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The earliest recorded metal employed by humans appears to be gold, which can be found free or "native". Small amounts of natural gold have been found in Spanish caves used during the late Paleolithic period, c. 40,000 BC.

Gold artifacts made their first appearance at the very beginning of the pre-dynastic period in Egypt, at the end of the fifth millennium BC and the start of the fourth, gold smelting was developed during the course of the 4th millennium; gold artifacts appear in the archeology of Lower Mesopotamia during the early 4th millennium.

Gold artifacts in the Balkans appear from the 4th millennium BC, such as those found in the Varna Necropolis near Lake Varna in Bulgaria, thought by one source (La Niece 2009) to be the earliest "well-dated" find of gold artifacts.

As of 1990, gold artifacts found at the Wadi Qana cave cemetery of the 4th millennium BC in West Bank were the earliest from the Levant. Gold artifacts such as the golden hats and the Nebra disk appeared in Central Europe from the 2nd millennium BC Bronze Age.

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The Muisca raft, between circa 600-1600 AD. The figure refers to the ceremony of the legend of El Dorado. The zipa used to cover his body in gold dust, and from his raft, he offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the sacred lake.

 

This old Muisca tradition became the origin of the legend of El Dorado.

This Muisca raft figure is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia.


The oldest known map of a gold mine was drawn in the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt (1320–1200 BC), whereas the first written reference to gold was recorded in the 12th Dynasty around 1900 BC.

Egyptian hieroglyphs from as early as 2600 BC describe gold, which King Tushratta of the Mitanni claimed was "more plentiful than dirt" in Egypt.

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Egypt and especially Nubia had the resources to make them major gold-producing areas for much of history. One of the earliest known maps, known as the Turin Papyrus Map, shows the plan of a gold mine in Nubia together with indications of the local geology. The primitive working methods are described by both Strabo and Diodorus Siculus, and included fire-setting. Large mines were also present across the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia.

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Genesis 2:11 (at Havilah), the story of the golden calf, and many parts of the temple including the Menorah and the golden altar. In the New Testament, it is included with the gifts of gold in the first chapters of Matthew.

The Book of Revelation 21:21 describes the city of New Jerusalem as having streets "made of pure gold, clear as crystal". Exploitation of gold in the south-east corner of the Black Sea is said to date from the time of Midas, and this gold was important in the establishment of what is probably the world's earliest gold coinage in Lydia around 610 BC.


 

The legend of the golden fleece dating from eighth century BCE may refer to the use of fleeces to trap gold dust from placer deposits in the ancient world. From the 6th or 5th century BC, the Chu (state) circulated the Ying Yuan, one kind of square gold coin.

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Gold coin of Eucratides I (171–145 BC), one of the Hellenistic rulers of ancient Ai-Khanoum. This is the largest known gold coin minted in antiquity (169.2 g (5.97 oz); 58 mm (2.3 in)

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In Roman metallurgy, new methods for extracting gold on a large scale were developed by introducing hydraulic mining methods, especially in Hispania from 25 BC onwards and in Dacia from 106 AD onwards.

One of their largest gold mines was at Las Medulas in León, where seven long aqueducts enabled them to sluice most of a large gold alluvial deposit.


 

The gold mines at Roşia Montană in Transylvania were also very large, and until very recently, still mined gold by opencast methods. They also exploited smaller deposits of gold in Britain, such as placer and hard-rock gold deposits at Dolaucothi. The various methods they used are well described by Pliny the Elder in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia written towards the end of the first century AD.

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Minoan jewellery; 2300–2100 BC; various sizes; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

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2093–2046 BC; Sulaymaniyah Museum (Sulaymaniyah, Iraq)

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Ancient Egyptian signet ring; 664–525 BC; gold; diameter: 30 mm × 34 mm (1.2 in × 1.3 in); British Museum (London)

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Etruscan funerary wreath; 4th–3rd century BC; length: 333 mm (13.1 in); Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Etruscan funerary wreath; 4th–3rd century BC; length: 333 mm (13.1 in); Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Roman aureus of Hadrian; 134–138 AD; 7.4 g; Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Byzantine scyphate; 1059–1067; diameter: 25 mm (0.98 in); Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

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Pre-Columbian pendant with two bat-head worriors who carry spears; 11th–16th century; gold; overall: 76.2 mm (3.00 in); from the Chiriqui Province (Panama);

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English Neoclassical box; 1741; overall: 44 mm × 116 mm × 92 mm (1.7 in × 4.6 in × 3.6 in); Metropolitan Museum of Art

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French Rococo glass bottle mounted in gold; circa 1775; overall: 70 mm × 29 mm (2.8 in × 1.1 in); Cleveland Museum of Art

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Gold was at a high price in Egypt until they came in that year. The mithqal did not go below 25 dirhams and was generally above, but from that time its gold value fell and it cheapened in price and has remained cheap till now. The mithqal does not exceed 22 dirhams or less. This has been the state of affairs for about twelve years until this day by reason of the large amount of gold which they brought into Egypt and spent.


