Judy Ford looked long and hard at the gold cameo pendant and decided what she wanted to do with the once-cherished piece of jewelry.

"My ex-husband gave it to me," she said. "Take it."

Same for the love-knot earrings from her son, her mother's wedding band, and a pile of other gewgaws that she had dug out of her dresser drawer to sell at her friend's wine-and-cheese "gold party."

With gold flirting with $1,000 an ounce, women are taking advantage of the high price and scrapping their gold baubles at the kind of giggly house parties where they once purchased Tupperware and sexy lingerie.

Now that frugal is fashionable, inviting friends to your home to buy something they don't need or want seems almost cruel - and makes as much sense as arranging a caravan of Hummers to carpool them to a climate-change rally. But asking them to bring their unwanted loot and walk away with cash instead of spending it?

Priceless.

Think Pampered Chef, without shelling out $50 for a pizza stone you'll never use. Instead, you show up with your bling, which gets weighed and tested for karat content, then you get a check on the spot.

Ford, who lives in Perkasie, walked away with $279.31 for her gold scraps.

"Wow, that's amazing," she said, taking the check from Sharon Sheiman, a laid-off real estate manager who now works for MyGoldParty, one of a handful of companies that have sprung up this year to buy old gold.

January Thomas of Royal Oak, Mich., came up with the idea after selling her own gold to her brother-in-law, who owns a jewelry business. She couldn't believe how easy it was, so she started having parties for friends.

Now, her Web site, www.mygoldparty.com, sells gold party kits for $699, which include a gold karat-testing machine, a scale, a jeweler's loupe, and a how-to book so anyone can become a representative.

Thomas said the parties have done well, though there are lots of other ways to sell gold, including pawn shops, mall kiosks, and jewelry stores. Cash-strapped Ed McMahon is shilling for Cash4Gold.com, which sends you an envelope that you stuff with your stuff in return for a check.

Or you can unload it on Exboyfriendjewelry.com, where people sell, trade, auction or give away jewelry from an ex - as long as they share the story of the gift on the site.

Unlike McMahon, gold parties don't carry even a whiff of desperation.

"It's a really fun atmosphere," said Thomas, who has stopped hosting parties to focus on building the business. "No one is desperate. Everyone says it's found money."

Getting rid of presents from exes does more than the wine to put everyone in a good mood.

Candace Griesel, a spa owner who hosted the party in her dollhouse-cute home in Doylestown, sold an engagement ring from her ex-husband. No great loss, since the diamond was a fake.

"I wore it six years before I found out," she said. "I got it appraised. Boy, did I rip into him."

Ford recalled getting married at age 20 at West Point and not having a wedding band. The day before the ceremony, she and her fiance found the sole jewelry store in the area, but when they got there, it was closed. They knocked on the door and begged the owner to let them in.

"I stood there and cried, so he opened the door and that's what I got," she said, fingering the simple, thick gold band before chucking it into the discard pile.

The women at the party were of an age to have acquired enough bric-a-brac in life that they wanted to get rid of much of it. Back in the glittery days of Dynasty, when gold was in style, they wore thick hoop earrings and charm bracelets and gold ropes around their necks. Now, they say, they prefer silver or artsy jewelry, which they buy sometimes at jewelry house parties.

Their gold, even the family heirlooms, are stuffed away in old Bamberger's boxes and plastic bags.

"If you're not using it, what's the point of having it sit in a drawer?" asked Ford, getting a lot of uh-huhs and head-nodding from the other guests.

They are looking to unclutter their lives, they say. Sometimes, it's the husband who goes first, then the jewelry.

"It's cathartic. It's just wonderful," said Ford, who even sold her mother's wedding band. "It's just stuff."

They sit one at a time with Sheiman and an assistant, who uses a magnet to determine what's gold and what's gold-ish. Then Sheiman checks karat content with a sensor and weighs the glittery piles on a scale.

Nearby is the big green checkbook for the eventual payoffs.

Customers get scrap gold prices, which vary depending on the karat count. But at the end of the party, Sheiman had bought more than $3,000 worth of junk.

The hostess gets 10 percent. For fund-raisers, the organization gets 15 percent.

Though there have been reports of unscrupulous gold dealers, no one in this crowd seemed worried about getting shortchanged, not when all were having so much fun talking and noshing with their girlfriends.

The company screens sales reps, Thomas said, and conducts all transactions in front of customers. As a proof of honesty, she said, one rep came across a Rolex watch and suggested that the owner sell it on eBay rather than scrap it.

"She ended up getting way more money for it," Thomas said.

But sometimes a beloved treasure turns out to be a cheap gold-plated trinket. And a few times, Sheiman's sensor recorded a karat content that was different from what was marked on the piece.

After the party, she puts everything in a box and mails it to the company. Most of what it gets, Thomas said, is "junk," though occasionally a small gemstone or interesting antique comes through.

Parting with family heirlooms can tug at the heart - to a point.

Jean Churchill of Hampton, N.J., had a pile of baubles that included a heart locket inscribed "From Father" and dated 10/9/98 (that's 1898), her mother's charm bracelet, her grandmother's wedding band, and lots of gold chains that she didn't wear anymore.

"I'm trying to clean things out so the next generation doesn't have to deal with it," said Churchill, who has two stepchildren who she doesn't think would be interested in the family treasures.

When her husband's mother died at age 103, it took them six months to clean out all the trinkets from her house.

"I was cured of garage sales and hoarding after that," she said.

Any lingering attachment to the jewels went out the door when Sheiman handed over a check for $741.04.

"That's found money," she said. "Thank you very much."

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella
at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.