From Mythology to the Economic Standard
The Incas called gold the “sweat of the sun”; the Pharaohs insisted on being buried in what they referred to as the “flesh of the gods”; and Isaac Newton established gold as the benchmark of a new global economy.
Sir Isaac Newton, England’s Master of the Mint, first standardized the price of gold in late 1717. First as gold coins, and later as backing for paper money, gold become the standard by which an economy was measured. It was not until 1971 when the U.S. dollar was no longer directly measured by a gold standard, that gold began to exhibit volatility as a freely traded precious metal.
Gold Properties and Mining
Gold, whose chemical symbol, AU, became valuable due to its unusual malleability, density, longevity, and perpetual shine, became the transcendent symbol of aesthetic and mystical beauty.
Gold ore appears in nuggets or grains in rocks as small veins or alluvial deposits–sediments deposited by flowing waters or rivers, called placer deposits. Alluvial placers form when dense particles such as gold or platinum accumulate where water velocity is no longer strong enough to transport deposits further. Placer mining was prominent in such times as the California Gold Rush.
Placer mining today is much more sophisticated, utilizing excavation methods such as water pressure (hydraulic mining) or by using surface excavation and tunneling equipment.
In all of history, only 161,000 tons of gold has been mined–and more than half of this amount has been excavated in the past 50 years. It is surprising also to learn that the U.S. is not the number 1 consumer of gold. But that India holds this title as the largest “gold nation” worldwide (773.6 tons of gold consumed in 2007), followed by China (363.3 tons)–who surpassed the U.S. (278.1 tons) in 2007 as the second largest gold consumer.
Although fine jewelry dominates gold as the primary use for the yellow precious metal, gold is also critical in numerous industries.
In 2007 alone:
- 2,398.7 tons of gold were used to create gold jewelry
- 310.6 tons of gold were used for electronics as a non-corroding conductor
- 253.3 tons of gold were used in exchange-traded funds which have gained immense popularity in the past several years
- 235.6 tons were used for gold investment (or bar hoarding)
- 137.0 tons were used for official gold coins
- 92.7 for various other industrials
- 72.6 tons for medals and special coins
- 57.8 tons for dentistry
Source: National Geographic, Jan. 2009
Uses in Gold Jewelry
14k gold remains the most popular gold karat of fine jewelry in the U.S.; 18k is the standard in most European countries; and 22k is the benchmark for Indian jewelry.
Due to gold’s relative softness as pure 24k gold, the yellow metal is mixed with other alloys to create ductility–the ability to shape gold without fracturing it. Gold color–such as white gold or rose gold–is another variant achieved by mixing various base alloys over others.
Copper is the most common alloy used in yellow gold–but higher concentrations of copper creates the subtle, beautiful pink hue or undertones of rose gold.
Common alloy distributions include:
14K Yellow Gold · 58.33% Gold · 4% Silver · 31.24% Copper · 6.43% Zinc
18K Yellow Gold · 75% Gold · 13% Silver · 12% Copper
14K White Gold · 58.33% Gold · 28.32% Zinc · 4.8% Nickel · 8.55% Titanium
18K White Gold · 75% Gold · 2.23% Copper · 5.47% Zinc · 17.80% Nickel
14K Rose Gold · 58.33% Gold · 2.08% Silver · 39.59% Copper
18K Rose Gold · 75% Gold · 5% Silver · 20% Copper
(Read more about white gold properties)
Because of this alloy comingling, a small percentage of the population experiences sensitivities or allergic reactions to white gold (which contains nickel)–therefore turning to platinum, or titanium as a hypoallergenic alternative.
An Amalgam of History
Gold Remains one of the most alluring of precious metals. It has been said that all of the world’s gold could fit in a 10 meter cube. Newer research suggests that the earth’s molten core may contain massive amounts of gold–“enough gold buried deep within the Earth’s core”, concludes one Australian geologist, Professor Bernard Wood, “to cover the entire land surface of the planet to a depth of half a meter”.
Whether this conclusion is incontrovertible, gold has been the focus of ages–of obsession, of love, of idolatry, and war. From Biblical references as early as Genesis–the blasphemous golden calf to the Old Testament Deliverer of Israel, Moses, who was said to be rich in gold and silver, gold has elicited a complex duality of responses from humanity. From Dirty Gold campaigns to the diminutive hopes of economies like West Africa’s reaping even the smallest of benefits from gold mining in their own lands. Gold remains, literally and figuratively, an amalgam of history.
Featured in this Post, from Apples of Gold: