What to do with a Gold Nugget?

December 15, 2008


Natural Gold Nugget

“I guess I need to start using some of my good material.”

A quote from the late Whittaker Freegard, master gem carver and one of my closest artist friends until his death in 2006.  He created some of his most ambitious and beautiful stone flutes after he survived a massive heart attack that left him in fragile health but still able to work.  I have adopted his phrase as a mantra against hoarding.  My best stones, metal, and other treasures can sit hidden in secret drawers for years, while I work with lesser materials for “practice” in the vain hope that one day I’ll be good enough to work with them.  But the Earth is overflowing with abundance, and there will always be more beautiful raw materials than any artist can use, so once you have developed enough skill, knowledge, and discernment to appreciate the best of what your medium offers, life is too short not to use it, even if the result is imperfect.

“It is beyond value, which means it is worthless.”

 – Gene Wolfe, The Sword of the Lictor

A few years ago, I traded mineral specimens with a Tucson gem show dealer and ended up with a Yukon gold nugget.  Softly gleaming and strangely heavy, it stirs my metalworker’s imagination, just as similar golden pebbles did for unknown craftsmen thousands of years ago, awakening a combination of avarice, curiosity, fear of failure, and hope. 

I haven’t ever worked with pure gold – I’ve only melted scrap jewelry and dental gold, mixed it with melted silver and copper, and made red gold for for a few pieces of jewelry.  But red gold is composed of three metals and has a unique “personality” that is quite different from pure gold.  I’ve heard some craftsmen say that working with gold “changes your soul”.  But that is true of any material.  If it was not, artists would not develop such strong attachments to their materials and the process of creating with them. 

So what to do with the gold nugget?  At last year’s gem show, the dealers who sell natural gold were discussing whether the nuggets were more valuable as mineral specimens, as precious metal, or as raw material for jewelers and craftsmen.   For my little stone it doesn’t matter, since it wasn’t bought and won’t be sold, and therefore has no value to anyone except me.  After the Winter Solstice, when the gold of the sun is reborn, I could drill it like a bead and use it as is, to adorn a necklace or the chain on a knife, since the rough gold pebble glows all the more brightly when combined with sleek black iron.  If I hammer it, the metal would end up crumbly and pitted, since a peek under the microscope reveals that there is quite a bit of quartz in this specimen.  So if I have the nerve to put it under the torch, I  could melt it in a crucible to yield a clean gold button to hammer thin and shape into a little bell…Yes, a tiny round pellet bell in the ancient style, to make the metal speak as well as shine...


2 Responses to “What to do with a Gold Nugget?”

  1. Debbie said

    I vote for the bell!
    Of course that is showing my own proclivities.
    Thanks for the thoughts on hoarding – I need to work on using all the instruments I have or sending them back out to the universe.

  2. debra said

    I always save the good stuff, too–the good yarns and threads, the good paper and inks, the good fabrics and paints–all kept back while the less-good stuff is used first. It may come from saving our “good shoes” and “best clothes” for special occasions. Time for an attitude adjustment. Thanks. Hope you’ll show us what you make with the gold, when you decide.

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