Have you ever seen advertisements for how you can repurpose your old gold jewelry? Maybe you have a friend who’s sold some of their old jewelry, or maybe you’ve done it yourself.
Have you ever wondered what happens to your jewelry after you sell it? Certainly, you get paid in most cash-for-gold operations, but what happens to the gold itself? What is it good for and why are people willing to pay for it in the first place?
At Pease & Curren, we understand that it’s important for you to be well informed about the decisions you make. That’s why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on what happens to the gold in your old jewelry after you sell it.
Why Does Gold Need to Be Refined?
It might surprise you to know that gold jewelry isn’t all pure gold. Because of this, a refiner must assess the material to calculate what percentage pure gold it is.
The reason that gold jewelry isn’t always pure gold is that gold is soft. To make it harder and stronger, manufacturers use other metals such as platinum, palladium, silver or copper. The resulting gold alloy can be used to make all kind of things such as coins and jewelry.
This means that when you sell your gold jewelry, a refiner has to determine how much of it is pure gold and how much is other alloyed metals.
We use a unit of measurement called a karat to denote how much gold is in an alloy. A karat is one part out of 24. By this measurement, then, pure gold would be 24 karats. An 18-karat gold ring would be 18 parts pure gold and six parts another metal alloy.
Some jewelry goes one step further than this. This jewelry consists of a thin layer of gold on top of another metal. In this case, the karat number of the gold refers just to the gold layer of plating and not the metal underneath.
To assess and refine the gold, the refiner will need to separate the gold from the other elements and determine how much of each substance there is and what they’re worth.
How Scrap Gold Is Refined
The most commonly used and one of the most accurate methods for refining gold is the fire assay method. This is an industry-standard procedure that, while reliable, is very involved and requires many steps. The process is worth the time and effort it takes, however, because it has been proven to be 20 times more accurate than any other method.
Even though this is the most used process for assessing gold, it can be time-consuming. The process needs to be precise, and there is a lot of room for something to go wrong and for the calculations to be inaccurate. Because of this, the process can only be relied upon if highly skilled workers carry it out meticulously. Here’s how the fire assay method works.
You Sell Your Jewelry
We’ll use jewelry as the example here, although refiners use the process for other items as well. The same steps would also apply to things like gold coins or other things that are made mostly or entirely of gold.
Whatever the item in question is, the process begins when you decide you no longer want or need it and opt to sell it.
The Buyer Sends It to a Refiner
Perhaps you sold your gold directly to a refiner, in which case this step is skipped. If you sold your gold to a pawn shop or other place, however, the pawn shop may send your gold to a refinery so that it can be tested and refined.
The Refiner Takes a Sample
If the purpose is only to test the purity of the gold, the following process only requires a small sample of the gold. If the purpose is to refine all of the gold, however, this will be done on a much larger scale.
The refiner takes either the sample or the entire portion of gold and mixes it in a crucible with a flux (soda or borax) and lead or silver. The flux lowers the melting temperature of gold, making the process somewhat easier to complete, and the lead helps to collect the pure gold from the alloy.
The Refiner Heats the Sample
This mixture of gold and other additives is then heated and melted at a temperature between roughly 1000 and 12000 degrees Celsius. When the mixture reaches this temperature, it melts. The metals in the alloy separate from one another upon melting and the gold sinks to the bottom of the crucible. At the bottom, it’s collected by the lead where it forms a hard, compact “lead button” The other metals and impurities are left behind.
The Refiner Separates the Gold and Lead
Once everything has cooled down, the refiner removes the lead button and places it in a porous cup known as a cupel. The refiner will then heat this in a cupellation furnace. When the cupel is heated, the lead seeps out through the porous holes in the cupel, leaving behind just the gold in a bead-like shape. This bead of gold is known as the prill. To separate the gold from the silver, the refiner places the gold bead in nitric acid or a combination of hydrochloric and nitric acids.
A Lab Assesses the Gold
For this process, the gold usually has to be sent to a lab. From this point, several different methods can be used to determine the karat number of gold. These analytical methods include Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), Atomic Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomics Emission Spectrometry (ICP-AES) and Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS).
The Gold Is Formed Into Gold Bars
Of course, this will depend on how the refined gold will be used. In most cases, however, the newly refined gold gets molded directly into gold bars. These are easy to store, transport and are easily marked based on weight and karat.
How Raw Gold is Found and Refined
The process detailed above covers what happens to scrap gold — think old jewelry, coins, decorative items or dental cast-offs. But what happens to raw gold that comes straight out of the earth? Is the process similar or is it entirely different?
