In 2010, gold processed to jewelry accounted for 54 per cent of all gold purchases, making jewelry the biggest contributor to gold demand. That is a rise of 17 per cent from 2009 to 2010. The increase is even more remarkable, as the gold price increased in the same period by 26 per cent. The biggest buyer of gold for jewelry is India, with 745 tonnes, followed by China (400 tonnes) and the United States (128 tonnes).
Gold has been used for jewelry for 6,000 years. The reasons are its rarity, ease of mechanical processing, resistance to corrosion and its exceptional color.
As gold in its pure form is often considered as too soft (and expensive), it is combined with other metals. The measure of fineness or carats reveals the gold content, ranging from 24 carat (999 fineness, or 99.9% gold content) to 14 carat (585 fineness, or 58.5% gold content). The fineness of gold is guaranteed by a hallmark.
Another decorative use of gold is as gold foil, also called gold leaf. Gold foil has been used since the ancient world. Gold foil is thinner than the wave length of the visible light and can be applied to non-metallic surfaces, such as frames, books, furniture and architectural elements.
Besides producing gold jewelry, this precious metal can be applied as a galvanized coating to plastic and metal. With the technique of fire gilding, porcelain and ceramics can also receive a golden surface. As a gold-mercury allow, gilding has been known for more than 2,000 years. Fire gilding used to be the only way to apply a durable golden surface to silver, bronze and base metals. The method of gilding was qualitatively extended in the late 19th century by the invention of galvanized coating.