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ARGENTINA | 17-06-2024 14:15

Argentines pawn the family jewels to make ends meet

Hundreds of Argentines are selling their jewellery at gold dealerships every day as a last resort to face the economic crisis.

In Argentina's strangled economy, one sector is thriving: the pawn shops buying up gold and other family treasures that many are forced to sell to pay their bills.

"When you are drowning in debt, sentimentality falls to the side," said Mariana, 63, who went to a hub of gold dealerships in Buenos Aires to sell a watch her grandfather gave her father as a graduation present.

Inflation of around 270 percent year-on-year has gnawed away at her pension as a court employee, and she will use the cash for housing expenses and overdue health insurance payments.

With an austerity-hit economy in recession, as President Javier Milei carries out his vow to slash decades of government overspending, Mariana – who asked not to give her last name – is far from alone.

While a neighbouring shoe store hasn't had a single customer in hours, hundreds line up daily at El Tasador, one of the main cash-for-jewellery pawn stores in the heart of Buenos Aires, where "we buy gold" signs abound.

"There have been a lot of people lately, I think because of what is happening in the country," said Natalia, one of the four appraisers at the store, who did not give her surname for what she called “security reasons.”

She said the surge in clients came from "people who perhaps had pieces that they did not plan to sell and decided to do so because they cannot make ends meet."

Natalia said the business had been swamped with over 300 daily transactions – triple the amount seen a year ago.

"We have increased staffing and working hours because we cannot cope."

 

Victorian jewels and cufflinks

Daniel, a 56-year-old unemployed accountant, enters several stores to have a silver keychain appraised but leaves dejected. He was barely offered the price of a few Subte subway rides. 

"The situation is difficult. Life in Argentina is very expensive," he sighs. 

Carlos, who manages a small jewellery store, said he has a constant flow of customers but no-one is there to buy.

"They bring in anything to be appraised, especially at the end of the month, when the bills arrive."

The most usual thing is the sale of small gold pieces.

Natalia, a gemologist, said her store, next to the busy Once railway terminal, is frequented by customers from all walks of life.

While half of Argentina's population now lives in poverty, it was once one of the world's richest countries between the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many people have something valuable to pawn.

"The classic thing is the wedding ring, but they also bring Victorian jewels, from the 'belle époque' that come from grandparents and great-grandparents, unique pieces," said Natalia.

Even a few decades ago it was common for men to have gold cufflinks, or for women to be gifted a gold watch when they turned 15, she added.

"Gold has always been sold. What has changed is why it is sold," said Natalia.

But the use of these pieces has long ceased for security reasons. This, added to the economic constraints, reinforces the desire to sell.

"Before it was to remodel a house, buy a car, throw a party. Today it is because, 'I can't make ends meet', 'my utilities have increased' or 'I'm out of work.'"

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by Sonia Avalos, AFP

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