HistoryFrom the first discoveries of gold in ancient times, its beauty and the ease with which it could be worked inspired craftsmen to create it into ornaments, not just for adornment, but as symbols of wealth and power. The skills of the goldsmith from ancient Egypt to Benvenuto Cellini or Carl Faberge still amaze us. As Pindar wrote nearly 2,500 years ago, "Gold is the child of Zeus, neither moth nor rust devoureth it". Today, gold jewellery is more a mass- market product, although in many countries still treasured as a basic form of saving. jewellery fabrication is the crucial cornerstone of the gold market, annually consuming all gold that is newly mined.

Pure gold is used in those parts of the world where jewellery is purchased as much for in- vestment as it is for adornment, but it tends to be vulnerable to scratching. Elsewhere, it is usually mixed, or alloyed, with other metals. Not only do they harden it, but influence the colour; white shades are achieved by alloying gold with silver, nickel or palladium; red alloys contain mainly copper. A harder alloy is made by adding nickel or a tiny percentage of titanium.

The proportion of gold in jewellery is measured on the carat (or karat) scale. The word carat comes from the carob seed, which was originally used to balance scales in Oriental bazaars. Pure gold is designated 24 carat, which compares with the "fineness" by which bar gold is defined.

The most widely used alloys for jewellery in Europe are 18 and 14 carat, although 9 carat is popular in Britain. Portugal has a unique designation of 19.2 carats. In the United States 14 carat predominates, with some 10 carat. In the Middle East, India and South East Asia, jewellery is traditionally 22 carat (sometimes even 23 carat). In China, Hong Kong and some other parts of Asia, "chuk kam" or pure gold jewellery of 990 fineness (almost 24 carat) is popular.

In many countries the law requires that every item of gold jewellery is clearly stamped with its caratage. This is often controlled through hallmarking, a system which originated in London at Goldsmiths' Hall in the 14th century. Today it is compulsory in such countries as Britain, France, the Netherlands, Morocco, Egypt, and Bahrain. Where there is no compulsory marking manufacturers themselves usually stamp the jewellery both with their own individual identifying mark and the caratage or fineness.

The European Commission wants to introduce a common system for guaranteeing standards of fineness within member countries of the European Community. Three strictly supervised systems are possible; either I) Hall-marking, 2) Quality control, according to the European norm on quality (EN 29000), or 3) Certificate of conformity by manufacturers, control- led by an independent third party.

Until recently the earliest known gold jewellery was believed to date from the Sumer civilisation, which inhabited what is now southern Iraq around 3000 BC. Recent discoveries suggest however that goldsmithing first began on the shores of the Black Sea, in the land that is today Bulgaria (for more information follow this link to the Pointe-à-Callière museum of Montréal.

Articles displaying various techniques such as repousse, chain- making, alloying and casting have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, with the best known examples coming from the treasures of King Tutankhamun who died in 1352 BC. The Minoans on Crete produced the first known cable chain, still very popular today, and the Etruscans in Italy had developed granulation, whereby items are decorated with tiny granules of gold, by the 7th century BC.

Italy has remained at the forefront of the gold jewellery industry. The Italian Renaissance coincided with the discoveries of the New World sources of gold, and wealthy Italian patrons encouraged goldsmiths as they did painters and sculptors. The Spanish acquisition of South American gold, however, was achieved at the expense of the ancient heritage of Pre-Columbian goldsmiths. These craftsmen were producing exquisite items as early as 1200 BC and their art reached its zenith during the Chimu civilisation from the 12th to the I5th centuries AD, halted only by the mass looting and slaughter by the "conquistadors".

Historically, gold was a rare metal, afforded only by the wealthy. But the gold rushes to California and Australia in the mid- 19th century ushered in a new dimension of gold supply. They coincided, too, with the development of machinery for making chain and other articles and of a much wider consumer market. In the 20th century gold jewellery has come within the pocket of most people.

The way ahead was pointed by Italy, which has become jewellery manufacturer to the world, using over 400 tonnes of gold annually, more than two- thirds of it for export. Factories often housing several hundred ma- chines that "knit" gold wire into chain flourish in the towns of Arezzo, Bassano del Grappa and Vicenza.
Important new centres emerged in the early 1990s, notably in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, catering
particularly for the rapidly growing market for chukka am (pure gold) jewellery in China, which requires several hundred tonnes a year. In Japan jewellery fabrication for the domestic market has become a major industry, using around 100 tonnes a year.

Attitudes to jewellery still vary. In the industrial countries gold jewellery is primarily a fashion item. But in the Middle East and much of Asia gold ornaments are seen equally as investment; 22 carat articles are bought on a low mark-up of only 10-20 per cent over the gold price of the day, and may be traded in at a profit if the price rises or, more often, for new articles.

The importance of jewellery to the gold mining industry cannot be under-estimated. Between 1970 and 1992 around 65 per cent of all gold available to the market was used in jewellery, and from the late 1980's into the 1990's, it absorbed much of the rise in production. Since 1991 over 2,000 tonnes of gold has been used annually. The continuing success of the mining industry is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the jewellery trade.