A SURGE in demand for second-hand jewellery over Christmas has helped Britain's biggest pawnbroker weather crashing gold prices as high street sales leapt higher.

H&T Group said it saw buoyant trade over the festive quarter, with like-for-like sales rising 56% across its 194 stores in the last three months of the year and gross profits up 18%.

This compares with a 12% drop in retail sales in the previous six months.

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H&T confirmed annual profits were in line with market expectations ins pite of suffering a "material" hit from a 29% plunge in the price of gold in 2013.

Rival Albemarle & Bond put itself up for sale after dire trading caused by the slump in prices and rising competition in the sector.