This week saw the release of a new, baby addition to my Droplet collection: the Tiny Gold Droplet Charm, and as I write, the first small batch of them are making their way out into the world to meet and adorn their new owners.
I use and love both silver and gold in my jewellery practice, but there is something about gold that I'm particularly drawn to. As a maker I love to work with it, it's definitely my material of choice, and I'm always enthralled by the beauty of its colour.
A fundamental part of my design process has always been researching and discovering the broader aspects of materials, processes and concepts, and I'd like to share a few incredible facts about this precious material.
So, in no particular order, a few interesting things about gold:
Gold is incredibly malleable and is the most ductile of all the metals. According to the American Museum of Natural History, one ounce of gold can be drawn out into 50 miles of wire that is 5 millionths of a metre, or 5 microns, thick. Gold can be beaten to a thinness of seven millionths of an inch (0.18 microns).
Gold gets its chemical symbol Au from the latin aurum, meaning "glowing dawn."
Gold is used extensively in space technology because of its highly reflective properties. Astronauts wear helmets that are coated with a layer of gold 0.00005mm thin - partially transparent but still enough to offer protection from heat and radiation.
Gold can only be created in certain, very rare conditions within supernovas - these conditions occur very infrequently, which accounts for the extreme rarity of gold in the universe, compared with other elements.
One book estimates that all of the gold ever mined by humans would fill a cube which measures 20 meters on each side, and weighs 176,000 tonnes. Another source describes the amount as 152,000 metric tons, enough to fill 60 tractor trailers.
For me, the most poetic description of the scarcity of gold comes from Professor Brian Cox in his book 'Wonders of the Universe':
"All the gold dug out of the ground throughout all of human history - with all the associated tragedy and elation, hardship and riches - would just about fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools. It is this almost vanishing scarcity (three swimming pools relative to the size of a planet) that makes gold so valuable."
The surface gold that humans can mine is thought to have arrived on earth by meteorite collisions with the planet. In contrast, when the earth was formed, most of its gold sank to the core, where there is thought to be as much as 1.6 quadrillion tons!
In 1983, £26 million in gold bullion (£86 million today) was stolen from a warehouse in what is known as the Brink’s-Mat heist. Most of the gold was never recovered, having been melted down, laundered, traded or hidden, and it has been suggested that ‘anyone wearing gold jewellery bought in the uk after 1983 is probably wearing Brink’s-Mat’!
Due to its atomic structure, gold is very stable and unreactive, so it does not tarnish.
Gold has been found on every continent, and is almost always found in its native, or pure form, meaning it doesn't need sophisticated smelting technology to get to the metal. It was one of the first metals mined and used by prehistoric peoples, and has been used in decoration and adornment since the dawn of our own history.
Gold mining on a commercial scale is very intrusive, very expensive, and comes at a huge environmental and humanitarian cost. I work only with recycled gold, and in a future Journal entry I'll be sharing some resources which I've found particularly helpful when it comes to being mindful of where gold comes from.