People have been fascinated by the properties of gold for millennia and it has been used in the creation of jewellery for at least 5,550 years. So what makes gold so popular and alluring? The stunning colour and shine of gold is unmatched - and together with non-corrosive properties gold makes the perfect material for making gorgeous gemstone jewellery.
The majority of the world's gold reserves now lie above ground in secure vaults all over the globe. In the last century there has been a gold mining frenzy during which thousands of tons of gold has been successfully mined and sold. As a result we have excavated over 150,000 tons of gold since its discovery. To put that into context we produce more steel in one day than the amount of gold that has ever been mined. As one of the world's first elements (Au) to be discovered, gold became internationally recognised as currency and the standardisation of value.
Pure gold has deeper and more yellow hues than that of a lesser purity. The problem with pure gold (24ct) is that it is very soft and easily damaged. This is not a great characteristic for jewellery which is likely to come into contact with other objects during day to day usage.
22ct gold is sometimes used in very fine jewellery pieces. Jewellery items made from 22ct gold are often very delicate and in many instances can only be worn on special occasions. This very soft gold has a purity of 91.7%.
18ct gold is commonly used in fine jewellery but its high purity means care must be taken when wearing the jewellery. 18ct gold is 75% pure gold and 25% other metals. Depending on which metal is alloyed with the gold colour variations become evident.
9ct gold is the most popular choice for jewellery, particularly in the UK and Europe. 9ct gold maintains much of the colour and shine of 18ct gold, but is more durable and the most cost effective.
White gold, rose gold and vermeil (a combination of silver, gold, and other precious metals) are not found naturally. Instead these gold variations started life out as yellow gold which was then alloyed with either copper, zinc, nickel or silver to achieve different colours and added strength characteristics.
Yellow gold takes most of its rich dazzling colours from its natural form. However we can change some of the colour characteristics of yellow gold by adding other metals in varying quantities. If we add copper to yellow we can achieve stunning sunset colours whilst retaining a perfect shine. Similarly, by adding silver we can achieve slightly cooler hues as a result of silver's natural green compounds.
White gold is becoming increasingly popular and is now the number one choice in the UK and Europe for engagement rings and wedding bands. The crisp, silvery colour is accomplished by alloying metals which are naturally white. A secondary process involves plating the gold with an extremely hard element called rhodium. After many years of usage the rhodium plate may wear and require replating: this is a simple routine task for any good high street jeweller.
By using copper as an alloy we can create beautifully warm reds within rose gold. There are many colour variations in rose gold which is a result of the amount of copper used in the alloying process. If more copper is used then deeper, stronger shades of red become prominent, whereas if less copper is used light pink blush hues become apparent.
Gold as a commodity is priced according to carat and weight. High purity gold such as 18ct will hold more commodity value than 9ct gold of the same weight. Craftsmanship and design will usually have the largest part to play in the price of gold jewellery. There are many instances when a less pure gold such as 9ct will be valued greater than that of a higher carat, due to the intricacy in the design and labouring processes involved.