What is Gold?

September 21, 2023

Gold has captivated humankind for thousands of years. Its radiant yellow color, metallic sheen, and malleability make it unlike any other natural substance on Earth.

In fact, gold’s unique properties have made it one of the most coveted metals throughout history. Ancient civilizations used gold extensively for jewelry, currency, and rituals. Today, gold remains a popular choice for investors and jewelry enthusiasts alike.

But what makes gold so special? This comprehensive guide will explore everything you need to know about this precious metal.

A Brief History of Gold

Gold’s desirability stems back over 6,000 years. Some of the earliest gold artifacts date back to 4000 BC in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians adorned themselves in gold accessories and incorporated the metal into their burial rituals.

In 2600 BC, the Sumerians began fashioning gold into jewelry. Meanwhile, gold started being used as a standard monetary exchange around 550 BC when the Lydian King Croesus minted the first gold coin.

During the Middle Ages, European nations used gold coins as the predominant form of currency. This period also saw advancements in gold mining and metalworking techniques to make gold more workable.

The California Gold Rush of 1848-1855 triggered one of the largest mass migrations in history. Over 300,000 people flocked west in search of fortune. This period solidified gold’s status as a coveted commodity.

Today, gold remains a popular investment option. Many buy gold coins and bullion to diversify their portfolios against inflation and economic downturns. Plus, gold jewelry is still iconic for engagements, weddings, and other commemorative occasions.

Unique Properties of Gold

Gold is the most malleable and ductile metal on Earth. Just one gram of the substance can be hammered into a thin sheet that covers over 1 square meter. Gold can also be stretched into a wire so thin that it appears invisible.

In addition, gold is incredibly dense. At 19.3 g/cm3, gold is almost 3 times denser than iron.

Gold also conducts heat and electricity better than any other metal. NASA makes use of this property by coating astronauts’ visors and satellites with ultra-thin layers of gold. This protects them from hazardous UV radiation.

Moreover, gold is chemically unreactive. It does not corrode or tarnish when exposed to air or most chemicals. This makes gold jewelry resistant to rust and suitable for everyday wear.

These unique properties stem from gold's atomic structure. Gold atoms bond firmly together, requiring tremendous energy to separate them. This makes gold extremely stable and gives it a melting point of 1,064°C.

Gold Jewelry Purity

Jewelers alloy gold with other metals like copper and silver to increase its durability. The term “karat” (abbreviated as K or kt) indicates gold purity in jewelry. Pure 24K gold is too soft for jewelry, so most pieces range from 10K to 22K.

18K gold contains 75% pure gold mixed with metals like copper and zinc. It has a rich, golden color and provides an ideal balance between purity and resilience.

14K gold contains 58.3% pure gold and possesses even more durability than 18K, making it ideal for everyday wear. However, 14K has a slightly paler color than 18K.

10K gold consists of 41.7% pure gold. This lowest karat of gold for jewelry provides affordability and resistance to damage. However, 10K gold is more likely to tarnish over time.

Reputable jewelers hallmark their gold jewelry with stamps denoting purity. These range from 585 (14K), 750 (18K), to 999 (24K). Hallmarks also often indicate the manufacturer.

Types of Gold

Yellow Gold

Yellow gold remains the most popular type of gold for jewelry. By mixing pure gold with silver and copper, jewelers can create yellow gold in different karat weights. Higher karat yellow gold appears richer and more golden.

Yellow gold works well for warmer skin tones. Its striking color also pairs well with colorless or faint yellow diamonds. The yellow metal creates vintage-inspired looks when combined with etched filigree or milgrain details.

White Gold

White gold obtains its silver-white color from mixing gold with white metal alloys and plating it with rhodium. Nickel and palladium are commonly used to whiten the gold.

Rhodium plating gives white gold its brilliant shine. As plating wears away over time, yearly rhodium re-plating may be needed to maintain a white color.

White gold provides the look of platinum for less cost. It also creates a modern, sleek look and works well with all diamond colors.

Rose Gold

Rose gold gets its trademark pinkish hue from copper alloying. More copper content results in a redder rose color.

Unlike white gold, rose gold does not require plating. Its pink coloration comes from the copper composition alone. Therefore, rose gold is slightly more low maintenance than white gold varieties.

Rose gold has a vintage yet romantic look. It pairs exceptionally well with diamonds to create unique engagement rings and bridal jewelry.

Green Gold

Green gold receives its verdant color from a silver and copper alloy. The more silver in the mixture, the greener the gold’s final appearance.

Green gold is one of the rarest gold colors. The unusual hue provides an eclectic look, especially when combined with colorless or black diamonds.

How is Gold Used in Jewelry?

