When people want to tell you something is worthwhile they'll say, "It's as good as gold." But, how good is gold?
The question of quality would depend on its purity. In its pure state gold is a metal with a specific color, weight, and luster. When alloyed with other metals the amount of gold is referred to as "karat" or "fineness". Karat is a system for measuring gold based on a 24 point scale of purity. Therefore, pure gold is 24 karat gold or .999 fine. Gold of this purity is too soft and malleable to make durable jewelry so most high quality jewelry is generally made of 22 karat gold (.918 fine) or 18 karat gold (.750 fine) which will stand up to normal wear. In America the industry standard for jewelry is 14 karat gold (.585 fine). Because of its natural softness, gold is normally alloyed or mixed with small amounts of silver and copper to make it more durable. The percentage of silver and copper that is alloyed to the gold affects its color and hardness. If the silver and copper are used in equal parts, the resulting metal is predominantly yellow, when more silver is used the result is a slightly greener gold and when more copper is used the gold has a rich red color. When gold is alloyed with nickel or palladium rather than silver and copper it produces a rich white metal otherwise known as White gold which is very hard and polishes beautifully.
"Gold fill" is a method by which a thin foil of gold is bonded by heat and pressure to a core of brass. In the case of gold filled wire, the gold foil surrounds a brass core while gold filled sheet metal on the other hand may be gold clad on either one or both sides. The gold becomes a fairly durable layer that will last for many years provided the metal does not encounter heavy wear or chemical contamination. The layer of gold must be 1/20th or 5% of the total weight of the metal. A quality mark of 14/20 GF should be read as meaning 5 % of the metal is 14 karat gold. This provides the look and feel of karat gold at a fraction of the price.
Gold plating is primarily an electrical process. First a piece of base metal, normally brass, is submerged in a plating solution and then an electric current is passed through both the solution and the item being plated. There are many different solutions depending on the amount and color of gold to be plated. This process moves individual atoms of gold out of the solution and onto the item being plated. The gold plate is thus evenly deposited only a few molecules thick over the entire object. Depending on various factors, this coating can be worn away in a very short time or last quite a while. Please do not consider plating as a hobby as the process is much more complicated than this simple description makes it seem and the solutions involved contain highly corrosive acids and deadly chemicals like hydrochloric acid and cyanide.
Hopefully this article helps to clear some of the confusion around gold and make you a more educated consumer when purchasing findings, metal beads and other materials containing gold.
Professional Goldsmithing by Alan Revere Jewelry Concepts and Technology by Oppi Untracht Notes from goldsmithing classes by Beverly Fernandes
About the Author
Beverly Fernandes has been beading since 1969. Since moving to Eugene in 1998 Bev has worked primarily with beads, her first loves have always been her husband John and beadwork. Bev works primarily with Japanese Cylinder Beads known as Delicas. They come in over 600 colors and textures, so Bev can practically paint with beads. Most pieces are worked in peyote or gourd stitch, a form of bead weaving that has been found in Egyptian tombs and has since been practiced by nearly every culture that has worked with beads. Beverly has a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. She studies archaeology and bead history.
In Harlequin's bead library you will find information on the history of beads, how beads are made and how beads have been used throughout the world.
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