Precious Metals: GOLD
The Midas Touch
Most gold, however, is not used in jewelry or even in gold coins. Because gold conducts electricity so well and can be electroplated easily to other metal surfaces, it is used for contact points in almost every high-tech electronic device imaginable where electrical contact points are crucial. Air bags in automobiles, for instance, all have gold circuitry. In fact, the keyboard on your computer probably has gold contact points under every key, and the CPU chip and memory board probably have gold-plated components. Of course, if you scraped all the gold off it would add up to less than a pin-head.
In ancient times gold was thought to have healing properties when worn or even ingested. Similarly, today gold is also used in medical applications, where its biologically benign properties and easy infrared detection make it an ideal internal tracking device. Gold is even being combined with proteins to make new drugs. And dentists use 13 tons of it every year to make crowns, fillings, and bridges.
The other major use for gold is as a reserve metal. Hundreds of tons of gold are stored in the U.S. Treasury at Fort Knox, to be used as a guarantor of the government's financial solvency.
Both these applications remind us why gold makes such good jewelry--it is non-toxic, will not corrode, resists tarnishing, is hypo-allergenic, and retains its value well. And the softness of gold makes it an ideal material for some of the most creative jewelry artisans in the business.
Of course, the most popular color for gold is its natural shade of yellow. The yellow gold used in jewelry is usually alloyed with copper and silver. White gold, very popular on the fashion scene right now, is created using nickel or palladium, zinc and copper. Alloying copper with gold creates pink gold; a blend of silver, copper and zinc gives us green gold.
When buying gold jewelry, always look for the karat mark. Pure gold, or 24-karat, is generally too soft for use in jewelry, so gold is alloyed with other metals to increase its strength. Eighteen karat gold is 18/24ths, or three-quarters pure gold and jewelry of this fineness is marked 18k or 750, the European designation meaning 75% gold. In addition to the karat mark, every piece of gold jewelry should be stamped with a hallmark or trademark of its maker and sometimes its country of origin. These designations assure you that you are buying genuine karat gold jewelry.
Some jewelry will be marked "gold
filled." Also called gold overlay, this means that a layer of at least 10-karat gold
has been permanently bonded by heat and pressure to one or more surfaces of the support
metal, then rolled or drawn to a prescribed thickness. The karat gold must be at least
1/10 of the total weight. Gold Plate means that a layer of plating of 10-karat gold or
better has been electrolytically or mechanically bonded to a base metal. The karat gold
content may be less than 1/20 but must be properly identified by weight in terms of total
metal content. Vermeil refers to gold plating that's at least 15 microns thick. (One
micron is a millionth of an inch.) Gold leaf is just gold plating that's been pounded and
applied by hand.
Gold pricing is based on a number of factors, including karatage, gram weight, design and craftsmanship. The karatage and gram weight tell you how much gold is in a piece, but don't rely on these alone to determine price. Remember, a price based solely on gram weight does not reflect the work that has gone into the piece. Other important factors to consider are the jewelry's construction and design. A well-made piece in a classic design will give you years of wear and enjoyment, and if cared for properly, will last a lifetime.
One final word about precious metals. Gold and platinum are durable, sturdy and dependable, and make ideal settings for your precious diamond jewelry. However, to get a lifetime of enjoyment from your jewelry, be sure to keep it clean and safe.
Do not wear jewelry during rough work or when handling harsh chemicals. Store it in a fabric-lined box away from other pieces so it does not get scratched. Finally, check the diamond settings periodically for any damage to prongs or bezels. If you see a loose prong or the setting looks out of line, bring it to a professional for repair at once.
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