Gold has been one of the most common materials in jewelry for more than 5,000 years. It’s difficult to find, which makes it rare and valuable. It’s beautiful, with a rich, warm glow that immediately catches the eye. And it’s easy to work with — even ancient people with extremely rudimentary tools were able to fashion gold into beautiful, intricate shapes due to its soft, durable, and flexible composition.
But gold isn’t just found in small nuggets in creeks or stumbled across in rock faces any more. So where does gold actually come from? And how is it turned from gold-rich rocks into the stunning jewelry you wear on your fingers?
The Very Beginning
A long, long time ago, when the universe was first formed, gold didn’t exist. The entire universe was made of hydrogen, helium, and a few other light elements. Those clouds of hydrogen slowly condensed into denser and denser balls of hydrogen, pulled together by gravity.
Eventually, the pressure in the center of those balls of hydrogen grew to a point that hydrogen atoms were smashed together, creating helium and releasing an enormous amount of energy in a process called nuclear fusion. The first stars were born.
When a star is big enough, the helium in the center of it can fuse again, into carbon. Carbon fuses into neon, oxygen, and even heavier elements, until iron and nickel are created. At that point, the process releases less energy than it generates. The star can’t sustain itself any longer and it collapses in a process called a supernova.
That collapse happens shockingly quickly. The star takes a few million years to die, but once the nuclear furnace in the middle shuts down, the core of the star, a ball of iron more than 100,000 miles across, collapses in less than a second. The weight of one such ancient collapse fused iron into the core of our planet along with all the heavy elements we know today — gold, silver, platinum, uranium, and all of the dozens of other elements heavier than iron.
The energy from that collapse then rebounds outward at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, blowing the star apart and scattering heavy elements into space. Eventually, that material will come together again — that’s how Earth was formed. Take a look at the nearest ring you have, made of gold or silver. A star had to explode for that ring to exist, and we think that’s fascinating.
How Gold Is Extracted From the Earth
The first step in the process of making gold into jewelry is the hardest — finding it. The exploration process is challenging and requires a significant investment of time and money. According to the World Gold Council, less than 0.1% of sites scouted will turn into a viable gold mine. This is part of what keeps gold prices higher than those of other metals. Gold is rare and difficult to find, so the costs have stayed relatively high for centuries.
Once a good source of gold is found, the site can be developed. Infrastructure has to be built, machinery assembled, trucks brought in, permits obtained, and licenses granted by local governments. This process takes several years, and often includes off-site investments in local amenities and community resources to accommodate new employees.
A mine can be viable for 10 to 30 years, during which the gold ore is dug out of the ground and processed into gold. First, gold ore is dug out of the ground in the form of huge rocks. To the untrained eye, it’s not even obvious that there’s gold in them. The rocks are broken into gravel-size pieces, then tumbled in a drum with steel balls until they’re reduced to a fine powder.
The powder is combined with water and a few other chemicals — most frequently cyanide — dissolving the gold. Then, grains of carbon are introduced into the solution. The gold adheres to the carbon, sinking to the bottom of the tank where it can be retrieved, further processed, and melted down into bars called doré bars that can be sent to refineries all over the world to be sold and turned into jewelry, electronics, and everything else that gold is used for.
Why an RJC Certification Matters
At acredo rings, we are careful to ensure that all of our suppliers are certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), an organization dedicated to ensuring that every step of the jewelry supply chain is committed to ethical and responsible business practices. RJC standards apply to gold, silver, platinum-group metals (PGM), diamonds, and all colored gemstones.
RJC members are subject to regular auditing and reporting from all suppliers, ensuring that they’re upholding the strictest standards. This standard applies to human rights, labour rights, working conditions, health and safety, environmental concerns, and responsible sourcing and mining.
For a more detailed breakdown of the RJC rules and standards that apply to our suppliers, read more in our blog!
Gold You Can Feel Good About
Virtually all of our jewelry is made with gold, silver, or platinum group metals. When you wear a ring from acredo, you have the peace of mind that it was made from materials that were obtained in an environmentally friendly and responsible way. So the next time you look down at your ring, smile! That tiny piece of an ancient star traveled a long way to make you happy.