Let’s sidestep all the financial and psychological aspects of gold for a moment and just admire it for what it is. A freakishly beautiful material. Although this might seem obvious, it is not as universally accepted as one might think. The Gold Coast natives of Timbuktu believed that their heaping surplus of gold was actually only worth its weight in salt, and traded it accordingly.
So exactly what is it about gold, outside of its relative monetization, that holds such sway over us? It’s simple really. Gold is magic in its most tactile state.
Useless as a metal for most practical purposes, gold has always been more endemic to creative pursuits and abstract principles. After being minted and used as coins by the Lydians in 635 BC, it eventually proved to be the touchstone that helped define our current model of fiat currency. It still hedges any hiccups our burgeoning new economy may suffer, but this is nothing compared to the effect it has had on the collective imagination of mankind.
In hermetic mysticism, as well as the basic Italian tarot, gold coins represent the best things this earthly plane has to offer (distinct from the planes of intellect, compassion and intuition). In the Bible it was Jehovah’s material of choice for his first tabernacle: “Though shalt overlay it with pure gold,” He instructs Moses on Mount Sinai, “within and without shalt though overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.” Even Columbus’ trip to the Americas was primarily a gold prospect in order to buy back the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. Allah seems to like a little bling-bling himself.
As the metal of the muses, nothing sings more in the hands of a gifted artist. More than any other medium, its physical properties seem to dictate the content of the work produced. Soft, lustrous and gleaming, the character of goldwork always seems to lean toward the glorious. Indeed the House of Fabergé was primarily a house of goldsmiths. Even scampish young British artists forgo their usual fecal forms and vivisected invective when they get their hands on a chunk. In 2008, the British artist Marc Quinn veered away from his usual grotesque fare when given the opportunity to work with £1.5 million worth of solid gold, opting instead to make the most beautiful thing possible: Kate Moss with her legs pinned behind her head.
Gold is a noble metal – it does not react with most elements. That means it is usually found in its native form and nearly lasts forever. 4,500-year-old Egyptian dental work is said to be good enough for today’s mouths. There is no colloquial accounting for the style and quality of pure gold as could be applied to salt, cheese or rap music. 24k gold is 24k gold. Its only real measure of luxury outside of the ebb and flow of demand is what is done with it.