We’ve all seen the commercials for resale shops and buy back programs for gold. Let’s face it, gold is a hot ticket item and has been for years. But did you know that gold’s worth finds its roots in ancient civilizations from thousands of years ago? Keep reading to see how gold evolved from the accessories of pharaohs to the ring on your finger.
So what exactly IS gold?
As an element, gold is a transition metal and represented by the symbol Au on the periodic table. The metal itself is shiny and malleable, which means it can be easily formed into various shapes or hammered into thin sheets. Gold is also a highly conductive material and highly durable, resistant to most chemical reactions. Because of its ductility, gold has recently gained popularity as a material for electrical connectors in computerized devices – Your computer and cellphone almost certainly have small amounts of gold inside. Fancy!
Whoa, back up. What’s the history?
Lustrous gold jewelry has been around for thousands of years, with the earliest known pieces dating back to ancient Mesopotamia around 2600 BC. Imagine what it must have been like for early civilizations to discover the brilliant, metallic substance on river banks and streambeds. The malleable yet durable metal was likely an immediate substance of value, and it wasn’t long before it was transformed into decorative elements for jewelry and accessories.
The ancient Egyptian goldsmiths were the ones who truly transformed gold into the high status, luxury material that it is today. Between 1200 and 1500 B.C., skilled craftsmen were hired by Pharoahs and other royalty to construct golden shrines and idols for gods and deities, as well as to craft ornate gold pieces for everyday wear and burial accessories. In fact, Tutenkamen’s elaborate burial mask and coffin, weighing in at 242.5 lbs, remains one of the most impressive gold artifacts from historical civilizations.
During this time, goldsmiths made significant advances in the techniques used to craft jewelry, including the art of using casts for molding gold pieces. This process also allowed for improved hardness and color variations that were previously unattainable. Gold continued to be a highly desired material, obtained and stockpiled by royalty and wealthy elites for the next several hundred years. It wasn’t until around 600 B.C. when gold was actually used as a form of currency; King Croesus of Lydia issued the first gold coin – the stater – from 10.7g of a mixture of gold and silver, known as electrum.
The use of gold in jewelry became common during the lavish time of the Roman Empire. The gold jewelry was often flamboyant in style, showing off the wearer’s wealth. Gold rings also became a typical token of betrothal. From the Roman Empire to the spread of Buddhism in the East to the Franks and Saxons in the West, gold work became increasingly refined and intricate. As the popularity of gold rose, supplies began to dwindle and soon there was not enough gold available to support the demand for gold work. The use of alloys with silver and other metals became a necessary means to stretch the gold available in the market, and pure gold jewelry all but disappeared by the time the Vikings showed up in 793 AD.
Gold continued to be in high demand, especially given how rare it was. The rise of Islam in the East further spiked the demand for gold – not for jewelry and accessories like the Romans had made, but for temples and Mosques. Mines in the Middle East were nearly stripped to the ore of their gold reserve in a scramble to obtain the high value commodity for trading. Some gold seekers even went as far as to plunder Egyptian tombs and rob the graves of any gold they contained.
Hundreds of years later, the dawn of the renaissance in Europe generated a renewed interest in ancient art and artifacts, including the highly designed gold jewelry of the Roman Empire. This interest coincided with the discovery of gold in South America by Spanish explorers, which boosted the World’s supply of gold and generated more gold jewelry in European societies. Over the next six centuries, gold jewelry making was developed and refined until gold jewelry was no longer only attainable by royalty and extreme wealthy. The eventual discoveries of gold in California, Australia and South Africa was the final push needed to bring us to the modern times of gold jewelry, where beautiful gold jewelry can be found in most stores carrying fine jewelry.
Phew! The history of gold is pretty extensive. But it’s the abundance of historical background that makes gold such a spectacular material, one that we’re proud to offer as a material choice on most of our jewelry designs. Thanks for sticking with us from the beginning of gold’s history! Have any questions or comments about gold? Let us know in the comments – or send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.