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The survey, conducted among 4000 members of the National Association of Goldsmiths by Birmingham auctioneers Fellows & Sons, followed a Trade and Industry poll of the jewellery sector in March that ignored the secondhand market entirely.

More than half of the 200 respondents reported a turnover of secondhand jewellery, watches and silver of between £5000 and £60,000, with 40 per cent saying they had an annual turnover of more than £60,000. One respondent traded more than £10m of secondhand jewellery every year.

Significantly, of those who returned the survey, more than half said that secondhand goods made up 20 per cent of their business; 35 per cent of them said secondhand sales represented between 20 and 50 per cent of their business.

For Fellows, who handle 35,000-40,000 pieces of secondhand jewellery a year, one of the most significant results was that fewer than 10 respondents – less than five per cent – used the Internet for buying and selling. Fellows have been trying to increase Web activity and were one of the first independent auctioneers to introduce live online bidding.

The firm’s head of jewellery, Tim Thornton, believes that apathy is largely to blame for the lack of interest in Web sales but said that he and his colleagues were already looking at ways of improving services to encourage the trade to take part more. He told the Antiques Trade Gazette that more user-friendly catalogues, with more and better quality illustrations should help boost auction sales, and he hoped that new software would help them target potential clients more effectively.