Gold has always been regarded as the most important metal for jewellery because of its rich colour, malleability and durability. The main producers of gold are South Africa, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada.

Gold is rarely used in its pure state (24ct), because it is so soft.

It is usually alloyed (mixed) with copper, silver or copper and silver.

Its natural colour is yellow, but with the introduction of other metal alloys, gold can be produced in pure white or yellow with tinges of red or green. The quality of gold is judged by its carat value, that is to say, the percentage of gold present.

The highest carat weight in use for jewellery is 22ct (91.66%), although this is somewhat soft. 18ct (75%) and 14ct (58.5%) are the most common weights for good-quality jewellery, because they still have a rich colour but are harder-wearing. 12ct and l5ct gold was introduced in 1854 as an additional standard, but is no longer in use today. 9ct (37.5%) is the least expensive and is used for lower-priced jewellery and also for items requiring extra strength, such as chains.


Gold in jewellery


The art of goldsmithing was widespread in the first third of the 19th Century, when the techniques of combining different colours of gold and carved designs were perfected for use in seals and snuff boxes.

In the 1840s delicate wirework was passed over in favour of repousse (moulded) and die-stamped decoration. Jewellery made in this way looks solid and heavy but is in fact light and hollow.

Archaeological revivals in the mid-century resulted in a vogue for classically inspired gold work techniques, such as granulation. Styles became increasingly ornate, with fringes, tassels and drops. By the 1880’s a fashion developed for plainer gold jewellery with unusual textures. The popular “bloomed” finish was achieved by dipping gold in a solution of saltpetre, acid and water to leave a frosted effect. With the introduction of platinum at the turn of the 20th Century the popularity of gold decreased. Demand picked up again in the 1940s and has remained strong ever since.

Gold is stamped with the carat weight.