 

— Chihab Al-Umari, Kingdom of Mali


 

Gold coin of Eucratides I (171–145 BC), one of the Hellenistic rulers of ancient Ai-Khanoum. This is the largest known gold coin minted in antiquity (169.2 g (5.97 oz); 58 mm (2.3 in)).

The European exploration of the Americas was fueled in no small part by reports of the gold ornaments displayed in great profusion by Native American peoples, especially in Mesoamerica, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.


 

The Aztecs regarded gold as the product of the gods, calling it literally "god excrement" (teocuitlatl in Nahuatl), and after Moctezuma II was killed, most of this gold was shipped to Spain. However, for the indigenous peoples of North America gold was considered useless and they saw much greater value in other minerals which were directly related to their utility, such as obsidian, flint, and slate.

El Dorado is applied to a legendary story in which precious stones were found in fabulous abundance along with gold coins. The concept of El Dorado underwent several transformations, and eventually accounts of the previous myth were also combined with those of a legendary lost city of gold.

El Dorado, was the term used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical tribal chief (zipa) of the Muisca native people in Colombia, who, as an initiation rite, covered himself with gold dust and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legends surrounding El Dorado changed over time, as it went from being a man, to a city, to a kingdom, and then finally to an empire.


 

Gold played a role in western culture, as a cause for desire and of corruption, as told in children's fables such as Rumpelstiltskin—where Rumpelstiltskin turns hay into gold for the peasant's daughter in return for her child when she becomes a princess—and the stealing of the hen that lays golden eggs in Jack and the Beanstalk.


 

The top prize at the Olympic Games and many other sports competitions is the gold medal.


 

75% of the presently accounted for gold has been extracted since 1910. It has been estimated that the currently known amount of gold internationally would form a single cube 20 m (66 ft) on a side (equivalent to 8,000 m3 or 280,000 cu ft).


 


 

One main goal of the alchemists was to produce gold from other substances, such as lead — presumably by the interaction with a mythical substance called the philosopher's stone. Although they never succeeded in this attempt, the alchemists did promote an interest in systematically finding out what can be done with substances, and this laid the foundation for today's chemistry. Their symbol for gold was the circle with a point at its center (☉), which was also the astrological symbol and the ancient Chinese character for the Sun.


 

The symbol Au is from the Latin: aurum, the Latin word for "gold".

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Outside chemistry, gold is mentioned in a variety of expressions, most often associated with intrinsic worth Great human achievements are frequently rewarded with gold, in the form of gold medals, gold trophies and other decorations. Winners of athletic events and other graded competitions are usually awarded a gold medal. Many awards such as the Nobel Prize are made from gold as well. Other award statues and prizes are depicted in gold or are gold plated (such as the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Palme d'Or, and the British Academy Film Awards).

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Gold is further associated with the wisdom of aging and fruition. The fiftieth wedding anniversary is golden. A person's most valued or most successful latter years are sometimes considered "golden years". The height of a civilization is referred to as a golden age.

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In some forms of Christianity and Judaism, gold has been associated both with holiness and evil. In the Book of Exodus, the Golden Calf is a symbol of idolatry, while in the Book of Genesis, Abraham was said to be rich in gold and silver, and Moses was instructed to cover the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with pure gold. In Byzantine iconography the halos of Christ, Mary and the Christian saints are often golden.

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In Islam, gold (along with silk) is often cited as being forbidden for men to wear. Abu Bakr al-Jazaeri, quoting a hadith, said that "

the wearing of silk and gold are forbidden on the males of my nation, and they are lawful to their women". This, however, has not been enforced consistently throughout history, e.g. in the Ottoman Empire. Further, small gold accents on clothing, such as in embroidery, may be permitted.


 

According to Christopher Columbus, those who had something of gold were in possession of something of great value on Earth and a substance to even help souls to paradise.

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Wedding rings are typically made of gold. It is long lasting and unaffected by the passage of time and may aid in the gold ring symbolism of eternal vows before God and the perfection the marriage signifies.

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In Islam, gold (along with silk) is often cited as being forbidden for men to wear. Abu Bakr al-Jazaeri, quoting a hadith, said that "

the wearing of silk and gold are forbidden on the males of my nation, and they are lawful to their women". This, however, has not been enforced consistently throughout history, e.g. in the Ottoman Empire. Further, small gold accents on clothing, such as in embroidery, may be permitted.


