Gold sales decrease as prices soar

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Sales of gold jewellery lost their sparkle in recent months after women bought fewer treats for themselves as the precious metal soared in price.

The amount of gold items authenticated by Assay Offices in the UK slumped 19.7% to 5.4 million grams in the first three months of 2011, according to figures released by the industry.

The average size of an item of jewellery has shrunk over the past three months as cash-strapped consumers demand more affordable items.

Gold prices have rocketed in recent months and this week broke through the 1,500 US dollars a troy ounce barrier for the first time as the metal was seen as a safe haven for investors at a time of financial uncertainty.

Meanwhile, consumers' disposable income has been squeezed as average pay fails to keep pace with inflation, causing many shoppers to cut back on all but essential items.

The Government's austerity measures have further eroded consumers' confidence and January's VAT hike to 20% from 17.5% added to the price pressure on jewellery.

Michael Allchin, the chief executive the Birmingham Assay Office, the biggest of the country's four centres of authentication, told the Daily Telegraph: "There are three main jewellery markets - the bridal market for wedding and engagement rings, which has completely held up, the special gift market, with men buying their partners an anniversary or birthday present, and the self-purchasing market, where women treat themselves.

"It is this last market which has collapsed, with many people switching to silver or not buying at all."