Let’s take a quick look at this process too.
Finding the Deposits
The first step to refining raw gold is finding the gold in the first place. To do this, geologists use special maps to look for areas that are likely to produce gold deposits. They also look closely at rocks and natural formations in an attempt to determine if there might be gold beneath the surface.
Analyzing the Locations
Once geologists find a promising area, they perform tests to see if their suspicions were correct and there is indeed gold. Some of these testing techniques involve geochemistry, geophysics and remote sensing.
Testing the Locations
The next step is for the geologists to take rock samples through a drilling process. They then must analyze these samples. From these samples, they determine whether or not there is gold beneath the earth in this location. If there is, this testing will also provide some information about the quality of the gold and whether or not mining the site will be worthwhile.
Determining the Type of Mine
If the testing process indicated that there is gold and the gold is high-quality, the mining engineers will need to decide what kind of mine will be most practical for the location. They’ll also need to determine how to deal with any physical obstacles before mining gets underway.
Building the Infrastructure
One might assume that at this point, mining can begin immediately. But in reality, there’s a lot of prep work that has to happen before the operation can start. Workers must build infrastructure, which could include roads and processing facilities.
If the mine is in a very remote area, the necessary construction will be even more significant. More roads will need to be built, as well as storage facilities and offices. This process can be as short as one year, or it can be as long as five years from the time of the mine discovery to the time when mining can begin.
Taking More Samples
Once the site is finally ready to be mined, workers need to take samples so that the engineers can determine the exact metallurgic qualities of the gold deposits. They’ll need this information to decide what the proper mining techniques for this site will be.
Completing On-Site Processing
Even once the gold has been extracted from the earth, it’s still in its raw form. It’s still just raw ore that requires processing before it becomes pure gold.
First, the ore is crushed. It then undergoes a series of processes that will vary depending on the different elements and minerals that are mixed in with the gold ore. The purpose of these procedures is to separate the gold from these surrounding elements.
The complexity of this processing depends in part on the grade of the ore. Low-grade ore is relatively simple to process while high-grade ore is a more extensive and complicated process.
Completing Off-Site Refining
Once the initial processing is done on-site, the gold is transported to an off-site refinery to undergo further refining. The purpose of this refining is to remove any remaining impurities.
The crude gold is melted and then treated with chloride. This converts any foreign elements or minerals still in the gold into chloride, which will then naturally drift off the gold. The result of this process is 99.5 percent pure gold.
The final step is to cast the gold into electrodes or anodes and place them in an electrolytic cell. The refiners will then pass an electric current through the cell. At the end of this process, the gold will be 99.99 percent pure.
Reclaiming the Mine
No gold mine lasts forever. No one can predict how long any mine will last because it’s different for each one. But usually after a few years, the gold in the mine is exhausted. In the past, this exhausted mine would just be abandoned and left to nature.
Today, however, we begin a reclamation process of the empty mine. The goal of these projects is to try to return the mine to its natural state, at least as much as possible.
This is the final and perhaps the most important step to gold mining, as we attempt to ensure that we leave as few permanent scars on the natural landscape as possible. Through efforts like these, we can try to keep the earth healthy and full of natural resources.
The End Result
As you can see, gold refining is an enormously complicated and highly involved process whether you’re dealing with recycled gold from scrap jewelry or raw gold ore straight out of the earth. You should only trust professionals who have a good reputation for getting the job done correctly with this complex process.
The result of all this work is worth it, however. At the end of the process, we get to enjoy beautiful gold jewelry, gold coins and decorative gold items of every kind. And we can appreciate the long process and the careful work that went into refining the gold that went into all of those objects.
Order a Container From Pease and Curren Today
If your business deals with gold in any way, you’ll want to have a safe and secure way to transport it. At Pease and Curren, we offer the perfect solution.
Our containers provide an excellent way to transport and ship your gold, and we offer them in a wide range of sizes. We offer a small jar (16 oz), a large jar (32 oz), a keg (10 gal), a small drum (30 gal), a large drum (55 gal) and a pail (5 gal). If you’re unsure about what size you need, call and chat with us and let us help you decide.
At Pease and Curren, we believe in delivering high-quality results, treating our customers with respect and implementing honest and upstanding business practices. We’ve been in business for more than 100 years and have been trusted for generations. We’re based in Rhode Island, but we serve the entire country and most of North America. If you’re a pawn shop, a jeweler or any other type of business in need of a gold refiner, we hope you’ll join the legions of customers who’ve been wowed by our work.