 

According to Christopher Columbus, those who had something of gold were in possession of something of great value on Earth and a substance to even help souls to paradise.

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On 24 August 2020, Israeli archaeologists discovered a trove of early Islamic gold coins near the central city of Yavne. Analysis of the extremely rare collection of 425 gold coins indicated that they were from the late 9th century. Dating to around 1,100 years back, the gold coins were from the Abbasid Caliphate.

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Gold and silver smith in Lucknow, India 1890

Gold has been worked by humans in all cultures where the metal is available, either indigenously or imported, the history of these activities is extensive.

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A goldsmith workshop during the mid-seventeenth century

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Superbly made gold objects from the ancient cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe, India, North America, Mesoamerica, and South America grace museums and gold collections throughout the world. Some pieces date back thousands of years and were made using many techniques that still are used by modern goldsmiths.

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medieval

In medieval Europe goldsmiths were organized into guilds and usually were one of the most important and wealthiest of the guilds in a city. The guild kept records of members and the marks they used on their products. These records, when they survive, are very useful to historians.

Goldsmiths often acted as bankers, since they dealt in gold and had sufficient security for the safe storage of valuable items, though they were usually restrained from lending at interest, which was regarded as usury.

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In the Middle Ages, goldsmithing normally included silversmithing as well, but the brass workers and workers in other base metals normally were members of a separate guild, since the trades were not allowed to overlap. Many jewellers also were goldsmiths.


 

Gold has been worked by humans in all cultures where the metal is available, either indigenously or imported, and the history of these activities is extensive.

Superbly made gold objects from the ancient cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe, India, North America, Mesoamerica, and South America grace museums and collections throughout the world.

Some pieces date back thousands of years and were made using many techniques that still are used by modern goldsmiths. Techniques developed by some of those goldsmiths achieved a skill level that was lost and remained beyond the skills of those who followed, even to modern times.


 

A goldsmith might have a wide array of skills and knowledge at their disposal. Gold, being the most malleable metal of all, offers unique opportunities for the goldsmith.

In today's world a wide variety of other metals, especially platinum alloys, also may be used frequently. 24 carat is pure gold and historically, was known as fine gold.


 

Because it is so soft, however, 24 carat gold is rarely used. It is usually alloyed to make it stronger and to create different colors. Depending on the metals used to create the alloy, the color can change.

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Casting Gold jewellery and small parts

The methods used for small parts and Gold jewellery vary somewhat from those used for sculpture.

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A wax model is obtained either from injection into a rubber mould or by being custom-made by carving. The wax or waxes are sprued and fused onto a rubber base, called a "sprue base". Then a metal flask, which resembles a short length of steel pipe that ranges roughly from 3.5 to 15 centimeters tall and wide, is put over the sprue base and the waxes.

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Most sprue bases have a circular rim which grips the standard-sized flask, holding it in place. Investment (refractory plaster) is mixed and poured into the flask, filling it. It hardens, then is burned out as outlined above. Casting is usually done straight from the kiln either by centrifugal casting or vacuum casting.

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The lost-wax process can be used with any material that can burn, melt, or evaporate.


 

In dentistry, gold crowns, inlays and onlays are made by the lost-wax technique. Application of Lost Wax technique for the fabrication of cast inlay was first reported by Taggart. A typical gold alloy is about 60% gold and 28.4% silver with copper and other metals making up the rest. Careful attention to gold tooth preparation, impression taking and laboratory technique are required to make this type of restoration a success. Dental laboratories make other items this way as well.

The majority of the jewellery is made with a pure gold alloy, while a smaller part uses lower gold-density alloys to keep jewellery cheaper.

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The gold may be cast into items, usually with the lost wax casting process, or it may be used to fabricate the work directly in the metal.

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the goldsmith will use a variety of tools and machinery, including the rolling mill, the drawplate, and perhaps, swage blocks and other forming tools to make the gold into shapes needed to build the intended gold piece.

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gold soldering

It is a testament to the history and evolution of the gold trade that those skills have reached an extremely high level of attainment and skill over time. A fine goldsmith can and will work to a tolerance approaching that of precision machinery, but largely using only his eyes and hand tools.

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It is a testament to the history and evolution of the gold trade that those skills have reached an extremely high level of attainment and skill over time. A fine goldsmith can and will work to a tolerance approaching that of precision machinery, but largely using only his eyes and hand tools.

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Quite often the goldsmith's job involves the making of gold mountings for gemstones, in which case they often are referred to as jewellers.

