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999 £--.-- £--.-- £--.--

Last updated: 18/08/2015 13:38:25

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Alchemy is most well-known for its attempts to change common metals into silver and gold. Yet is an ancient discipline originally studied in Egypt and the Greek Hellenistic empire, China and India.  The origins of alchemy Alchemy came to Western Europe from the Islamic kingdoms in the twelfth century. Arabic alchemical books were initially translated […]

The history of alchemy and the search for gold

Alchemy is most well-known for its attempts to change common metals into silver and gold. Yet is an ancient discipline originally studied in Egypt and the Greek Hellenistic empire, China and India. 

The origins of alchemy

Alchemy came to Western Europe from the Islamic kingdoms in the twelfth century. Arabic alchemical books were initially translated by the Christian church. Its ideas of transmutation became increasingly popular. Interest in alchemical gold peaked between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries at a time of numerous famines and wars and a great need for money to fund them. Yet alchemy was more than just a fantastical get-rich-quick scheme. It combined ideas from early science and medicine with religious and metaphysical beliefs.

17th centre alchemy book

This seventeenth century alchemical book was attributed to Geber, the Latinised version of Jabir ibn Hayyan, an Islamic alchemist in the ninth century.

Alchemists wanted to change one thing into another. In order to do this, practitioners first had to think about what their substances were made up of and how they could alter them. In the days before modern science, alchemy was one way to think about the world and try to understand how it worked. By the late sixteenth century alchemy was regarded as a serious scientific and philosophical pursuit, despite its controversial nature. Leading scientific thinkers of the day such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton studied alchemy. Newton wrote more than a million words about it.

Theories of alchemy

There was no schools or guilds of alchemists with authorised teachings. This meant that there were many different theories and ideas about how alchemy worked.

Alchemists believed that everything was made up of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. This was originally a Greek idea, from the philosopher Aristotle, who also believed that the universe was divided into two parts – heaven and earth.  What happened in heaven was reflected on the earth below. Alchemists thought the planets were connected to different metals on earth, for example gold was with linked with the sun and its associated properties.

Symbols for metals growing in the bowels of alchemical man

This image shows the symbols for metals growing in the bowels of this alchemical man. From Becher, Johann Joachim. Physica subterraena. 1738.

Most people believed that metals were seeded deep into the earth by God when he created the world. Miners noticed that metal ores ran through rocks in veins that looked like plant roots, growing and spreading. Alchemists took this idea a step further. They believed that common metals like iron and lead could develop and mature into silver and then gold as the most perfect of all metals. Alchemists thought they could recreate this process of growth using the Philosopher’s Stone to turn common metals into gold.

The Philosopher’s Stone

Alchemists believed the Philosopher’s Stone had the power of transmutation and could be used to change metal into gold. They called this the ‘Great Work’ or ‘Magnum Opus’. Some alchemists thought the Philosopher’s Stone could also be an elixir or medicine that could extend their life and heal all diseases. They called this ‘potable’ or drinkable gold. Others saw the Philosopher’s Stone as a way to seek enlightenment and a higher spirituality. All they needed to do was find the right alchemical recipe to create it.

Alchemical ingredients

Alchemists used a wide range of materials in their quest for alchemical gold. Books and manuscripts list common ingredients such as metals, minerals like saltpetre and strong acids to dissolve substances so they could be added to the mix. Organic matter might include blood, hair and urine.

Other ingredients are more puzzling. Alchemical recipes often list ‘philosophical’ sulphur and mercury. These were not simply chemicals but somehow embodied certain properties that also needed to be combined to create the Philosopher’s Stone. For example, philosophical mercury was considered to contain female, silver and lunar principles. Alchemists sought to combine both the physical and metaphysical properties in their ingredients.

Common ingredients used in alchemy

This list of alchemical ingredients includes chemicals and metals. It shows both the symbol and the name of the substance in Latin. Aurum is the Latin name for gold.

This list of alchemical ingredients includes chemicals and metals. It shows both the symbol and the name of the substance in Latin. Aurum is the Latin name for gold.

Alchemical processes 

Once the alchemist had the right ingredients, the next step was to mix them up in the correct combination and then apply several different types of alchemical processes to them. These processes combined alchemical ideas with chemical operations. For example, the first process often involved calcination, which is when material is heated until it’s reduced to ashes. This also reflected the alchemical idea that matter had to be broken down into a basic, primal mass before reforming it into a higher state.

Alchemists used furnaces to control the amount of heat applied to their mixtures and carefully designed vessels and flasks to distil their ingredients by repeatedly boiling and condensing them.

