For thousands of years, gold has been valued for its rarity and beauty in cultures across the world. The precious metal has been used to create a wide range of decorative and ceremonial objects using a variety of tools and techniques. Goldsmiths in medieval Europe were required to be members of a guild, both to protect their members interests and record their marks, providing a sign of the quality of their work. The skills required to work as a goldsmith were traditionally learned through an apprenticeship, but are now often taught on courses in fine art within colleges and universities.
The Latin word for gold is aurum, which is where we get its chemical symbol of Au from.
Gold has many unique and interesting properties that make it so prized. Many materials over time will react with air and water and slowly deteriorate but gold does not oxidise or tarnish. This non reactive quality means that gold despite being both malleable and ductile, will keep its form in its native state. Gold is a rare metal and although over time the total amount of found gold has increased, so has our population. The value of gold fluctuates over time but it has always been highly prized partly because of its unique yellowy colour.
A goldsmith will combine gold with many other materials, either by plating or with solid pieces interspersed between other metals. As pure gold relatively soft it is often used to coat and protect harder but more easily corroded metals.
Pure gold is 24k carats. However, most jewellery will be an alloy of gold plus another metal. This makes the piece stronger in some ways but depending on the level of impurity will make it more reactive. Often we will see, 22k, 18k and 9k as marks of purity on jewellery and other plated or gilded works.
Gold has some clay like properties, in that you can compress it to combine pieces.
Gold becomes a solid at temperatures below 1065 degrees centigrade. At little over that temperature, it will become a liquid that can be poured into moulds.
Gold leaf which is beaten to become very thin is often used in gilding, perhaps of wood, stone or other metals.