The manufacture of gold leaf began thousands of years ago, and remains a viable industry all over the world, with a range of applications. Today the process of manufacturing gold leaf is automated and handled through rolling mills. Depending on the eventual use of the gold leaf, manufacturers combine solid gold with different measures of silver or copper. The resulting alloy is then pounded and flattened evenly to produce the desired composition and thickness.
In Renaissance Europe, gold beaters received specific measures of raw gold called ducats from which they produced gold leaf. They hammered the raw gold between pieces of leather. Each ducat produced a standard amount of gold leaf. If the beaters were able to produce more than the standard amount, the excess constituted their profit. They were not the earliest producers of gold leaf though.
According to some accounts, the ancient Egyptians were already manufacturing gold leaf around 2,500 BCE., apparently the first to do so. They applied gold leaf to the pyramids. In Ancient Rome, gold leaf was used to ornament buildings. In Nanjing, once the capitol of China, the creation and application of gold leaf has been a traditional art for over 1,700 years.
Kanazawa in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan, is known as the “City of Gold Leaf.” Because Kanazawa has ideal climate conditions and water quality to sustain the production of gold leaf, this specialized industry has developed steadily since the 16th century. From around the 19th century, Kanazawa took the lead in the manufacture of gold leaf in Japan.
The Golden Pavilion (“Kinkaku-ji”) in Kyoto is an example of the application of gold leaf to buildings such as temples and churches, in Japan and worldwide. Gold leaf is used to accentuate traditional Japanese paintings, lacquer ware, ceramics, and in a host of other uses including beauty and skincare products. Companies like Saduka Gold & Silver Leaf Co., Ltd., and Hakuza Inc., are gold leaf manufacturers in Kanazawa. Hakuza has developed an optimum product, pure gold-platinum leaf, which is said to retain its original color and is not subject to environmental influences.
Custom made gold leaf signs are considered as symbols of a prestigious address, In the United States, companies like Gerhart Studios Dimensional Signs & Carvings in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, provide this specialized service for clients throughout the country.
Edible Gold Leaf
Apparently Italian nobility dined on risotto with edible gold during the 16th century (see recipe in Resources 2). In 16th century England, the Elizabethans sprinkled edible gold dust on their sweets and fruits, while in Japan, it was served with sake. Gold leaf remains popular as an edible delicacy. In its purest, 24-carat form, gold is blended with silver, and the resulting product can be used to decorate cakes and other desserts or special dishes.
Buyers should be aware that there is a difference between genuine gold leaf, and the imitation called composition gold leaf. The latter contains 85 percent brass and 15 percent zinc, and tarnishes. Real gold leaf retains its shine.