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All That Glitters
By Charles L. Bäck
“Nature's first green is gold/Her hardest hue to hold” — Robert Frost
Gold is clearly the color of most people's dreams. The allure of the most precious and symbolic of all metals is the stuff of poetry, legend and commerce. From King Midas to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” men have gone to extreme lengths and even been driven mad questing after the glimmering element that is, after all, the standard for financial success. Strange to think, then, that in the beading culture, the very shimmer of gold can be easily – and beautifully – spun around the color wheel into a myriad of different hues.
The color of gold is affected by the simple combination of different minerals in the alloidal process of refining the gold. By adding a small percentage of another element, gold can take on many different shades, none of which effect the value of the metal any more than the addition of a non-coloring agent in the process.
The purity of gold is measured in karats, and the “number” of karats in a piece of gold indicates how much of an additional element has been mixed with the gold to create it. The gold karat system is based on a 24-point scale, where 24K is the highest purity, i.e., 100% pure gold, and slides down the scale to a level of about 10K, which indicates that only 10 out of 24 parts is gold, and the remaining 14 parts is another mineral. 10K gold contains the smallest percentage of gold the U.S. allows to be called gold.
Since pure 24K gold is generally considered too soft in its natural form to be used for most jewelry, it is most commonly found mixed with another metal, creating an alloy of the two. However, no matter how much of the additional coloring agent is used, the specific amount of gold retains its original value. The combining process allows for a lot of interesting pigmentations to be achieved.
White gold ranges in tint from a soft yellow to brownish. It is usually created with the addition of nickel, manganese or palladium, each bringing with it different properties. While a combination of palladium allows gold to maintain its malleability and lightness, nickel, a very sturdy element, gives gold alloys strength for more contact-oriented uses, such as a ring. However, about 1/8 of the population has nickel-sensitive skin, and nickel-gold alloys could cause mild allergic reactions.
Rose gold, sometimes referred to as red or pink gold, is created when gold is combined with copper. The amount of copper used in the alloy is what separates the intensity of the color shift; more copper equals a deeper, redder final product. Thus, the redder a piece of rose gold is, the less gold (and therefore the more copper) is inherent in the piece. Rose gold is also sometimes known as Russian gold, due to its popularity with Russian artisans in the nineteenth century.
Green gold is made by combining gold and silver, and sometimes cadmium, and actually leans more to the yellowish end of the spectrum, depending on the amount of cadmium. A “pure” gold-silver alloy seems very yellowish, but the addition of up to 4% cadmium will render a deeper green tone. However, of even more concern than nickel-based alloys, cadmium is toxic. Not all green gold is manufactured, though. Naturally-occurring gold-silver alloy, referred to as electrum, can also be available for those with a more organic mindset. Unfortunately, there is no real data on whether green gold is what makes up the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Every fan of “The Beverly Hillbillies” is familiar with the term “black gold,” but there's a type of black-tinted gold that is much better decorating your ensemble than filling your gas tank. Black gold is made in a variety of ways ranging from electroplating to laser-blasting. Alloys of black gold are generally made by combining gold with cobalt, black rhodium or chromium in one of many different chemical processes. Ranging in color from a deep brown to an almost light-absorbing ebony, black gold is a striking conversation-starter.
Golds in the purple to blue spectrum exists, but are the most fragile of the variety. Sometimes referred to as having gem-like appearance, purple gold is created by marrying gold with aluminum in different amounts, again, affecting the deepness of the purple tone. Blue gold is created by adding indium or gallium, and is more sturdy that purple gold, but only a bit.
With such a wide choice of colors, gold would seem to be an ideal material for almost any jewelry or beading project, especially one meant to carry an aura of distinction, sophistication and timelessness, and as a gift, well, nothing says, “You are important!” quite like the gift of gold. Regardless of which color of gold you choose to work and design with, you can be sure that your choice of materials is second to none.
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