For some pieces of gold jewellery, such as wedding rings or family heirlooms, the object's value goes far beyond its original purchase cost. For many people, gold jewellery has great sentimental value making it almost priceless. Though the feelings your jewellery represents are invaluable, the gold it is made from has a very high cost indeed.
More than likely, you have given gold mining very little thought. Perhaps you harbour 22ct gold outdated concepts of gold mining from films or books about the American 22ct gold rush. There is nothing romantic or free-spirited about modern gold mining. Two-thirds of all refined gold currently being used or stored was recently mined from the ground. Only one-third of the gold currently in use has been recycled from previous products.
Of the newly mined gold in circulation, approximately two-thirds came from huge, open-pit mines. Besides being a nasty blight on the landscape, which can sometimes even be seen from space, these enormous mines create several serious environmental problems.
Rock and soil from mining craters have to go somewhere. Due to the chemicals used in the mining process, the waste rock is full of toxic acids and metals. Toxic by-products leaching from waste rock makes groundwater many times more acidic than battery acid.
Miners are digging for ore and are looking for gold veins imbedded gold jewellery in the ore. Gold is extracted from the ore by crushing huge piles, much like at a rock quarry. Piles of ore are sprayed with cyanide to separate the gold from the ore. Even a tiny amount of cyanide can be fatal to a human and mines use tons of it every day. Mostly, the piles of contaminated waste ore are left behind. It takes about 18 tonnes of ore to get enough gold for a ring.
Smelting is the next step in the gold refining process. Extracted gold is sent from the mine to a smelter. There, the gold is melted under severe heat to separate the impurities. Gold is not the only Indian gold jewellery metal smelted this way. The smelting process results in a great deal of energy consumption and air pollution.
Purified gold is then ready for market. The vast majority of pure gold, over 80%, will be used to make jewellery. The remaining purified gold is bought and traded by investors and some is even used in electronics. Your computer and cellular phone may even include components utilizing gold filaments.