Monday, March 30, 2015

The Search for Gold

Since the beginning of time as we know it, humans have held gold in high regard.  We've used it as a currency and as a way to distinguish individuals within our societies as somehow set apart from the masses.  Expeditions have been launched in search of it throughout time and "reality" TV shows have chronicled the search for it.  What makes us, as a species, so drawn to the bright metal?  What's its history?  As metals go, it's not even the most rare.  So why gold?


Gold Bars

On the periodic table of elements, you can eliminate the gases and liquids as possible contenders for use as currency.  Then you can further eliminate the metals which can corrode such as iron or requires excessive heat to smelt such as zirconium.  What you're left with, according to Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London when she was interviewed by the BBC, are the eight elements on the table which are known as the noble metals because they barely react with any other element:  platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, ruthenium, silver and gold.  All the noble metals except for gold and silver, are extremely rare which would translate into super tiny (i.e. easily lost) coins.  Not to mention, platinum has a melting point of 1,768C.  And...because silver can tarnish, the only element left which is suitable as a currency is gold.  


Year 29, 89/90 AD. AE24 (11.96). Laur. bust of Titus right/Nike advancing right sold by Rosenblum Coins.

Additionally, on that same periodic table, the symbol of gold is Au, from the Greek word 'aurum,' which means 'glow of sunshine.' The English word "gold" comes from the words 'gulb' and 'ghel' also referring to the color.  It is the only metal of this color. The gold's characteristic yellow color is due to the arrangement of its electrons and when alloyed with other metals like silver and cooper it has different colors, according to percentages of those other alloys.  


Possesion Bracelet in 18k rose gold with .27ct of diamonds by Piaget, $4,300.

So this sunshine-like glow has drawn mankind to this metal for thousands of years.  Take, for example, the legend of Cibola, the Seven Cities of Gold.  Cibola legend may have had its origins in an earlier myth concerning the fate of Don Rodrigo of Spain.  Don Rodrigo was said to have lost his kingdom to the Muslims in the 8th century A.D. and that the king took seven bishops as well as a number of people and sailed to an island called Antilia. On that island, each bishop built a city and the ships' with their navigational instruments were burnt to prevent the people from returning to Spain.


14K Gold Sun Circle Charm Pendant Necklace by OroSpot, $259.

The legend was resurfaced in the 1530s, when four survivors of the Narváez expedition managed to return to New Spain.  This expedition, which began in 1527, was aimed at the colonization of Florida.  But, in 1528 while attempting to sail from Mexico to Florida, the crew was shipwrecked on the coast of Texas.  The men who survived were captured by the indigenous people and after four years in captivity, they managed to escape.  However, for the next four years, they wandered across what is today the southern United States.  When they finally encountered Spanish soldiers at Sinaloa in modern day Mexico, only four men were left, out of the initial expedition of 600.  Through their years of wandering, the men had encountered numerous indigenous tribes and one of the legends they heard was about seven cities laden with gold, said to be located somewhere in the Sonoran Desert.


An artist's rendering of Cibola - one of the Seven Cities of Gold.

Years later, one of the survivors was sent with a priest by the the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, on an expedition to find the Seven Cities.  On this trip, the survivor was reportedly murdered by the Zunis and the priest reported that he saw one of the cities from a distance but was afraid to go any further because he did not want to encounter the same fate.  Believing the priest’s story, the Viceroy decided to commission a larger expedition in the following year, this time under the leadership of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.  In February 1940, Coronado led 350 Spanish soldiers and between 900 and 1300 indigenous allies north in search of the Seven Cities.  This expedition, which lasted about two years, was an utter failure.  Instead of finding great cities with walls made of gold, Coronado and his men only found modest indigenous villages with walls of mud.  As a result, many men, including Coronado himself, became bankrupt when the expedition returned to Mexico City empty handed.  The Spanish government at the time was furious with Coronado and he died believing that he was an utter failure.


Vintage, 3D 14k Gold Cactus & Miner Charm from 24-sevenshopping on eBay, $299.99

Although the Seven Cities may well be a myth, there are still modern day gold explorers who's search for riches plays out every week on our television sets.  We watch them mine the frozen Alaskan wilderness and the ocean floor of the Bering Sea in search of riches.  We marvel at the little flecks and nuggets that they dredge up out of the earth.  And, as awards season comes around, we read magazines and blog posts about the stunning gold jewels worn by our favorite celebrities as they walk the red carpet.  


Kate Beckinsale wearing three rings all by Demarco Jewelry.

The metal has captivated us from the beginning of time.  It's been a status symbol, a currency and an award for exceptional prowess on a national athletic stage.  It's become a standard of measure - The Gold Standard - by which others are judged.  The 
bottom line?  Something only has a value because, as a collective, we've determined it to be so.  But as all jewelry lovers and collectors out there know, that very first little gold ring we received long ago from a loved one is absolutely priceless - regardless of it's carat weight. 


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