Gold’s malleability makes it an ideal choice for jewelry. Jewelers carefully craft gold into necklaces, rings, earrings, and more. Here are some of the common ways gold appears in jewelry:

  • Gold Alloys – Mixing pure gold with other metals allows jewelers to customize the color and durability of each piece. Gold rings often feature 14K or 18K yellow gold alloy for everyday wear.
  • Gold Plating – Some affordable jewelry comes electroplated with a thin layer of gold over a base metal. This provides the look of gold for less cost. However, plating can wear off over time.
  • Gold Vermeil – This type of gold plating uses a thicker layer of gold (at least 2.5 microns) over sterling silver. Gold vermeil offers greater durability than regular gold plating.
  • Gold Filled – With gold filled jewelry, a layer of gold makes up at least 5% of the item's total weight. Gold filled provides much more durability than gold plating and vermeil.
  • Rolled Gold – This involves bonding thin sheets of gold to the surface of a base metal core. Rolled gold makes use of less gold than gold filled pieces.
  • Gold Flakes – Some high-end jewelry incorporates real gold flakes into their designs. However, gold flake pieces require special care to prevent flakes from loosening.

How Gold Jewelry is Made

Mastering the creation of gold jewelry is an artform. Jewelers must carefully craft each piece to turn gold into wearable works of art. Here is an overview of the gold jewelry making process:

1. Designing – The jeweler first sketches the jewelry design or creates a digital 3D model. This allows visualizing the finished product before crafting begins.

2. Casting - Molds of the model are created, often from vulcanized rubber. Liquid gold is injected into the molds and allowed to cool and harden. This forms the main jewelry components.

3. Refining – Jewelers carefully remove cast pieces from molds and polish away imperfections for a seamless finish. Filigree, milgrain, and other detailed elements are soldered on.

4. Setting – Gemstones like diamonds are precisely set into place using prongs or bezels to hold them securely.

5. Finishing – After inspection, pieces are buffed and polished. Hallmarks are added for gold purity. Items are ultrasonically cleaned before final packaging.

This intricate process allows jewelers to transform raw gold into stunning works of wearable art.

How is Gold Measured and Priced?

Gold is measured in troy weight instead of the avoirdupois system. Common gold weights include:

  • Grain - 0.0648 grams
  • Pennyweight (dwt) - 1.555 grams
  • Troy Ounce (ozt) - 31.1 grams
  • Kilogram (kg) - 1000 grams

Larger weights are also used, like troy pounds (373 ozt) and gold metric tons (32,150 ozt).

The price of gold fluctuates daily based on the commodity market. Gold prices are primarily driven by:

  • Purity – 18K and 22K gold is more pure thus more expensive per gram than 14K.
  • Weight – More massive gold pieces cost more based on total gold content.
  • Craftsmanship – Superior artistry increases the value of finished gold jewelry. Highly detailed pieces often carry higher price tags.
  • Market Price – The prevailing rate of gold per ozt impacts prices significantly. Prices rise when gold is in high demand.

Reputable dealers provide up-to-date gold pricing tied to market rates. Online sites also allow viewing gold’s changing daily value.

Benefits of Gold Jewelry

Gold offers numerous advantages that explain its enduring appeal:

  • Beauty – Gold has an alluring, warm shine. Its radiance adds elegance to any jewelry piece.
  • Durability – Alloying pure gold toughens it for frequent wear. Higher karat gold is softer yet still long-lasting.
  • Value – Gold retains intrinsic value. Jewelry makes a sound investment, especially during economic instability.
  • Lack of Reactivity – Gold is non-reactive and won’t corrode or cause skin irritation for most wearers. This makes gold suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Customization – Blending gold with other metals allows creating customized colors and karats.
  • Artistry – Gold is ultra-pliable, enabling artisans to craft stunning designs not possible with rigid metals.

From beauty to value, these advantages make gold a top jewelry metal.

How to Care for Gold Jewelry

While durable, gold jewelry still requires proper maintenance. Follow these gold jewelry care tips:

  • Remove gold jewelry before swimming or cleaning. Household chemicals can damage gold.
  • Store pieces separately in soft cloth bags or boxes to prevent scratches.
  • Clean gold with mild soap, water, and a soft-bristled brush. Avoid ultrasonic and steam cleaners which can loosen gemstones.
  • Polish regularly with a lint-free cloth to maintain shine.
  • Avoid knocking gold against hard surfaces to prevent dents and warping.
  • Resize as needed. Fingers expand/contract over time. Ill-fitting rings wear faster.
  • Inspect regularly at six-month cleanings and immediately fix any loose gemstones to prevent loss.

With occasional professional cleaning and inspection, gold can last generations.

Is Gold a Good Investment?

Many people purchase gold jewelry, coins, and bars to diversify investment portfolios. Physical gold provides an alternative to paper assets like stocks.

Gold makes a smart investment for several reasons:

Tangible Asset – Gold provides a tangible way to store part of a portfolio outside the banking system. Physical gold is not tied to any government or company.

