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A Brief History of Jewelry Through the Ages

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Infographic: A Brief History of Jewelry Through the Ages

Jewelry has been an integral aspect of human civilization for centuries, but it was the discovery and subsequent spread of precious metals and gemstones which really changed the game.

In today’s infographic from Menē, we visualize how the uses and symbolism of jewelry have evolved across time and space to become the industry we’re familiar with today.

Antique, Yet Ageless

There isn’t a single corner of the world that’s untouched by the influence of jewelry.

  • Ancient Egypt
    Gold accompanied the affluent into the afterlife – the famous 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb was filled to the brim with gold jewelry.
  • Ancient Greece and Rome
    Jewelry was used practically, and as a protection against evil. The gold olive wreath design was highly popular during this time.
  • Mesopotamia
    Both men and women in the Sumer civilization wore intricate pieces of jewelry, incorporating bright gems like agate, jasper, or lapis lazuli.
  • Meso-America
    The aristocracy in Aztec culture wore gold jewelry with gemstones to demonstrate their rank. The jewelry also doubled up as godly sacrifices.
  • Ancient India
    The Mughal Empire introduced the combination of gemstones with gold and silver. Today, pure gold jewelry is often gifted to new brides for financial security.
  • Ancient China
    Both rich and poor wore jade jewelry for its durable and protective properties. Pure gold jewelry is making a fashion comeback, doubling as a form of investment.

Modern Jewelry: At a Crossroads

Today, jewelry is at once the very same and vastly different from what it used to be.

The industry is worth upwards of $348 billion per year, and it’s not hard to see why. As an alternative asset, jewelry has grown 138% in value over the last decade – only outperformed by classic cars, rare coins, and fine wine.

However, perceptions of jewelry vastly differ. It’s not a stretch to say that Western jewelry buyers are enamored with diamonds, given their enduring association with special occasions – but it’s interesting to note how that ideal was fabricated.

The Invention of Diamonds

The De Beers Group is well known for making diamonds great again. In the early 1900s, the company had already monopolized the diamond trade and stabilized the market, but they faced the challenge of marketing diamonds to consumers at all income levels.

The average American considered diamonds an extravagance, preferring to spend money on cars and appliances instead. The concept of engagement rings existed, but weren’t widely adopted. The #1 slogan of the century – “A Diamond is Forever” – transformed all that.

Even as more companies like Tiffany and Co and Cartier entered the playing field, De Beers had set a successful industry standard. But there’s a catch – diamonds are actually:

  • Not all that rare in nature
  • Intrinsically low in value
  • Easily replicated in a lab
  • Decreasing in sales

Despite these caveats, the popularity of diamonds illustrate how Western consumers do not approach jewelry in the same way as Eastern economies, where its function as a store of wealth persists.

The Eastern Gold Standard

In Eastern economies, jewelry often takes the form of pure gold. The reasons behind this difference are surprisingly pragmatic: gold is considered a secure and innate store of wealth that maintains its purchasing value over decades, allowing families to pass wealth from generation to generation.

The rich history of the precious metal has made it a sought-after commodity for centuries, and China and India drive more than half of global gold jewelry demand every year:

YearShare of Demand (India + China)Total Global Jewelry Demand (tonnes)
201457%2510 tonnes
201558%2426 tonnes
201655%2068 tonnes
201757%2201 tonnes
201858%2200 tonnes

Source: Gold Hub – Values have been rounded up to the nearest tonne.

Why are Eastern cultures so attracted to the properties of pure gold?

Part 2 of this series will show why gold is the world’s most incredible metal, and why it’s coveted by billions of people.

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Gold

Gold in Nevada: The Real Golden State

Nevada accounts for 84% of U.S. gold production today. Here’s a look at the state’s rich history, its prolific production, and what the future may hold.

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Nevada: Gold Powerhouse

The Real Golden State: Gold Production in Nevada

Thanks to the world famous silver discoveries of the 19th century that unveiled Nevada’s precious metal potential, the state today is known by many as “The Silver State”.

However, it’s possible that nickname may need to be updated. In the last few decades, Nevada has become a prolific gold producer, accounting for 84% of total U.S. gold production each year.

Today’s infographic from Corvus Gold showcases why Nevada may have a better case for deserving California’s nickname of the “Golden State”: we look at the state’s gold production, exploration potential, and even its rich history.

A Defining Era for the American West

The discovery of the Comstock silver lode in 1859 sparked a silver rush of prospectors to Nevada, scrambling to stake their claims. News of the discovery spread quickly throughout the United States, drawing thousands into Nevada for one of the largest rushes since the California Gold Rush in 1849. Mining camps soon thrived and eventually became towns, a catalyst that helped turn the territory into an official state by 1864.

Interestingly, many of the early mines also produced considerable quantities of gold, indicating there was more to the state than just silver.

  1. The Comstock Lode: 8,600,000 troy ounces (270t) of gold until 1959
  2. The Eureka district: 1,200,000 troy ounces (37t) of gold
  3. The Robinson copper mine: 2,700,000 troy ounces (84t) of gold

The Comstock Lode is notable not just for the immense fortunes it generated but also the large role those fortunes had in the growth of Nevada and San Francisco.

