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Struttin' Your Stuff in Gold Necklaces
Gold has been one of humanity's constant companions since some unknown primitive first noticed its mellow gleam in a streambed. It's been highly valued on all continents, from Europe to Africa to the Americas, largely because of its rarity, its great utility, and its malleability. One of the most workable of metals, gold is easily modified even with crude tools -- and it surely wasn't long before someone thought of crafting it into one of humanity's oldest jewelry styles, the necklace, thereby creating both gold necklaces and fine jewelry in one fell swoop.
In this guide, we'll give you a little taste of the variety of gold necklaces now available all these thousands of years later. Not only will we discuss types of gold necklaces, we'll explain a bit about the different alloys of gold used to make them. So if you'll sit back and strap yourself in, we'll be off.
Link by link
As malleable as it might be, gold isn't particularly flexible, being a metal and all, and above all else gold necklaces must be flexible. One way to accomplish this is to string gold balls or beads onto a filament (perhaps even a gold wire) and tie the ends together. There are various ways these beads and balls may be created, from drop-casting to rolling the gold into a thin bar, chopping it into cylindrical beads, and drilling them for stringing. Even small, drilled nuggets can be made into a rough-and-ready type of gold necklace, and this was probably the strategy first adopted when gold necklaces were invented. However, the resulting necklaces are heavy, and don't represent the most efficient use of a valuable resource.
The easiest way to make flexible gold necklaces is to fashion the gold into links and make a chain. The gold can be drawn or rolled into wire, which can then be cut into short sections and used to make the links. Put enough of these together, and you have a relatively light chain to go around your neck, arm, or wherever. It's this method that's most often used today, and jewelers have embellished it so extravagantly that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of gold chains, from simple joined links to intricately braided chains to the daunting complexity of the Byzantine chain.
Karats are good for you!
Gold has one big problem that has always limited its use in its purest form, at least for jewelry: it distorts easily. Since gold is also quite heavy, this means that gold necklaces made from pure gold can distort or even break under their own weight, and can easily be deformed just by accidental snags and bumps. For this reason, gold is almost always alloyed with something else to make it stronger. This may impart to it a different color; white gold, for example, is an iron gray due to the presence of silver or other white metals, while copper makes rose gold reddish in color.
Gold purity is determined by how many parts per 24 are gold. Pure, 100% gold is 24-karat, and is not a good choice for gold necklaces, though it makes for excellent electrical contacts and electronic components. Jewelry made from 18-karat gold, a common alloy, is 75% gold, making it much stronger (and cheaper) than pure gold. Similarly, 14-karat gold (58% pure) is also commonly used, as is 10-karat gold (42%). For many years, jewelry standards would not allow any alloy with a lower karat value to be marketed, but recently 8-karat gold (33% gold) has become moderately common.