WELSH GOLD and GOLD in General.
Some Facts. (As opposed to some of the fiction/fantasy I keep hearing)
The photograph shows a piece of gold ore (actual size. 40x25x15mm) which is mainly white quartz with clogau shale and specks of gold.
This was given to me about 35 years ago and came from the Clogau mine. The majority of gold mined in the Dolgellau Belt is in this form. As can be seen the gold is yellow. It is very close to pure (24 carat) but this won't be known until the ore is crushed, the tiny particles of gold removed, and then refined. What could stop it from purity are traces of other native minerals. This needs to be sorted for two reasons.
The highest assaying (hall marking) quality is 22 carat so you don't want to be selling jewellery of a higher quality when you can only promote it as 22ct.
Impurities in the metal can stop it from being 'worked' successfully. Pure gold is the most malleable and ductile of all known metals. (A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet measuring roughly 5 x 5 meters. The same 1 ounce could be drawn in a wire that would stretch from Barmouth to Cardiff) However the impurities can stop it from being worked at all.
Going from 'gold in ore' to pure gold requires a lot of environmentally unfriendly processes involving mercury, lead and combinations of acids. (Where I can I try and use existing gold.)
These processes are time consuming and costly so are done in large quantities by specialists.
Once refined it can be alloyed with other pure metals to produce a range of qualities, 22ct (916), 18ct (750), 14ct (585) and 9ct (375), and colours (with the exception of 22 which is always yellow) yellow, white, red (rose, pink) green and blue.
The last two are very rarely used as the colour is very weak and, with time, in my experience, so is the metal.
The main alloys are silver, copper (the more copper the redder the metal) palladium and zinc (the more silver, palladium and zinc the whiter the metal) other metals are involved but I will keep it simple.
(Most European countries don't recognise 9ct as they say there is less gold, 9 parts out of 24, than other metals which make up the other 15 parts. Britain has always claimed that no other single metal has as much as 9 parts so it can still be called gold.)
The companies selling 'Welsh Gold' state that the jewellery 'contains a drop' of Welsh gold but have never divulged how much. 1 percent would be enough to make that claim! A ring weighing 3 grams would have a Welsh gold content of 0.03 grams!
"You can tell it's Welsh gold because of the red colour” I hear this time and time again. As you have read above the colour is down to alloys. I don't think the company’s marketing methods have created this myth. It is just the public’s misconception.
For a while, in the 1980's, I bought gold from a company that was operating the Gwynfynedd mine.
In 1983 they had struck a vein of 6200 grams, this was of a quantity that would mean it would be economic to refine.
But, it carried a huge premium. I made many commissions, mainly wedding rings, in 9 and 18ct but for every quote that resulted in a commission four or five didn’t. I wasted so much time discussing and quoting that I decided not to buy any more. Sad, but it was very frustrating.
To my knowledge none of the original 87 mines that were granted leases (not all of them necessarily were worked for gold) are now working commercially.
The gold price is very high today so there are, no doubt, companies that would be keen to start mining again.
However, modern mining operations are enormously expensive to set up and being in a National Park in an area of outstanding beauty, the restrictions on mining practice are such that it makes it unviable. This is despite the fact that there is probably far more gold under the hills than has been extracted.
According to Mr. A. Morrison’s book "Goldmining in Western Merioneth' gold production for the district between 1861 and 1938 was 126,340oz. This came from 279, 027 tons of ore.
The veins, when found, were very rich, however it didn't stop thousands of investors losing their money when projects failed or money was invested with unscrupulous businessmen.
Today, Nov. 2017, pure gold is worth £966 per ounce!
Over the 77 years the above mines were producing a phenomenal 122 million pounds worth of gold, at today’s value, was mined.
Gold is never 'thrown away' it has always been recycled. (Though this is beginning to change, as in the technology industry, such tiny amounts are used on each component, recovery is not economical.) When being recycled it is returned to its pure state then re-alloyed depending on requirements.
What this means is that some of the gold you are wearing could have been mined by the Egyptians 5000 years ago or the Romans 2000 years ago or even by John Jones in Wales 130 years ago. Who knows?
Where gold is 'lost' is through friction, pieces with moving parts, bracelets, necklaces etc. and where rings are worn next to each other.
In the first instance the heavier the piece the worse the wear. A bracelet that fitted perfectly when bought, years later, falls over the hand. It hasn't stretched and the hand hasn't got smaller just constantly rubbing against the next link has turned the gold to what? Dust!
In the second instance a great deal of damage can be done over many years of wear especially if the rings only contact in a couple of places.
In both cases the rate of 'loss' depends on person to person. The acidity of a person’s skin can have a huge effect. Medication can also play a part. This can also affect a person’s sensitivity to certain metals.
I don't know if anyone has tried to access how much gold has been 'lost' through wear but I would like to be able to invent something that reclaimed it. Then I might retire.....
Sometime towards the end of the 1980's I was asked if I knew anyone that could do a diving job in a mine.
At the time I was a qualified sub-aqua diver with the BSAC in Harlech. (The person asking knew that!)
Not one to turn down a bit of excitement and earn some money I said ‘I might do’
It was arranged that I would survey the job and we could take it from there.
For some time the mine operator had been depositing the waste ore in the lowest level of the mine which meant that they didn't have the problem of 'dumping' it on the surface.
These lower levels had flooded, always a mining problem, and with water levels rising pipes that had been above water were now below and no longer functioning.
The job was to take a pipe into the flooded area and connect it to the existing one.
Simple, the water was clear shouldn't be a problem.
When we arrived, I had two diver friends to standby as safety cover; with all our equipment we found the nice clear water was completely murky.
The mine manager had decided to pump compressed air through the pipe to make it 'easier to find!!'
Sediment had been disturbed. Visibility was nil. I could only see things if they were put against my mask, and other than torchlight it was pitch black.
Because of the compressed air bubbles, I could find the pipe by feel but I would have preferred to find it visually.
He really was making me earn the fee.
One or two worries going down when I bumped into roof props, it was a very steep, almost vertical, shaft. I got the pipes connected, on the second attempt; I had managed to trap my glove in the pipes on the first!
Then it came time to follow the safety rope back to the surface. But I couldn't!
Something was trapping me! Stay calm. Still plenty of air in the tank!
On feeling around my equipment I found the content gauge on my air tank had snagged between two pieces of wood.. On Freeing it I made it safely back to the surface.
I am a Gemini and my 'other half' tends to stand back saying things like 'Don't Panic'.
Very useful in situations like that...