Whilst alchemists couldn’t agree on exactly what processes were involved, most thought that their mixture had to go through several different colour changes as part of the recipe. The first stage produced black matter which then became white as the ingredients were purified.  The heat of furnace was increased to turn the substance red, showing that the alchemist had successfully created the Philosopher’s Stone.

Who practiced alchemy?

In popular culture, alchemists are often shown as wise old men with long beards, labouring away in a dark and smoky laboratory. In reality alchemy was practised by a wide range of people. Some devoted their lives to alchemy and sought rich patrons to fund them. Those who were successful might be rewarded with supplies and equipment. However, if they failed, alchemists could be taken to court or worse. Duke Friedrick of Württemburg (1557–1608) in Germany found it particularly amusing to hang alchemical fraudsters on a gold plated gallows.

David Teniers the younger (1610 – 1690). L'alchimiste.

David Teniers the younger (1610 – 1690). L’alchimiste.

Many alchemists were priests and monks. They believed their alchemical work was done with the permission of God and their research revealed the truth of God’s creation. Some alchemists sought the Philosopher’s Stone in order to receive religious enlightenment.

Kings and rulers could see the economic advantage of creating alchemical gold. Some monarchs tried to control alchemy by making it illegal without a special license – granted by them. Others encouraged alchemists to come to their court where they could keep an eye on them, sometimes with unpredictable results. The alchemist Sendivogius’ experiments at the court of Rudolf II in Krakow allegedly set the place on fire causing the King to move to Warsaw, where it became the capitol of Poland.

Alchemists might also be merchants, aristocrats, scholars, doctors, craft-workers, soldiers and cooks. Female authors wrote a number of alchemical books and manuscripts. Noblewomen were patrons and employers of alchemists. Some women used alchemical practices as part of their housekeeping duties.

Knowledge of alchemy was not just limited to its practitioners. Alchemical books and texts became increasingly popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and so its ideas came to spread throughout literature, theatre and the arts. You can find alchemical themes and ideas in Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton’s works as well as alchemical images in paintings and architecture.

Symbolism and secrecy

Alchemy was a secret art right from its ancient origins. Texts warned their readers not to share their knowledge because it was too dangerous for the ignorant. So when alchemy arrived in Western Europe, authors continued to write down their recipes using codes and complicated metaphors to disguise their ingredients and practices. This protected their secrets as only another alchemist would be able to understand their words.

As the technology to print text and illustrations improved, alchemical books began to include drawings to accompany their recipes. Alchemists used symbolic images to represent and conceal their ingredients and instructions. These pictures were often a strange mix of emblems from the natural world, mythology and Christianity. They sometimes used startling combinations of sex, death and violence to symbolise chemical processes such as joining ingredients together or the symbolic death of substances into a blackened mass. The final red stage of the Philosopher’s Stone was often shown as a fiery phoenix, resurrected from the dead and able to transform metals into gold.

Mylius, Johann Daniel. Tractatus III Seu Basilica Philosophica. 1618.

The top half of this image shows God in the heavens with the alchemist standing on earth at the bottom. The symbols for metals/planets are embedded in the trees. The semicircle of birds represent the different stages of alchemical processes. From Mylius, Johann Daniel. Tractatus III Seu Basilica Philosophica. 1618.

The legacy of alchemy

Alchemists continually tried different ingredients, combinations and chemical processes in their quest for alchemical gold. As a result they discovered considerable information about chemicals and other substances. An alchemist named Hennig Brand discovered a new element in his search for the Philosopher’s Stone in 1669. After experiments with the residues from boiled-down urine, Brand found a white substance that glowed in the dark and burnt brilliantly. He named it phosphorus mirabilis meaning miraculous bearer of light. It was the first element discovered since antiquity.

Alchemical knowledge was used in medicine – informing the first uses of chemotherapy – and many other trades such as glass-working, mining and metal-working. However as alchemical beliefs about the structure of matter were disapproved by the first modern chemists, alchemy ceased to be a serious scientific pursuit. However, it has continued to influence our culture in psychology, art, literature and cinema – most notably the Harry Potter films. Alchemy, it seems, continues to transmute and change to remain a part of our society.

One of the Ripley alchemy scrolls

Detail from one of the Ripley alchemical scrolls that inspired J K Rowling.

References

  • Battistini, Matilde; translated by Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia. 2007. Astrology, magic, and alchemy in art. J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles.
  • Edson, Gary. 2012. Mysticism and alchemy through the ages : the quest for transformation. McFarland & Company. London.
  • Greenberg, Arthur. 2007. From alchemy to chemistry in picture and story. Wiley. New Jersey.
  • Linden, Stanton J. 2007. Mystical metal of gold : essays on alchemy and Renaissance culture. AMS Press. New York.
  • Newman, William Royall. 2006. Atoms and alchemy : chymistry and the experimental origins of the scientific revolution. University of Chicago Press. London.
  • Principe, Lawrence. 2013. The secrets of alchemy. University of Chicago Press. London.

