Mad About Metals
My earliest memories of gold stem from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I loved when Bugs asked to use the “tell-E-O-phone” and received the massive pile of gold coins. I knew that pirates searched for buried treasure, which was, again, chests filled to the brim with gold coins. Scrooge McDuck swam in his massive sea of gold coins. Gold was just something that inspired awe and was worth the effort to find. To a 5-year old, it’s shiny, pretty, and makes you rich! Evil criminal masterminds kept trying to steal it from banks, people, and anywhere they could get their hands on it. Little did I know how gold, along with other metals, would impact my daily life.
I began my close relationship with gold in 2005, when I started working part time in Stuller’s Assay Lab while in college. I would run fire assay analysis of our karat gold materials, verifying that our products were meeting the legal requirements for gold content. This led to my current place as an Associate Process Engineer with the Metals Technology Department when I graduated in 2008. Since then, metals have been my life.
What is gold?
Seriously, what is gold? Well, gold is element #79 on the periodic table. It has 79 protons, 79 electrons, and 118 neutrons. It is a transition metal, a precious metal, and has a Vickers hardness of 216 MPa (22HV). Its melting point is 1064.18°C. Its electron configuration is [Xe]4f145d106s1. There is 0.00001% gold in humans and 3.1×10-7% gold in the Earth’s crust. Even 1×10-7% in the sun! Not to mention countless other physical properties measured by scientists over time.
What first comes to mind when a person thinks of gold is its physical appearance: shiny and yellow. This is true. But gold is so much more. It’s a noble metal. It’s a soft metal. It’s soft enough to be shaped into practically any form, and rigid enough to retain that general shape. It can be polished to a high shine. This sparkly quality is the initial draw of gold itself. It captures your attention and draws you in. It’s this appeal that has had us, myself included, hooked on gold since its first discovery.
Myths, Legends, & Symbolism
Humans have always been fascinated by gold. From the start, we associated this stuff with richness, high quality, god-like attributes, and royalty. With the yellow color and sparkly luster, the Egyptians saw gold as a symbol of the sun god, Ra. It was thought of as the sweat of the sun to the Incas. Stories from leprechaun gold to King Midas made their way into our history. Some are completely fictional stories, while others, like Jason and the Argonauts, have some ties to actual historical events. An ancient method of separating gold from gold-rich sea sand was to allow the water to flow over sheep skins. The gold would get caught in the fibers. The skins would be hung to dry and later beaten to remove and capture the gold. So, there’s some credibility to Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece.
Gold has become a symbol for immortality and eternal life due to the fact that it never tarnishes, oxidizes, corrodes, or fades over time. Gold objects were buried with deceased loved ones to bring them riches and happiness in the afterlife. Love is seen as eternal and ever-lasting, so it is only fitting we associate gold objects commemorating exceptional life events, the most well-known being wedding and engagement rings.
Gold jewelry has evolved over centuries, but many of the basics are still the same today. Gold was mixed with silver and copper to make it more durable and cast into different colored alloys. Today, we use those same metals mixed with gold in addition to many other elements, depending on the desired end product. The concept of lost wax casting started out primitive, though now large machines and ovens cast both large and small trees with dozens of parts using those same practices. Make a wax of your desired item, invest a mold around it, burn out the wax, and finally melt and pour the gold into that mold.
The most popular choice for engagement rings and wedding bands, including yours truly, is gold. It’s such a versatile metal. It comes in so many different “flavors,” as I like to say. What was my pick? (And, yes, I was given the choice by my boyfriend, who became my fiancé and is now my husband.) I chose 14 karat palladium white. There were many reasons for me to choose that type of alloy, but that’s a story for another day.
Kings and queens may come and go, but gold will still be around. Gold has stood the test of time for this long, and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Gold is here to stay.
Have a favorite gold “flavor”? Share it in the comments section.