Inflation Hedge - Gold has historically retained its value against inflation better than most assets. When the dollar weakens, gold prices rise.

Strong Global Demand – India, China, and other major economies maintain strong gold demand. This helps prop up gold values over the long-term.

Safe Haven – During financial or geopolitical crises, gold prices increase as investors flee to safety. Gold serves as disaster insurance.

Supply Constraints – The limited supply of gold prevents major devaluations. Annual mining adds just 1.5% to the total gold supply.

Portfolio Diversification – Gold offers return potential with very low correlation to stocks and bonds. Adding gold offsets portfolio volatility.

While no investment is risk-free, gold remains a prudent addition for most investment strategies. The gold market’s liquidity also ensures the metal is easily bought and sold.

Popular Gold Coins and Bars

Gold coins and bars allow conveniently investing directly in physical gold. Some popular options include:

American Gold Eagle – The official gold coin of the US minted since 1986 in sizes from 1/10 oz to 1 oz. Gold Eagles contain 91.7% gold.

American Gold Buffalo – 24K gold coins also minted by the US Mint. Gold Buffalos have no alloying metals, just pure gold.

Canadian Gold Maple Leaf – Iconic .9999 fine gold Canadian coins available in 1 oz, 1⁄2 oz, 1⁄4 oz, and 1/10 oz.

South African Krugerrand – One of the earliest modern bullion coins starting in 1967. Krugerrands contain a copper alloy with just over 1 oz gold.

Gold Bars – Rectangular or hexagonal gold bars are produced ranging from 1 gram up to 400 ounces by companies like PAMP Suisse.

Gold Jewelry – Classic gold chains, earrings, and rings also hold intrinsic melt value based on karat weight. Their designs add collectability.

When choosing gold for investing, opt for reputable government minted coins or industry-leading bullion bars over novelty items.

Checklist for Buying Gold Jewelry

Follow this checklist when purchasing gold jewelry to help ensure you get the best value:

  • Review the return policy and appraisal information. Reputable jewelers stand behind what they sell.
  • Confirm the gold karat weight with hallmark stamps. 24K, 18K, and 14K are common.
  • Examine the color. Higher karat gold has a richer yellow tone while 14K appears more pale.
  • Check markings for manufacturer (e.g. Tiffany & Co) and place of origin. This signifies authenticity.
  • Consider having important pieces independently appraised. An expert gemologist can verify gold purity.
  • Review diagnosed gemological data for diamond quality characteristics like cut and clarity.
  • Compare prices from multiple dealers online and locally. Bargain excessively low gold prices with skepticism.
  • Opt for well-known manufacturers with positive customer reviews. Avoid sellers with no reputation.

Taking time to research helps avoid overpriced or misrepresented gold purchases. Reputable sellers gladly furnish proof of their gold jewelry’s purity and quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between gold, brass, and bronze?

  • Gold is a precious metal, brass and bronze are alloys.
  • Brass contains copper and zinc while bronze mixes copper with tin.
  • Both brass and bronze tarnish easily unlike gold. They are also harder than pure gold.
  • Brass has a yellowish appearance closer to gold but not as rich. Bronze looks more brown.

What metals alloy well with gold?

Common gold alloys include silver, copper, zinc, nickel, and cadmium. These added metals improve gold’s durability while also creating various colors like white, green, and rose gold.

Can real gold rust?

No, rust is the oxidization of iron and steel through exposure to moisture. Gold does not oxidize so real solid gold jewelry will not rust. However, jewelry containing iron compounds as alloying agents can still rust.

What gold jewelry is best for sensitive ears?

Look for low karat gold like 10K or 14K varieties which are highly hypoallergenic. Also, opt for simple earring styles without nickel. Avoid cheap gold plated earrings if prone to metal allergies.

What is gold vermeil jewelry?

It consists of sterling silver plated with at least 2.5 microns of gold. This offers an affordable gold look since less gold is used versus solid gold. Vermeil is durable but still requires occasional re-plating.

How thick should gold plating be?

Light gold plating is just 0.175 microns while heavy plating exceeds 2.5 microns. Heavy plating above 1.0 microns offers decent durability. But defects still allow plating to wear over time.

How long does gold plating last?

Regular gold plating may wear away in 1-2 years. Heavy gold plating can sometimes last 5-10 years with proper care. Vermeil and gold filled pieces last the longest thanks to thicker plating.

How can you tell if old jewelry is real gold?

Examine for karat stamps like 10K, 14K, or 18K. Also look for other hallmarks indicating gold purity and manufacturer. solid gold won’t flake or fade. Conduct an acid test if unsure. Real gold dissolves in nitric acid while plating won’t.

What are the health benefits of wearing gold?

Some believe gold has holistic health powers, but no medical studies confirm benefits. Gold is hypoallergenic though, meaning pure gold won’t cause skin irritation or reactions for most people.

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