“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When I first started making jewelry, I worked exclusively in silver. If I accidentally melted something while soldering, it was frustrating (to say the least), but not a financial disaster. Gold, however, was fluctuating around $800 per ounce at the time, so accidentally melting a piece of gold was not a risk I was willing to take.
Over time, I became more skilled technically and more confident with my designs, and I started incorporating gold in my work.
Gold is one of the eight “noble” elements, meaning it resists oxidation and corrosion, and is not easily attacked by acids (the others are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, and platinum).
You’re probably familiar with the expression “passing the acid test”. It is a reference to a test developed in the 18th century, which used nitric acid to determine whether or not a metal was actually gold.
Fun Facts About Gold
According to the World Gold Council:
- It is rarer to find a one ounce nugget of gold than to find a 5 carat diamond.
- About 187,200 tonnes of gold have been mined since the beginning of civilization.
- Of that, over 90% has been mined since the California Gold Rush (1848 – 1855) – approximately 168,480 tonnes.
- But all of the gold ever mined would fit in a crate only 21 cubic meters in size!
- The world’s oceans are estimated to hold up to 15,000 tonnes of gold.
- One ounce of gold can be stretched into a length of wire 50 miles long and only 5 microns thick (0.001 mm).
Another Fun Fact: Gold is Biocompatible
Pure gold is biologically inert – it will pass through a human’s digestive tract without being absorbed. It is sold in very fine, thin sheets or flakes and often used to decorate chocolate works of art.
Gold Leaf in Jewelry Making
In jewelry making, gold leaf is used in a Korean technique known as keum boo. Heat and pressure are used to fuse nearly pure gold onto sterling silver or other metals. The gold leaf will bond with the silver using temperatures between 700°F and 900°F, which is much lower than temperatures used when soldering two pieces of precious metal (soldering temperatures range between approximately 1,200°F and 1,500°F).
This is a new design which I’ll be introducing at the upcoming Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy. In this example of keum boo, I’ve used a chemical solution to blacken the silver after applying the gold foil. It’s called liver of sulfur – it blackens silver, but gold does not react to it. I like the way it creates a contrast between the black and the gold.
The Golden Buddha
There are countless beautiful, masterful, inspiring works of art created with gold. But the most astonishing one I have ever seen myself is the Golden Buddha.
Sitting in glowing serenity in Wat Traimit in Bangkok, Thailand is what is probably the world’s most valuable buddha statue. It weighs in at 5.5 tons of gold. Disguised for an unknown number of years under a layer of plaster, its true composition was revealed in 1954 when it was being moved and was accidentally dropped, breaking off some of the coating. According to Wikipedia, the statue is in nine parts, and the purity of the gold varies throughout the statue, from 40% pure gold in the body to 99% pure gold in the hair and topknot. Using an estimated value of $1,275 per ounce (approximately what gold has been this month), the gold in the Golden Buddha has a material value of nearly $230 million.