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Home > Business > Business Headline > Commodities

What is 'dirty gold'?

Commodity Online | May 23, 2007 13:31 IST

Do you know when did people first start wearing gold jewellery? Do you know what is 'dirty gold'? If not, read this primer on gold.

When was gold jewellery first worn by people?

Until recently, the earliest known gold jewellery was believed to date from the Sumer civilization that existed around 3000 BC, and inhabited what is now known as southern Iraq. Recent discoveries, however, suggest that goldsmithing first began on the shores of the Black Sea, in the land that is today Bulgaria (for more information Pointe-�-Calli�re museum of Montr�al).

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.

Why do people wear gold jewellery?

Wearing gold not only enhances strong emotional feelings for its wearer but also completes a woman's appearance - it makes women feel indulgent, beautiful, successful, confident and sexy. Women who wear gold jewellery consider it to be an integral part of their appearance, and consider it as a necessary item rather than just an accessory. There are also traditional reasons for wearing gold, such as for marriage, religion, and family gifting.

Gold also has a lasting financial value, which supports consumers' decision when buying gold jewellery, and can often be the reason why women prefer gold to other jewellery or luxury products.

What is the carat (karat) system for gold jewellery?

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 gold is defined; 18 carat gold is defined as 75% pure gold.

What is the difference between red, yellow and white gold?

Pure gold is yellow in colour, but when gold is alloyed with other metals it is possible to use these alloys to produce varying colours of gold. Gold alloys are usually a mixture of silver, copper, and zinc, and the amounts of each can be varied to affect the final colour, normally white and red gold.

Can I tell where the gold in my jewellery was sourced?

At present, it is not possible to tell which mine or country the gold in a jewellery item was sourced from. Gold jewellery is made from gold from a number of sources, with the most important being gold mining, which accounts for around 2/3rds of gold supply.

The rest comes from recycling (old jewellery, bars, coins and industrial recycling, often referred to as "scrap"), which is around 20% of gold supply, and from stocks of gold bullion held by banks, which is around 13% of supply.

Can I find out where my gold jewellery was manufactured?

Depending on the country that your gold jewellery was purchased in you may be able to tell where the gold jewellery was manufactured, from the hallmarking on the item.

Hallmarking is only a legal requirement in some countries, for example the United Kingdom. In other countries hallmarking is done voluntarily, and in others is not carried out at all. In countries where hallmarking is carried out, small symbols are made on the item, which identifies information such as caratage, country of manufacture and company that manufactured it.

The extent of the information available from the hallmark depends on the hallmarking standards of the country that the jewellery was purchased in.

What is recycled jewellery?

Approximately one fifth of the total gold supply comes from "recycled" gold. This can be old gold items, for example gold jewellery, bars, coins and industrial items, which are melted down and re-formed into new gold items. "Recycled" gold is often referred to as "scrap".

Of the total world gold jewellery production, approximately one quarter is made from "recycled" gold jewellery. Because gold manufacturing uses gold from multiple sources, it is not possible to identify whether an item of gold jewellery is made from recycled or new gold.

What is dirty gold?

"Dirty" gold is a reference made by lobbyists, mainly NGOs (non-governmental organisations) such as Earthworks and Oxfam USA, who aim to promote improvements in social and environmental aspects of gold mining (often referred to as "Sustainable Development").

The gold mining industry takes its Sustainable Development activities very seriously and there are many strict regulations and guidelines for mining of gold. Most mining companies have robust environmental, social and ethical standards and report on these through their annual reports.

Recently (in June 2006) a multi-stakeholder group conducted a dialogue in Vancouver to discuss options for developing a system of independent 3rd party assurance for mining.

As a result of this dialogue, the "Responsible Mining Assurance Initiative" has been established by a group of mining companies (e.g. Newmont and AngloGold Ashanti), retailers (e.g. Cartier, Tiffany, WalMart and Signet Group), non-government organisations (e.g. Earthworks, who helped establish the "dirty" gold campaign) and trade associations (e.g. Jewelers of America, ICMM and CRJP) to further develop options for independent third-party assurance in the mining sector.

A coordinating committee drawn from the group will facilitate a process for the identification of responsible mining standards and a governance model for the assurance system, and has set a goal of establishing initial standards and a system for governance by 2007.

Good times ahead for Gold investors

Gold investors are in for a bonanza, if a recent report on gold prices is of any indication. A report from the World Gold Council says that rising demand for luxury goods from India and China may drive gold prices to a new peak in the next year.

"Demand in India, the world's largest buyer of the metal, rose by half in the first quarter from a year earlier, while demand in China gained 31 percent," said the London-based Council. It said the purchases, accounting for about 75 percent of gold demand, jumped 17 percent to 573 tonnes as consumers grew more comfortable with gold above $650 an ounce.

Demand from India rose to 211 tonnes and Chinese demand rose to 90 tonnes.

Australian-based consultancy firm Westpac Banking Corp supported the Council's report saying "China is a major emerging market, there is tremendous wealth building up among the middle class there, as it is in India."

It said gold for immediate delivery may trade above $700 (Rs28,700) an ounce at the end of this year. Gold has averaged $659.34 so far this year, after reaching a 26-year high of $730.40 last May.

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