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Must Read: Economy fuels gold rush - Tupperware party-style

GRANBY, Conn. - The women gathered in the kitchen, enjoying brie and chocolate tortes as they told stories about their high school rings and pieces of jewelry given to them by ex-husbands and boyfriends. But they weren't just reminiscing for old times' sake.

The guests at Cheryle Podgorski's 'gold party' were there to trade in their old jewelry for cash.

Gold parties - the recession answer to Tupperware parties - have become increasingly popular around the country as people cast about for ways to raise money. A professional gold buyer tests and appraises the guests' jewelry and then pays them on the spot.

Guests say getting together with friends in somebody's living room makes it a fun, social occasion, and feels more respectable than hocking their rings, necklaces and brooches at seedy pawn shops or selling them back to jewelry stores.

'It's terrific because it's a little bit intimidating to think about walking into a jewelry store, even though they may be heavily advertising it, and, you know, to someone that you don't know and turning over your valuables to them,' said Pat Walsh, a 56-year-old retired store manager from Simsbury, Conn.

Walsh went home with $286 after selling a pinky ring she received as a wedding favor 35 years ago, circle-linked bracelets, broken necklaces and a few large, mismatched or outdated earrings.

Gold prices are close to their highest levels on record, hovering around $900 per ounce, up from $400 five years ago. Analysts say investors looking for a safe haven for their money while the stock market is in a meltdown could keep gold prices high for some time.

That - together with aggressive advertising by online scrap gold buyers, jewelry stores and gold party organizers - has led many people to clean out their jewelry boxes and dresser drawers.

Several companies are mining the phenomenon, which first began to thrive in Michigan a couple of years ago. My Gold Party LLC now has at least 35 representatives running parties in 21 states and is looking for more, said January Thomas, co-owner of the Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.-based company.