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November 20th, 2017 No Comments » Miscellaneous By Phil Williams

Palladium – The alternative to platinum & white gold

Palladium isn’t a new metal; it was discovered back in 1803, and for over a decade has been one of the constituent metals in vehicle catalytic converters. Yet its use in jewellery has been relatively limited until recently. Now palladium is highly valued – Gold Traders currently pays £ for 950 palladium. So what makes palladium so desirable?

Palladium vs. platinum vs. white gold

Palladium is a precious metal with a natural white colour, which is particularly in demand for today’s jewellery trends. In this respect it’s similar to platinum, but as palladium is less dense it costs considerably less.

White gold isn’t truly white. The alloy mix is simply altered to reduce the amount of copper and increase the amount of zinc and silver. Doing so makes the final alloy a more pale yellow colour. To achieve the whiteness, white gold is given a plating of rhodium. Over time, the rhodium plating can wear away, thus revealing the yellow metal underneath.

Ultimately palladium may not have the cachet and exclusivity of gold or platinum, yet it is genuinely a precious metal. With the symbol Pd and atomic number 46, it’s in the same periodic table as platinum and rhodium.

Palladium’s appeal

Palladium’s lower density compared to platinum or gold means it can be used to make jewellery that’s larger with greater visual impact, yet not any heavier. This is a notable advantage for items such as earrings, where heavy pieces can soon feel uncomfortable.

With roughly half the density of platinum and about two-thirds that of gold, palladium is the perfect answer to the present trend for bigger, more conspicuous pieces. Its white colouring adds to its appeal – couples who like the look of platinum wedding rings but find them unaffordable, are often happy to have them made from palladium, with the end result looking remarkably similar.

Palladium characteristics

Back in the 1930s, palladium was mostly used as an annealing alloy to turn gold white. Subsequent technical advances in casting have seen this precious metal increasingly used in its own right, for its unique qualities.

Once annealed, palladium is soft and easy to work, yet it hardens more quickly than other precious metals. It has no ‘memory’ – in other words, once set, it retains its new shape without trying to spring back to its original form. Palladium has the lowest melting point of the platinum group metals to which it belongs (the others are platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium), and temperatures above 400°C can cause discolouration, so jewellers are careful in their use of heat when working with it.

A cost-effective alternative

From early 2000, the price of platinum steadily increased from £175/g ($330/g) to a high of over £1,183/g ($2,270/g). This price rise focused attention on alternative metals, particularly palladium.

As prices for gold and platinum have continued to rise, palladium has become increasingly attractive. The Chinese were quick to develop the market for palladium jewellery, and by mass-producing pieces, have caused palladium values to strengthen. It remains, however, more affordable than gold and platinum.

Future palladium price performance

The consequence of hallmarking is that palladium is now seen as even more respected and desirable, with a resulting increase in demand from jewellers and consumers. In fact, nearly 40,000 palladium pieces were hallmarked in the six months following the introduction of UK hallmarking.

With an increasing demand for palladium jewellery, and its continuing use in catalytic converters, electronics, aviation components, dentistry and even musical instruments, the value of palladium will at the very least be stable. The most likely outcome is that the relatively small annual supplies, which are prone to political disturbances, will make palladium more valuable – literally a precious metal.

November 26th, 2016 No Comments » Palladium By Phil Williams

Selling pre-decimal coins by weight vs face value

Pre-decimal silver coin valuation calculator

Value your coins with our pre-decimal silver coin valuation calculator

It’s very common to see dealers offering to purchase pre-decimal silver coins based on their face value. Typical deals offered are 8 to 10 times face value for pre-1947 coins and around 20 times face value for pre-1920 coins.

We receive many enquiries from customers who’ve worked out the face value of their coins & had a quote from a local coin buyer & then contact us to get a comparative quote. This can often be quite tricky for us, as we pay by weight and the customer won’t know the weight of their coins & don’t have sufficiently accurate scales on which to weigh them.

To solve this problem, we’ve produced a handy pre-decimal silver coin valuation calculator. All you have to do is enter the face value of your coins & we’ll calculate the estimated value based on our current silver payout rates. If you want to compare the amount we’re offering against a local coin dealer, you can enter their quote into our form and we’ll compare their offer with ours. We’ll even take into account your postage fees so that our comparison is a fair one.

Get the best deal

From our own comparisons, we’re paying anything from 25% to 75% more than high street coin buyers. Our rates are clear and we pay out on the day we receive your coins.

