General Jewellery Learning Metals

What is the history of gold?

Gold diamond ring

What is the history of gold?

Being a popular metal used for jewellery, you may think you know everything there is to know about gold. However, gold has interesting properties, and an even more fascinating history. Read on to learn more about what gold is, where it comes from, and how it’s been used across the centuries. 

What is gold?

Think back to your Chemistry lessons – you may recall that gold is a chemical element, with the chemical symbol Au. But in practical terms, gold is a solid metal, shiny yellow in colour, that is used mostly for jewellery and to alloy with other metals, but can also be used as currency, as well as having a wide range of other applications. Gold is one of the least reactive metals and is a very malleable substance – making it easy to work with, but also prone to scratches and dents, when in its purest form.  

Where does gold come from? 

Scientists believe that all the world’s gold was formed before the ‘Big Bang’, in star collisions. Gold is, essentially, made up of debris from old stars. This gold – being a heavier element – then sank to the Earth’s core and can be found by mining.  Natural erosion usually frees the gold from the rock matter it is attached to, and it is then released into streams, oceans and riverbeds. When found naturally, gold is usually spotted in nuggets and flakes in streams around the world but can also be found inside rocks – this act of looking for gold in rivers is called ‘gold prospecting’. It is not possible to ‘create’ gold using chemical elements. 

Gold diamond necklace

When was gold discovered? 

Gold has a fascinating history and has been used for thousands of years. It is the earliest known metal found by man, with records dating it back to 40,000BC. The oldest gold artifacts found date back to 4,000 BC, from Bulgaria. Egyptian Hieroglyphics describe gold, dating back to 2600 BC, and gold is frequently mentioned in the Bible.  

Gold can be found in any country, but nowadays, China, Russia, Australia and Canada are where most gold is found and produced. 

What was gold used for? 

Gold was mostly used for exchange purposes, as money, with the first gold coins dating back to 600 BC. This system was used up until after the Second World War. While nowadays banking systems have mostly abandoned gold directly as a currency, many central banks still keep a store of gold in some form. Due to the fact that the world’s gold mining industry is declining, and that therefore worldwide stocks of gold only tend to increase by 1%/2% per year, gold is still widely accepted as a good investment. 

Gold, nowadays, is mostly used for jewellery, art and – as previously mentioned – as an investment. However, due to its special properties, it is also used for other things – things you may not instantly associate with the metal. For example, the largest industrial use for gold is actually in computer parts, to serve part of the electrical connectivity components. But gold is also used in plenty of other professions, such as dentistry, medicine and even in food. 

Gold diamond ring

How much gold is there in the world? 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that 196,320 tons of gold has been produced in the entirety of its history. And because gold is so dense, it doesn’t take up much ‘mass’ – which means that if you melted down all the gold in the world, you would have a cube roughly 60 feet across. 

How do you clean gold?

Want to learn how to clean your gold jewellery? Read our gold cleaning guide, to keep your precious pieces looking their best.