Modified: April 2011
by Jerry Sisk, GG; Co-Founder, Jewelry Television®
Dating back thousands of years, mankind has had a love affair with gold, easily making it the most highly sought after metal on Earth. Wars were won or lost and kingdoms created or destroyed for ownership of this precious metal.
As a matter of fact, the history of gold dates back to around 4000 BC, so if you think that jewelry is a relatively modern invention, think again. Sometime around 3000 BC, the Egyptians learned how to alloy and cast gold using the lost-wax technique, which is still in use today.
What is gold? In its most basic form, it's an element on the periodic table and a mineral. It is also called a precious or noble metal, belonging to an elite group of elements that includes silver, platinum, and five other members of the platinum group.
What's all the fuss about gold? Gold has some very special qualities that make it appealing to humans and ideal for use in jewelry. Gold is soft, lustrous, ductile, malleable, and non-reactive. It is also an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.
When it comes to heat energy, gold is the most reflective and least absorptive material available to man for both scientific and industrial uses. Gold has so many uses that it would be a monumental task to find and list them all. What a pedigree!
But I digress. What makes gold so special to jewelers? Most of all, gold is easily worked and, when polished, it can take a very fine finish, making it highly reflective and lustrous.
Gold is so ductile that one ounce of it can be drawn into a gold wire nearly five miles long. And if that isn't impressive enough, that same single ounce can also be hammered into a sheet of gold so thin that it could cover an area of 100 square feet.
And since gold is non-reactive, it doesn't oxidize--which is a scientific way of saying that it won't rust or tarnish. In addition, gold is so inert that most solvents are ineffective against it, and no single acid can harm it. Only one mixture of acids, known as "aqua regia," has the ability to dissolve gold.
Let's get back to jewelry. In the United States, we use elemental mixtures of precious and base metals, called alloys, in jewelry. Base metals are more common elements like zinc, copper, nickel, and others that are added to the pure (.999 fine) gold to alter its color and improve its durability.
Most consumers are familiar with yellow and white gold. However, gold comes in many more colors, including rose, red, green, and on rare occasions, blue or purple. The key to the color is the type and quantity of each element within the alloy. Most alloys are made up of at least three metals, although some use two and others four or more.
Now this brings up the issue of purity or fineness. While many alloys vary in composition, they should all have one important factor in common--the percentage of pure gold. In the United States we use the term "karat"--abbreviated "kt" or "K"--when referring to gold jewelry. A karat is a measure of gold's fineness, consisting of 24 parts in total. So, 24kt gold is composed of 24 parts of pure (.999 fine) gold and no alloys whatsoever.
Because 24kt gold is impractical, other metals are added to it to produce 10kt, 14kt, and 18kt gold jewelry products. Anything less than 10kt gold doesn't have enough gold content to legally be called gold in the United States.
Let's get back to percentages: 18kt gold is made up of 18 parts pure gold and six parts of other precious or base metals. Dividing the 18 parts by 24 and multiplying by 100 for a result of 75 (percent) will determine the percentage of gold. Therefore, when you do the additional math, 10kt is 41.7 percent and 14kt is 58.3 percent pure gold.
You will find that many other standards of gold fineness exist as you travel the world. It is not uncommon to find 9kt gold in England or 22kt gold in the Middle East. Some countries, like India, even produce 24kt gold jewelry as a standard.
Regardless of where you travel, you will find a universal love and desire for gold. Adjectives can scarcely begin to describe its beauty, romance, and warmth, yet the richness and elegance of gold are always affordable at Jewelry Television®.