Pre-1947 silver coins

All silver coins minted from 1920 to 1947 contain 50% silver. The remainder of the alloy mix is mostly copper with a small amount of zinc and nickel.

Due to the increasing cost of silver, the Royal Mint debased all silver coins in 1920 from 92.5% silver to 50% silver. From 1947, silver was removed entirely from all coins and replaced with a copper / nickel alloy mix.

Pre-1920 silver coins

All silver coins dated 1919 and earlier are 92.5% (Sterling) silver. The remaining 7.5% of the alloy is copper.

September 11th, 2015 No Comments » Selling Tips, Silver By Phil Williams

How much is rose gold worth per gram?

A common misconception is that rose gold is more valuable than yellow or white gold. However, its colour is altered by the other metals the gold is alloyed with. The amount of gold contained in a piece of rose gold is exactly the same for a comparative piece of yellow or white gold of the same purity.

Pyramid illustrating how the colour of gold is changed

The colour of gold is altered according to the ratio of copper, zinc and silver added.

This pyramid illustrates how the colour of gold is altered. Gold jewellery is typically made from an alloy (mix) of the following metals:

  • Gold
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Silver

As already stated, the amount of gold used is fixed according to the purity (or carat) of the gold. Therefore, it’s the mix of the other metals that changes the colour. With rose gold, more copper is added & less zinc and/or silver is used. With white gold, less copper is used and more zinc and/or silver is added.

It’s worth noting that white gold isn’t truly white, it’s still a very pale yellow. The perfect silver/white appearance of white gold is achieved by giving the item a plating of rhodium. So, bear in mind that over time that rhodium plating will wear away and reveal the true colour underneath, at which point you’ll need to get it re-plated to restore it to its original colour. If this is likely to be an issue, it’s probably better to consider having the item made of platinum or palladium instead.

The value of 9ct rose gold per gram

Like 9ct yellow gold, 9ct rose gold contains 37.5% gold. A typical piece of 9ct rose gold will be made from the following alloy of metals:

  • 37.5% gold
  • 55% copper
  • 5% silver
  • 2.5% zinc

Gold-Traders is currently paying £ for all 9ct gold.

The value of 14ct rose gold per gram

14ct rose gold is 58.5% gold.

Gold-Traders is currently paying £ for all 14ct gold.

Please be aware that 14ct gold is very popular in countries such as Greece. However, whereas jewellery purchased in the UK is subject to very strict hallmarking legislation that guarantees the purity of the item, such rules do not exist in Greece. Through our own experience, it appears to be common practice for a piece of Greek jewellery that’s stamped as 14ct gold only to contain between 50 – 55% gold.

The value of 18ct rose gold per gram

Just as 18ct yellow and white gold contains 75% gold, so does 18ct rose gold. The remaining 25% of the alloy is mostly copper with a very small amount of silver and/or zinc.

Gold-Traders is currently paying £ for all 18ct gold, for both hallmarked and non-hallmarked items.

 

August 21st, 2015 No Comments » Gold, Selling Tips By Phil Williams

Selling Masonic jewellery

Masonic ball fobs in 9ct gold

Masonic ball fobs in 9ct gold

A Masonic jewel, ring or fob will have been a treasured possession by its owner. When such items pass to family members, they are often disposed of, as they may have little meaning to their new owner.

Commonly made of gold and / or silver, when such items pass to family members, they often, sadly, find their way to scrap gold buyers who are purely interested in their metal content. Inevitably, this means the item will be melted down and lost forever.

If you are considering selling any Masonic jewellery, please contact us first. Not only will we pay higher than ‘scrap’ rates for any Masonic items, we’ll also ensure that Masonic items are given a new home – which is what the original owner would have wanted.

We are always interested in the following items:

Masonic ball fobs

Worn on watch chains from the early 1900’s, Masonic ball fobs are usually made of gold and / or silver. The ball opens out into the shape of a cross.

Past Master jewels

Worn to signify a Master Mason has held the rank of Worshipful Master, Past Master jewels are often made of gold. A jewel will usually be engraved with the owner’s name.

Masonic rings, pins & cufflinks

There has always been a huge array of Masonic jewellery to choose from, from rings, tie pins, cufflinks and watches. As with any other Masonic item, please don’t sell these for standard ‘scrap’ prices as you will receive a much lower price.

Other Masonic items made of gold or silver

It is impossible to compile a full list of all things Masonic as such a list would go on forever! Suffice to say, any item of jewellery, gold or silver that is large enough to accommodate a square and compass will probably have been produced in Masonic form at some time or other.

Give us a call to discuss the sale of all things Masonic. It’s always without obligation and we will certainly offer you far more than other gold buyers.

January 16th, 2014 2 Comments Selling Tips By Phil Williams