In fact, there was so much gold and silver flowing into San Francisco, the U.S. Mint opened a branch in the city to safely store it all. Within the first year of its operation, the San Francisco Mint turned $4 million of gold bullion into coins for circulation.

While California gold rushes became history, Nevada mining was just beginning and would spur the development of modern industry. In 2018, California produced 140,000 troy ounces of gold, just a fraction of the 5.58 million oz coming out of Nevada’s ground.

Nevada Gold Mining Geology: Following the Trends

There are three key geological trends from where the majority of Nevada’s gold comes from.

  1. Cortez Trend
  2. Carlin Trend
  3. Walker Lane Trend

Together these trends contributed nearly 170 million ounces of gold produced in Nevada between 1835 and 2018, making it the United States’ most productive gold jurisdiction, if not the world’s.

The bulk of production comes from the Cortez and Carlin Trends, where mines extract low grade gold from a particular type of mineral deposit, the Carlin Type Gold deposit. It was the discovery and technology used for processing these “invisible” deposits that would turn Nevada into the golden powerhouse of production.

Today, the world’s largest gold mining complex, Nevada Gold Mines, is located on the Carlin Trend. The joint venture between Barrick and Newmont comprises eight mines, along with their infrastructure and processing facilities.

Despite the prolific production of modern mines in the state, more discoveries will be needed to feed this production pipeline—and discoveries are on the decline in Nevada.

Looking to the Future Through the Past: The Walker Lane Trend

The future for gold mining in Nevada may lie in the Walker Lane Trend. This trend is host to some of the most recent gold discoveries, and has attracted the interest of major mining companies looking to conduct exploration, and eventually, production.

Walker Lane stands out with exceptional high-grades, growing reserves, and massive discovery potential. It also played an integral role in the history of the state beginning with the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, and it seems likely to continue doing so in the future.

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Base Metals

All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

This massive infographic reveals the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral global production.

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All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

We live in a material world, in that we rely on materials to make our lives better. Without even realizing it, humans consume enormous amounts of metals and minerals with every convenient food package, impressive building, and technological innovation.

Every year, the United States Geological Service (USGS) publishes commodity summaries outlining global mining statistics for over 90 individual minerals and materials. Today’s infographic visualizes the data to reveal the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral production.

Read all the way to the bottom; the data will surprise you.

Non-Fuel Minerals: USGS Methodology

A wide variety of minerals can be classified as “non-fuel”, including precious metals, base metals, industrial minerals, and materials used for construction.

Non-fuel minerals are those not used for fuel, such as oil, natural gas and coal. Once non-fuel minerals are used up, there is no replacing them. However, many can be recycled continuously.

The USGS tracked both refinery and mine production of these various minerals. This means that some minerals are the essential ingredients for others on the list. For example, iron ore is critical for steel production, and bauxite ore gets refined into aluminum.

Top 10 Minerals and Metals by Production

Sand and gravel are at the top of the list of non-fuel mineral production.

As these materials are the basic components for the manufacturing of concrete, roads, and buildings, it’s not surprising they take the lead.

RankMetal/Mineral2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Sand and Gravel50,000
#2Cement4,100
#3Iron and Steel3,200
#4Iron Ore2,500
#5Bauxite500
#6Lime430
#7Salt293
#8Phosphate Rock240
#9Nitrogen150
#10Gypsum140

These materials fertilize the food we eat, and they also form the structures we live in and the roads we drive on. They are the bones of the global economy.

Let’s dive into some more specific categories covered on the infographic.

Base Metals

While cement, sand, and gravel may be the bones of global infrastructure, base metals are its lifeblood. Their consumption is an important indicator of the overall health of an economy.

Base metals are non-ferrous, meaning they contain no iron. They are often more abundant in nature and sometimes easier to mine, so their prices are generally lower than precious metals.

RankBase Metal2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Aluminum64.0
#2Copper20.0
#3Zinc13.0
#4Lead4.5
#5Nickel2.7
#6Tin0.3

Base metals are also the critical materials that will help to deliver a green and renewable future. The electrification of everything will require vast amounts of base metals to make everything from batteries to solar cells work.

Precious Metals

Gold and precious metals grab the headlines because of their rarity ⁠— and their production shows just how rare they are.

RankPrecious Metal2019 Production (metric tons)
#1Silver27,000
#2Gold3,300
#3Palladium210
#4Platinum180

While metals form the structure and veins of the global economy, ultimately it is humans and animals that make the flesh of the world, driving consumption patterns.

A Material World: A Perspective on Scale

The global economy’s appetite for materials has quadrupled since 1970, faster than the population, which only doubled. On average, each human uses more than 13 metric tons of materials per year.

In 2017, it’s estimated that humans consumed 100.6B metric tons of material in total. Half of the total comprises sand, clay, gravel, and cement used for building, along with the other minerals mined to produce fertilizer. Coal, oil, and gas make up 15% of the total, while metal makes up 10%. The final quarter are plants and trees used for food and fuel.

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