Gold is a naturally occurring, pure element and is one of the heaviest natural metals. It has an atomic number of 79 and is chemically inert. In other words, it doesn't react with other chemicals. This means that it is permanent and will stay exactly the way it is. This means that gold jewellery that was made thousands of years ago is as beautiful now as it was when it was made. It also means that jewellery holds its value; it does not rust like iron or become affected by a green coating over time like copper does.
As gold is so permanent and doesn't lose its value, many people decide to sell gold jewellery when it is no longer wanted or if the money will be more useful than the piece of jewellery. Selling gold is big business at the moment as the price of gold is very high. The Guardian has just released an article stating that gold prices are up more that 300% over the last decade (www.guardian.co.uk). Gold prices even hit a record high of $1,300 recently.
But what is it about gold that makes it so valuable? Gold has been highly valued in many societies throughout history. Gold holds its place as a symbol of wealth, success and power. Human achievements are rewarded with gold such as medals or trophies and today gold still holds it connotations of wealth in the form of celebrity "bling". Gold and copper are the only pure elemental metals that have a colour. Many people have argued that copper is just as beautiful as gold, however over time Copper gets a green coating (verdigris).
As gold was the most valuable metal in antiquity, it was first used by the ancient Romans as money. The earliest gold coins go back to 700BC in Greece. Although gold is generally not used for money now, it is still traded on the stock market as a commodity; although this is done virtually, no actual gold exchanges hands.
Because 24k karat gold is so soft and malleable it is very often used in jewellery production. However it is generally alloyed with base metals to alter its hardness as it is so soft that it could become damaged. The melting point, colour and other properties are also changed when alloyed. In the case of lower karat jewellery, this is useful for scrap gold when the jewellery is no longer wanted. This scrap gold is melted down and then made into something else.