Gold has long since been revered as the most precious and sought after metal for jewellery, dental work and more. Mothers have their babies' first tooth dipped in gold, musicians put gold plated mouthpieces on their instruments and artists create their masterpieces with gold detailed paintbrushes.
There's no doubt about it, gold is everywhere. It adds an element of beauty, elegance and sophistication to anything that boasts its glittering shine. While we know that gold is prized for its versatility and magnificence, just what makes gold so unique?
One of the most unique characteristics about gold is that it generally doesn't combine with other metals and materials. It is almost always pure, even in its most natural state. It's malleable meaning that instead of being crushed by a hammer, it simply changes shape and it also conducts electricity exceedingly well.
Gold has an excellent reputation for being extremely resistant to pitting, oxidizing and wear and tear which is partly what makes it such a valuable material for jewellery such as necklaces and rings. Gold can be used to manufacture a number of things, as it has the special ability to be stretched and hammered very thin. Gold that is thinner than 1/10 of a sheet of paper is often used for gold dental work, glass making and more.
We've all heard of gold being referred to in units of measurement called carats. The purest form of gold is 24 carats; however, while this type of gold tends to be rare and beautiful, it also tends to be very soft and prone to damage. It can easily be nicked, scratched or cracked and therefore does not make for very durable rings or other types of jewellery. Gold can be made stronger and more resilient by combining it with other, stronger metals. Silver and platinum make wonderful pieces of jewellery when alloyed with gold, and nickel and copper can be used to create gold that will be used for manufacturing purposes.
When looking at a piece of gold that is not 24 carats, for example 18 or 9 carats, you are looking at the ratio of pure gold to other metals such as silver or copper. A 10ct gold ring has 10 parts absolutely pure and flawless gold in it while the remaining 14 carats are comprised of other types of metal. Naturally, the lower the carat in a piece of jewellery or other gold item, the more durable it is going to be.
Part of the beauty and allure of gold is that it has played a part in almost every culture around the world. A common idea amongst these cultures is that gold represents wealth, brilliance and power. In some cultures, gold was primarily linked to the Gods and many idols and statues were either crafted of solid gold or adorned with gold in some way.
The earliest records we have of gold date all the way back to 3100 B.C. The Ancient Egyptians of that time created a value scale for gold, stating that one component of gold was equal to roughly two and a half components of silver. Although no written record documenting the use of gold dates back to before this time, it is a thought shared among many gold experts and scholars that our fascination with gold started with our very existence.
It wasn't until about 700 B.C. that gold was first introduced as an element that had monetary value. Among the first to manufacture gold coins were Lydian Traders who combined a percentage of gold and silver to create a coin that held a designated amount of value. Many other countries and cultures began to grasp this concept and manufacture gold coins of their own, making gold a universally traded material.
When gold became a means to become wealthy and provide for a family, everyone wanted to find gold. Naturally, those that didn't have it wanted it and those that did have it wanted more. This gave birth to the great gold rushes of our time. The Victorian Gold Rush, The California Gold Rush and The Australian Gold Rush made gold more popular than it had ever been before. People soon began to realize that gold was a precious commodity, they were finding less and less of the valuable metal. After the understanding set in that gold was not a renewable resource, the trade of gold became more and more popular.
Although gold is most often found in its pure and natural state, the metal can be extracted from other metals using a refining process. When other metals are present with gold, they are called "ore". Refining can also be used to remove impurities from gold to give it a higher carat quality.
There are generally four types of refining processes, including Floatation, Cyanidation and "Carbon-in-pulp" and Amalgamation. The first process, floatation, involves using a carefully measured mixture of water and chemicals to separate the gold from the remnants of other metals. If the mixture is right, air bubbles can be created that cause the gold to stick to the top of the bubbles, allowing the gold to be taken easily from the top.
Cyanidation also removes ore from gold with chemicals, but by forcing the separation through a chemical reaction with zinc. The third process, "Carbon-in-pulp", involves using the same techniques as cyanidation, however, instead of Zinc, raw Carbon is added. The fourth refining process known as amalgamation, involves creating a chemical reaction with Mercury to collect the gold. The Mercury is then heated until it becomes a gas, leaving behind only beautiful, pure gold.
Although gold is a finite resource, meaning it cannot be renewed; gold production continues to be profitable to this day. Gold miners use several techniques to produce gold, including gold panning, metal detecting, slicing, dredging and hydraulic mining.
While gold panning is by far the simplest way to produce gold, it is often the least fruitful as the amount of gold found via panning is insignificant. By far, the most popular ways to produce gold is through metal detecting and hydraulic mining. Metal detecting can still be done on a small scale, where hydraulic mining is usually reserved for task forces. Very few task forces are dedicated to mining solely for gold - many of those mining for other metals such as silver and copper will often find both large and small quantities of gold within their own findings.
Like everything in the modern world, the price of gold is determined by what is known as "supply and demand". Generally, if there is a high supply of an item and a low demand for it, the price of the item will be fairly low. Similarly, if the demand of an item is high and the supply is relatively low, the price of the item will be quite high.
Over the years, the gold industry has reflected this principle. In 1910, the average price of gold per ounce was $20.67. By the year 1950 the price had nearly doubled and in the year 2000, an ounce of gold cost a whopping $272.15. The current price for gold is roughly $946.40 per ounce. Experts suggest that gold could increase greatly in a very short period of time.