Gold is the oldest precious metal known to man. It does not corrode, and unlike other metals, it can remain untarnished for thousands of years. Outliving countries and civilisations, gold has become a symbol of immortality.
From bullion coins to chunky gold bars and shiny bracelets, this heavy, smooth and radiant noble material is also sign of wealth, authority, and achievement.
What is gold?
The uncontested king of metals, gold is the most malleable (can be hammered into thin sheets) and ductile (easy to draw out into thin wires) of all. For thousands of years, it has been used to craft pieces of engraved jewellery and etched ornaments.
Purity in gold is measured in carats, with a weight typically varying from 8 ct to 24 ct, also spelled 'karat' and abbreviated with a 'k' in American English.
A 24-carat pure gold object contains no other metals, while lower carat percentages indicate mixtures. When purchasing a gold piece of jewellery, the buyer must always check the carat purity, which is indicated by hallmarks on every object.
Even though yellow remains many buyers’ favourite choice of jewellery, gold can have cooler hues when mixed, such as a softer white or rose. Rose gold is made by alloying gold with copper (usually 75% gold and 25% copper), whereas white gold is a mixture of gold with silver or palladium.
Gold exists almost everywhere in the Earth’s crust, however, not in significant concentrations. Nowadays, it is frequently mined in Mexico, Australia, Peru and the American desert.
The history of gold
According to University of Bristol geologists Matthias Willbold and Tim Elliott, gold arrived to Earth via a cataclysmic meteor shower known as the Late Heavy Bombardment almost 4 billion years ago.
Around 3000 BC, the Egyptians were the first known civilization to become obsessed with the metal, crafting gold jewellery, spiritual masks, figurines and also decorating their pyramids with pure gold. The magnificent gold death mask of the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun is a fine example of skilled craftsmanship using solid gold.
It comes as no surprise that for alchemists, gold represents perfection on all levels — including the mind and the spirit — symbolised historically by the sun. The same belief was shared by many ancient civilisations around the world, such as the Greeks and the Incas, as the sun was seen as an all-powerful deity and the highest authority.
Ancient Greeks mined gold in Asia Minor, while Romans expanded the trade in Africa, Portugal and Spain. Among the most intriguing golden artefacts ever to be discovered are the mask of Agamemnon, the Minoan Bee Pendant, and the ancient Roman Curse Tablets.
During the 19th century, thousands of prospective miners joined the Gold Rush in California, Colorado’s Pike’s Peak, South Dakota’s Black Hills and South Africa’s Witwatersrand.
The 2008 financial crisis accelerated interest in gold worldwide, as people scrambled to convert money into gold bullion.