Yellow gold, the most ancient precious metal
What is yellow gold?
With a warm tone more golden than its whiter counterparts, yellow gold is the name given to classic gold. For as long as humans can remember (or history books tell us), gold has been a substance of value, beauty, wealth and power. How much do you know about the precious metal?
- Gold is one of the heaviest substances on earth. When pure, it has a specific gravity of 19.3.
- The International weight measurement of gold is the troy ounce. One troy ounce of gold equals 31.1 grams.
- The chemical symbol for gold is AU, from the Latin ‘aurum’ meaning ‘shining dawn’.
- Around 78% of the gold consumed each year is used in the manufacture of jewellery.
Yellow golds use in jewellery
It is the most malleable metal, meaning it is more flexible and therefore easier to work with. Unaffected by many chemicals, it still tarnishes when in contact with certain detergents, or substances such as chlorine and bleach. Pure gold is very ductile, bending easily under pressure.
To increase its strength and durability, other metals reinforce the strength of gold through alloying. The percentage of alloyed metals determines the purity of the gold.
This figure of purity is measured in carats, or in the US and Canada, ‘karats’ (not to be confused with diamond carats-read more here).
The carat is the percentage of gold to other metals on a scale from 1-24, with 24 being pure gold. The most common karat weights are 10ct, 14ct, 18ct. Pure gold (24ct) bends and loses its shape under even light pressure, making it unsuitable for jewellery.
Yellow gold coloured costume jewellery, usually lower priced, consists of a mixture of cheaper metals and coated with a thin layer of gold. This is called ‘gold plated’. The layer of gold can erode from wear and tear, exposing the base metal, so bear this in mind if purchasing lower priced jewellery. Steven Stone uses 18 carat yellow gold for its diamond and gem set jewellery, engagement and wedding rings. 18ct yellow gold is 75% pure gold in combination with other metal alloys and it is a strong, durable metal, ideal for use in jewellery.
Who discovered gold?
There is no definitive answer to this question. In depth information about its discovery is hard to come by, despite records of its use dating back to ancient times. The precious metal is discussed in all areas of the worlds history books, which is partly why it is difficult to pin down where it first originated. From ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Nubia, gold has been a focal point for trading and commerce for over 6000 years.
Prized for its vibrant yellow shimmer and flexibility, gold makes regal decorations, jewellery and even currency, as it has for centuries. Its aesthetic qualities made it the preferred metal for the ruling classes to mark their authority and position of power, maintaining its reputation of power, beauty, accomplishment and purity, since its discovery thousands of years ago.
It is thought to have been first found on ground level near Asia Minor, near rivers such as Pactolus in Lydia. Mined underground from 2000 BCE, the Egyptians, Romans in Africa, Spain and Portugal mined the metal. Evidence suggests that the Romans cast gold particles from ores such as iron pyrites. Easily combined with less valuable metals to improve its durability, the benefits of gold were utilised for a wide range of purposes.
When was gold first used for money?
Ancient civilisations made coins from the metal, around 643 BCE, as records suggest. The first gold standard strictly defined wealth by the amount of gold someone had.
The first coins were “nuggets” of electron, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold.
Golds link to currency today
Focus Economics explains, “Gold is also one of the few commodities that can also be thought of as a currency or monetary asset. Many currencies around the world used to be backed by gold until recently and, although the gold standard is long since abandoned, the metal is still very effectively used as a safe haven asset in times of economic turmoil to preserve wealth.”
Why did gold become the standard for money?
The periodic table displays 118 chemical elements, each one different. Despite the choice, humans have favoured one element for thousands of years: gold.
So why gold, and not Platinum, Ruthenium or Argon?
Why, thousands of years ago, did gold become the standard of wealth that is still is today? Lets take a look through the chemical elements and their various qualities. Research tells us that in order to stand alone as a currency, an element must meet 3 key requirements.
- Not a gas.
- Doesn’t corrode or burst into flames.
- Doesn’t kill you.
This removes many of the gaseous or reactive elements from the running. We have one more requirement. To ensure it is effective as currency, we must pick an element that is rare. So we cross off the elements found in abundance. Not too rare, though, so that rules out osmium. The final criteria leaves us with just a handful of elements: rhodium, silver, palladium, platinum, and gold. All considered precious metals, the remaining elements could surely all become currency. Silver, although widely used as currency, tarnishes easily, so it isn’t an ideal choice.
Discovered only in the early 1800s, rhodium and palladium were not an option for ancient civilisations.
This leaves two elements, platinum and gold. Although considered the rarest and most valuable metal, the use of platinum for coins in ancient times wasn’t possible. This is due to the metals high melting point, making currency would not be feasible without todays technology.
This just leaves us with gold, which is solid yet malleable, doesn’t react, and won’t kill you. Truly the gold standard of precious metals.
Where is gold mined?
For many years, South Africa was the largest supplier of the precious metal. Around 2005-2006, countries with large surface areas such as China, Russia, the USA, Peru and Australia increased in production. Part of the reason for the decline in production from South Africa are a decrease in gold deposits in the country. Alongside this, the rise in electrical cots for mining the metal, combined with the decline in the value of gold meant the mines had to work harder to produce far less. A lack of investment from the government also led to the rapid decline in production. The example of South Africa demonstrates the external forces required to drive the production of the precious metal. It is not a simple demand and supply situation.
China was the largest producer in the world in 2016 and accounted for around 14 per cent of total global production, followed by Australia, Russia and the US.
Today, many industries utilise gold. Dentistry, aerospace, engineering, electronics and medical uses are amongst the modern day applications for the precious metal. A common everyday use of gold is inside smartphones. The metal is used for the wiring of chips. This is due to its excellent conductivity and malleability properties, which allow it to conduct signals effectively across the wafer thin chip. Gold is used in dentistry because it is chemically inert, nonallergenic, and easy for dentists to work with.
Is yellow gold a good choice for engagement rings?
- Yellow gold has a beautiful tone, and is particularly flattering on olive to darker skin tones.
- The warm, classic hue makes the metal ideal for both modern and vintage engagement ring styles.
- The metal works well with both diamonds and coloured gem stones, which allows more freedom to make a ring more personal.
- Due to the malleable nature of the metal, intricate details such as filigree, millgrain and engraving are easily achieved.