Items made for export to the US after 1891 must declare the country of origin. Older items usually include the country as part of their overall trademark, or may be stamped in or applied near the maker’s mark. Many recent Asian imports bypass this legal requirement by using a sticker or label, which is often removed or lost.
- Using a magnifying lens, examine the porcelain mark around its edges...if they look too perfect and applied with industrial machinery, then they are probably recent. Most items made prior to 1950 had their marks applied by hand, so the stamps would wear out over time and the pressure at which they were applied would vary between workers. Older marks are not as crisp at the edges.
- The universal “copyright” symbol (the letter C enclosed in a circle) did not exist before the 20th century, so if a mark looks similar to an antique porcelain mark, but has this symbol, it is a new imitation mark.
- small, hand-written marks tend to be pre-1800’s
- printed/stamped marks in colors other than blue tend to be post-1850
- the use of “royal” before a company name tends to be used after 1850
- the use of the term “limited” or “LTD” appeared after 1860

Marks cannot always be solely reliable for identification since many were and are still widely copied. Look for other clues like modeling, coloring, and type of paste (which is best seen if the area around a “blowhole” on the bottom of a figurine is unglazed, or if there is a chip or broken section of the object). There will also be exceptions to the basic identification rules depending on the individual company.

For more information on your porcelains or other ceramic items, please call us or visit our store at: 5627 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411. Our on-site art specialist can research your item and help your determine what it is!