The lustrous metal of gold jewellery has inspired artists and wearers alike for millennia. Malleable, resistant to corrosion and highly valued, gold has been a favourite material for jewellers from the earliest times. From the gold filigree creations of the Etruscans in 6 BC Italy to the ceremonial collar found at the Shannongrove Gorge in Late Bronze Age Ireland and Elizabethan England, jewellery adorned in gold served as a signifier of wealth and status.
Pure 24-karat gold is too soft to make into jewellery, so it is alloyed with other precious metals to increase its strength. The resulting alloys alter their hardness, ductility and melting point, while also changing their colour and other properties. Jewellery made from alloys is marked with the karatage of the gold used, usually in a three-digit number.
The Timeless Elegance of Gold: A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Jewelry
Throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras, gold was popular amongst upper-class wearers, and often set with gemstones in intricate designs or etched with etchings and engravings. Gold was also embraced by the Arts and Crafts movement of 1899 to 1924, with Charles Robert Ashbee, Liberty & Co and the Wiener Werkstatte producing elegant and stylised pieces featuring floral and other ornamental themes.
For a more affordable alternative to gold, look for jewellery that is marked as “gold filled” or “gold vermeil.” These metals contain a solid layer of gold mechanically bonded to a base metal, most commonly jewellers’ brass. The karatage of the gold is typically indicated with a mark similar to “12K 1/20 GF.” Over time, these pieces will tarnish as the gold plating eventually wears off.