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Gold Leaf

Since pure gold is an element, not a compound or alloy, it can be compressed to nearly the atomic level without destroying its structure. This means gold could literally be pounded in a layer so thin sunlight could pass through it. This property of gold is essential to the creation of gold leaf. During ancient times, craftsmen would create gold leaf by placing a quantity of gold between two leather straps and pounding it by hand for weeks or months until the gold became exceptionally thin. The gold leaf could then be applied to paintings, sculptures and other religious or royal artifacts.

The modern method of creating gold leaf involves the use of metal rollers capable of compressing gold to a thickness of only 1/250,000th of an inch. The finished gold leaf can be cut into small sheets and sandwiched between layers of glassine paper, one of the few substances to which gold leaf will not adhere. Gold leaf is often sold in craft stores as one large sheet or in layers separated by glassine paper.

When working with gold leaf, it is important to remain exceptionally patient and to have the proper tools and materials at hand. Preparing a project for water gilding often involves building up the surface by applying several layers of gesso, a material used by artists to create texture on canvas. After building up the surface with gesso, another material called a bole is applied to the object to be gilded. This bole is a mixture of clay and water, which provides an adhesive layer for the gold leaf. Because water must be on the surface of the bole precisely when the gold leaf is applied, the gilder must work quickly and deliberately.
Gold leaf can be cut into smaller pieces with a special knife, but it does tear very easily. An entire sheet of gold leaf can be applied through a delicate process involving a gold leaf comb and a substance like petroleum jelly. The gilder places a very small layer of petroleum jelly; on the back of one hand, and uses the other hand to sweep the gold leaf comb lightly through it. The comb or fan brush is then carefully placed over the gold leaf itself, with the petroleum jelly; providing just enough adhesion to lift it from the glassine paper. The gold leaf is then transferred to the moistened surface of the project and allowed to adhere.
Any excess gold leaf can be brushed off with a very soft brush and saved for future use. The applied gold leaf is often burnished with a special stone attached to a brush handle. The bole itself may also be tinted to provide a contrasting or complementary undertone to the gold leaf. A layer of red or yellow might enhance the shimmer of the gold leaf, while a black layer might give the burnished piece an antique or distressed appearance.

Gold leaf is available in a wide variety of karats and shades. 24-karat yellow gold is the most commonly used.
Gold leaf is sometimes confused with metal leaf but they are different products. The term metal leaf is normally used for thin sheets of metal of any color that do not contain any real Karat gold.

Layering gold leaf over a surface is called gold leafing or gilding. Traditional water gilding is the most difficult and highly regarded form of gold leafing. It has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years and is still done by hand.

Gold leafing is an Art

Below is a quick overview process.
Craftsmen: Highly trained Golden Leaf workers are committed to producing the finest gold leaf possible. Throughout production, each craftsman continuously examines every sample for quality. Our onsite agent performs additional quality control checks. Professional gilders suggest it could take months of practice to become proficient at handling gold leaf.

Alloying: Pure gold is melted, and small amounts of silver and copper are added to produce the purity and color required – silver for a lighter color, copper for a redder one. The gold is poured into a mold, creating small rectangular bars.

Rolling: Each gold bar is repeatedly fed into a set of slowly turning rollers. The gap between the rollers is reduced slightly with each pass, slowly flattening the bar into a thin gold strip, and eventually in to a thin gold ribbon. Gold leaf, sometimes called gold foil, is gold that has been beaten in to a very thin sheet that averages about 0.5 microns in thickness. For comparison, copier paper is around 130 microns, and human hair around 60 microns.

Cutting and Weighing: The gold ribbon is cut into small squares and weighed on a gram scale to verify its weight. This ensures that the leaf will be the correct size and weight.

Beating Preparation:
Approximately 500 of the small gold pieces are individually sandwiched between layers of black paper, building a stack of alternating black paper and gold. Importantly, each piece is placed directly above the previous piece so that the gold spreads evenly during the beating process.

Beating: The multi-layered black paper and gold sandwich is taken to the first beating machine, where skilled technicians hammer it until the gold becomes much thinner and dramatically expands in size. Next, the pieces are transferred to new layers of black paper for additional beatings. This process is repeated five times, until every layer of gold is rendered into a high quality leaf. The gold is then carefully moved from the black paper to white paper for the cutting process.

Quality Control: Onsite agent rigorously inspects samples from every batch after each beating. Because of the unique processes, defects are extremely rare.

Cutting and Packaging:
Each gold leaf is gently moved from the white paper to a soft pillow, then carefully cut and placed between the tissue paper sheets of a book. Each book contains 25 pieces of some of the finest quality gold leaf in the world.

The Value of a Gold Leaf

Commonly sold in sheets, gold leaf is a moderately priced ultra-thin layer of pure gold used mostly by craftsmen. Craftsmen today and throughout history use gold leaf as a finish to give sculptures, frames, and other made goods a gilded appearance as a means of adding beauty, value and prestige. Fragile in unskilled hands, the gold leaf application process is labor-intensive and challenging. This is another reason why gold gilded objects demand a higher value.

For thousands of years, civilizations have used gold leaf to decorate their most prized buildings and relics. The Egyptians used gold leaf to decorate the pyramids and burial tombs, and the Romans to decorate buildings. Gold leaf was also manufactured in ancient China and Japan.

Aesthetic Value
Gold and gold leaf are said to remind individuals of the sun, power, health, vitality and success. Their aesthetic value stems from the transference of these characteristics onto the object the gold adorns. Since gold is in limited quantity and gold-leafed objects are relatively expensive, access to gold's avenue of aesthetic value has also become associated with the rich.

Market Value
The market value of gold leaf and gold varies with market supply and demand. From 1980 to 2010, the value of an ounce of gold fluctuated from $300 an ounce to $1,200 an ounce. However, since gold leaf is capable of being flattened to 1/300 of an inch, the market value of a sheet of gold leaf is minimal.