The sweep

© Written by Rachael Taylor for The Financial Times

In a basement on London’s Hatton Garden, a small production team is heating a furnace to 2,000C – a temperature that will obliterate most materials placed within it. Each day at precious metals refiner Mastermelt, the furnace is fed a diet of everyday objects collected from jewellers’ workshops – full bags from vacuum cleaners, used wet wipes, blunted sandpaper, old carpets, even – in the hope that when the ashes are processed, thousands of pounds of gold, platinum and more will remain.

“We always tell people, don’t throw anything away,” says Gary Williams, a director at Mastermelt, who the previous week paid out £17,000 to a jeweller who had been casually stockpiling the general detritus a workshop produces. “He’d just been saving all this stuff and didn’t realise what it was worth.” Mastermelt makes its money by taking a commission of the value of the scrap metal refined, as well as charging for processing.

It is part of Mr Williams’ job to educate jewellers on the financial rewards of hoarding every waste-attracting object and sending the haul – known as a sweep – to a refiner to be melted down and the precious metals reclaimed. Most jewellers will be astute enough to collect hard scrap, also known as lemel, which includes filings caught in skins hung beneath workbenches for this very reason, or clippings from claws cut to size when setting a diamond in a ring. Once weighed, the value of this scrap can be easily ascertained, and Mastermelt has an app that can be downloaded to give jewellers access to live prices….

This story was originally published in the January 16, 2016, edition of The Financial Times. Read the full story here.

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