Education: Precious Metals


Gold – a Legendary Treasure

Over the centuries, as the unique properties of gold became better understood, its uses multiplied beyond sacred objects and personal adornment. Modern technology employs gold everywhere from heat shields in the space program and the reflective windows of skycrapers to medical, dental and industrial uses. But to this day, gold’s oldest use is still the most popular and universally enjoyed ……. gold jewelry.

What Makes Gold So Timeless and Versatile?

Gold is beautiful.
Gold’s natural yellow color is richly lustrous and lasting. And gold’s distinctive appeal can be given color variations by the choice of alloy metals, producing white gold, rose gold, and even green gold, all with the working and wearing qualities of yellow gold.

Gold is rare.
While gold exists everywhere in the earth’s crust and in our seas and rivers, recovery from most sources is prohibitively expensive. New gold mines can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and 2 1/2 to 3 tons of ore are required to produce one ounce of precious metal. To date, it’s estimated that only 160,000 tons of gold have ever been mined. That quantity of gold would form a cube only 27 yards tall.

Gold is durable.
Gold’s amazing durability has permitted us to enjoy ancient works of craftmanship untouched by rust, tarnish, or corrosion. The fabulous entombed treasures of Tutankhamen (made in 1350B.C.) and the drowned wealth of Spanish galleons have been recovered as bright as when they were created. This property makes gold jewelry a beautiful investment of lasting value.

Gold is workable.
No other metal allows the degree of creativity and design potential that gold does. A single ounce of gold can be extruded into a 50-mile-long wire, or pounded to form a sheet that covers 100 square feet. Gold can be melted and reworked over and over again. In fact, it is entirely possible that some portion of the gold you are wearing right now has had a former life in a royal court, or an Egyptian breastplate.

How Do I Know It’s Real Gold?

Look for the manufacturer’s trademark and the quality stamp. Pure gold, known as 24 karat (not to be confused with “carat”-used for weighing stones) is too soft for wearing as jewelry and is commonly alloyed with other metals. The quality stamp indicates the proportion of pure gold to the alloy metals as a percentage of 24 parts. Thus a stamp of 14K or 18K means that 14 (58.5%) or 18 (75%) parts out of 24 are pure gold with the remaining 10 or 6 parts being alloy metals. Alloys of less than 10 parts gold (10K) cannot be called “Karat Gold” in the U.S. Gold Overlay (or “gold filled”) refers to jewelry make from a base metal (usually brass) to which a layer of Karat Gold has been mechanically applied.

What About Sterling Silver?

Silver, like gold, has been mined and valued throughout human history. Prone to tarnishing, it demands a bit more care than gold, but as an attractive and much more affordable white metal silver lends itself to bold and handsome jewelry design. Look for the “Sterling” stamp or “925”, which indicates the parts per 1000 of pure silver.