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What is Gold?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 21, 2024
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Gold is a metallic element with the atomic number 79 and the symbol Au. While the name gold comes from an Old English word meaning yellow, the symbol comes from the Latin aurum, which means “shining dawn.”

On the periodic table of elements, gold is found in Group 11, along with silver, copper, and roentgenium, and in Period 6 between platinum and mercury. It is referred to as a “transition metal” and is the most malleable, ductile metal. Described as yellow, gold is one of the so-called precious metals, along with silver.

Known from ancient times — along with mercury, sulfur, copper, silver, lead, and tin — gold was used as early as 6000 B.C. Early use included for jewelry, including bracelets and rings, as well as ornamentation. Its malleability means that its early use in any practical items was impossible, so it was restricted to decoration. The civilizations that employed it included the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Mesopotamians, and the Romans.

Gold is found in both lode deposits and placer deposits, and is naturally uncombined. While the largest deposit is to be found in South Africa, deposits of note are also located in Australia, the former Soviet Union, and a number of western states of the United States, including Arizona in the Southwest; California, Montana, and Washington in the Pacific Northwest; and South Dakota in the Midwest.

Although many people may know gold for its use in jewelry — which is how about 65% of it is used — it has a number of other uses. About 25% is used in industrial applications in ceramics, electrical, and electronics applications.

A specialized use is in the powder called gold tin purple, gold tin precipitate, or purple of Cassius, which is used for tinting enamels and manufacturing a special type of glass called ruby glass. Ruby glass is used on the windows of office buildings as well as on mirrors that are used in space.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for All The Science, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Dec 15, 2012
I was told that gold is the only metal that cannot cause an allergy and that's why it is used so much. Is this true?
By literally45 — On Dec 14, 2012

@kylee07drg-- But that's the case everywhere in the world. Gold is always sold for more, but when it is bought back, a lower price is given for it.

All gold buyers should actually buy at the same rate because the price of gold is determined by global production, much like the price of gasoline is determined.

And as far as I know, all of the gold in the world is held at a single location and put out on the market at a certain rate depending on different economic factors.

By ysmina — On Dec 14, 2012
@Kristee-- I don't think buying gold plated jewelry is a very good idea because it doesn't have the same value as gold.

I don't think of gold jewelry only as accessory, but also as an investment. You can always sell gold jewelry without too much loss if there is a need. But gold plated jewelry has little value and cannot be sold like gold can.

That's why I think it's better to save money and get real gold rather than getting gold plated jewelry for cheaper.

By Kristee — On Oct 20, 2012
@giddion – Look for jewelry that is 14k gold plated instead of solid gold. Gold plated items are much less expensive, and you can even find them in department stores that sell costume jewelry, though they will likely still be behind glass.

I have a 14k gold bracelet that my parents got me for a birthday present. I know that they didn't spend much on it, because we didn't have much at the time. Still, it was a nice gift, and it is better than cheap jewelry.

By giddion — On Oct 20, 2012
Are there some types of gold jewelry you can buy that are somewhat inexpensive? I would like to get my niece something gold for a graduation gift, but I don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on this. What can I get her that won't leave me deep in debt?
By wavy58 — On Oct 19, 2012
I had a geology set when I was a kid that contained various rocks and minerals. While it didn't have any real gold, it did have a piece of fool's gold in it.

It's also called pyrite, and to me, it looks just like the real thing. The piece I had was all crumpled like a gold nugget.

There are a couple of ways to tell fool's gold from real gold. If you stick it with a pin and it crumbles, it isn't real. Also, if it shines in the sun but stops shining when you put it in the shade, it isn't real.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 18, 2012

@backdraft – Gold buyers are advertising everywhere. They are actually traveling around to different locations and asking people to bring in their old gold to make a profit.

I've heard that they don't actually pay you what it's worth, though. They are hoping to make money off of it, so they try to make you believe you are getting a great deal. They expect the general public to be ignorant of the actual cost of gold.

I haven't gone to a gold buyer, mostly because the only real gold I own is in my class ring. I just don't want to part with that.

By nextcorrea — On Oct 17, 2012
I think that simple gold jewelry is my favorite. I don't need sparkly diamonds or rubies, just a simple and elegant gold piece. I have a few gold chains that my mother passed along to me that I absolutely adore. They go with everything and never look flashy or gaudy like so much jewelry does.
By anon293585 — On Sep 26, 2012

What is gold's charge?

By anon210201 — On Aug 29, 2011

I want more details about gold.

By aplenty — On Aug 01, 2010

Gold also has industrial uses beyond being used in gold charms and bracelets. Gold is a great conductor, and is often used in premium electronics.

Solid-state devices use very low frequency currents of electricity. These low frequencies are very sensitive to corrosion and tarnish. Gold is resistant to tarnish and corrosion, allowing the metal to easily transmit these weak currents. Industry uses gold as a conductor in small electronics, computer equipment, and sensitive aerospace equipment.

By Babalaas — On Jun 01, 2010

Many techniques for manipulating materials, compounds, and elements were developed through the age old quest of trying to transmute different elements into gold. Interestingly enough it is possible, and has been physically proven, to turn lead into gold by nuclear transmutation. Particle accelerators can fire particles at elements that result in the loss or addition of protons, thus physically changing one element into another. The nucleosynthesis that happens within a supernova can also cause elements to increase their atomic number, however it cannot cause an elements atomic number to decrease. Basically, nucleosynthesis can force the transmutation of gold into lead, but not the other way around. This may explain why gold is often found in lead ore deposits.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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