'Jeweller', however, is a term mostly reserved for a person who deals in jewellery (buys and sells gold) and not to be confused with a goldsmith, silversmith, gemologist, diamond cutter, and diamond setters.


 

A 'jobbing jeweller' is the term for a jeweller who undertakes a small basic amount of gold jewellery repair and alteration.

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A bench jeweller is an artisan who uses a combination of skills to make and repair gold jewellery. Some of the more common skills that a bench jeweller might employ include antique gold restoration, silversmithing, goldsmithing, stone setting, engraving, fabrication, wax carving, lost-wax casting, gold electroplating,

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Jewellery manufacture

In general, an original design is made and sold using processes such as molding, gold casting, gold stamping and similar techniques. The other is original, one of a kind work. The bench jeweller will be a factor in many facets of the process, depending on what is needed and the skills of the goldsmith.

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When a production piece is contemplated, it may go through a design process that can range from one person with an idea to a full-scale planning stage involving teams of artists and marketing professionals. Eventually, that design will need to be made into a real piece of gold jewellery, which is generally called a model, and the worker who makes it is generally the model maker. This is often considered the highest form of craftsmanship, as the piece must be made true to the design and also to most exacting standards.

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A good model maker is, along with a fine watchmaker among the most technically skilled workers in any trade. After the model is made and found to be what is desired, it is molded or perhaps entered into a machining process to make copies. Assuming it is molded, multiples of the piece are cast in gold from the mold.

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Though the principles are the same for jewellery casting. The cast pieces will likely need a variety of work done to them, including filing to remove the skin left from casting and prepare for polishing, straightening parts, rounding and sizing gold rings, and assembling many various parts together using gold solder.

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Although the method used is called gold soldering, it is actually a form of brazing, using "solders" of the gold being worked, i.e. gold solders for gold pieces, silver solder for silver pieces, etc. All of this is the work of bench jewellers, who at this level are sometimes known as production workers in some arenas. In this context, the bench jeweller (often known simply as a goldsmith) is responsible for all of the main work involved in turning a raw gold casting into a piece of jewellery - filing it, straightening it, assembling parts or adding settings for stones, repairing any problems that might have occurred, and preparing it for stone setting and polishing.

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Special-order jewellery

Special-order jewellery is the making of one of a kind items and is not too different from model making. The Main difference between the two is that the special-order piece is made in gold or other precious materials, while often a model is not, and the need for exacting precision is nowhere near as high as in model making.

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Generally the special order jeweller takes a design, either their own or a customer's, and turns it into a piece of finished jewellery from start to finish.

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Carving to be cast into gold, or it can involve very complex fabrication skills building the piece out of the actual gold using a wide variety of skills and tools. Very often both model making and special order involve gemstones, and thus the pieces must be designed and made to properly hold them.

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It will be obvious that any manufacturer of any gold product will design a workshop to their own liking and it may defy convention. There are, however, some typical categories that most work shops in the jewellery trade will employ. If it is a manufacturing workshop, likely it will begin with the casting room, then to the bench jewellers or goldsmiths, perhaps to the polishing department and maybe to stone setting.

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Generally there will be at least one model maker, who may also do special orders, or there may be a dedicated special order department and sometimes even repair, depending on the size of the workshop. Usually there is also at least one foreman and also a front office handling management. In addition there might be engravers, enamelists, perhaps a machine shop and others, depending on the gold product being made. A good work shop behaves as a team, with each department doing their part and the work passing back and forth between them as needed. In this situation each goldsmith is a specialist at their job, and though they may have a broader background that becomes useful at times, they generally will not enter into another department's expertise.

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A bench jeweller

Although the term bench jeweller is a contemporary term with vague meaning, it often is used to describe a jeweller who has a larger set of skills than that of a production worker who merely files and solders rings. Thus they may have a fair knowledge of stone setting, a bit of engraving, and perhaps other skills that widen their abilities.

Each department also recognizes the worker's abilities, so that there may be ten goldsmiths called "goldsmiths", but one will have simple skills, and another may have greatly higher ability, and so the more or less challenging jobs are assigned accordingly.

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For a long time throughout history the model was as described above under "Anatomy of a Jewellery Shop", with a fairly strict delineation of responsibilities. In the modern day, there are a great many gold jewellers who do it all, from design to stone setting to finishing with fair ability. Whether it is used in one context or another, there is no doubt that the bench jeweller is the gold jewellery worker who does the major gold work and the gold soldering, and its meaning can also be taken more widely to mean one who is more versatile in the gold trade than merely an assembler of gold parts. The term can and has been used to describe any of the gold work described above - model making, gold special order, gold repair, gold assembly, and more, though it is probably becoming a term to describe an all-around gold jeweller more and more in recent years.

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