AskDefine | Define goldsmith

Dictionary Definition

goldsmith

Noun

1 an artisan who makes jewelry and other objects out of gold [syn: goldworker, gold-worker]
2 Irish writer of novels and poetry and plays and essays (1728-1774) [syn: Oliver Goldsmith]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. A person who forges things out of gold, especially jewelry.

Translations

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Extensive Definition

A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals, usually in modern times to make jewelry. Historically goldsmiths have also made flatware, platters, goblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, and ceremonial or religious items, but the rising prices of precious metals have curtailed the making of such items to a large degree. Goldsmiths must be skilled in forming metal through filing, soldering, sawing, forging, casting, and polishing metal. Traditionally, these skills had been passed along through apprenticeships, however, more recently Jewelry Arts Schools specializing solely in teaching goldsmithing and a multitude of skills falling under the jewelry arts umbrella are available. Many universities and junior colleges also offer goldsmithing, silversmithing and metal arts fabrication as a part of their fine arts curriculum.

The nature of gold

The physical properties of gold are well known. It is the ways in which humans are able to interact with those properties that make it unique.
Most notably:
  • Gold is a noble metal, meaning that it does not react with almost all other elements.
  • Largely because of its noble nature, it is usually found in its native form.
  • It is the most malleable and also the most ductile metal by far.
  • It is fairly easily "pressure welded", which is to say that two small pieces can be pounded together to make one larger piece, similar to clay.
  • Although it cannot be called a property per se, people throughout history have found its lustre and color to be aesthetically pleasing.
The statement that gold is highly malleable and ductile is simplistic, however. Gold possesses those qualities to a degree that makes it easy to work with even primitive tools, and it is able to take a high level of detail in that work. Since prehistoric times, mankind has been able to simply pick up gold off the ground, and anyone with two rocks would be able to form it into some pleasing or useful item. The fact that gold is a noble metal means that it will last virtually forever without oxidation and tarnishing, and also that it is immune to some of the problems other metals have with oxidation when heated. In other words, it is easily melted, fused and cast without the problems of oxides and gas that are problematic with bronzes, for example.
This unique combination of properties, coupled with its relative rarity, has given gold, and by extension items made from it, an unparalleled place in human history. A major part of that history has been played by those who work in gold, otherwise known as goldsmiths.

History

Gold has been worked by humans in all cultures where the metal is available, either indigenously or imported, and the history of these activities is extensive. Superbly made objects from the ancient cultures of Europe, Africa, India, Asia, South America, Mesoamerica, and North America grace museums and collections around the world.
In medieval Europe goldsmiths were organized in guilds and were usually one of the most important and wealthy of the guilds in a city. The guild kept records of members and the marks they used on their products. These records are very useful to historians, were they to survive. Goldsmiths often acted as bankers, since they dealt in gold and had sufficient security for the safe storage of valuable items. In the Middle Ages, goldsmithing normally included silversmithing as well, but the brass workers and workers in other base metals were normally in a separate guild since the trades were not allowed to overlap. Usually jewelers were goldsmiths.
The printmaking technique of engraving developed among goldsmiths in Germany around 1430, who had long used the technique on their metal pieces. The notable engravers of the 1400s either were goldsmiths, as was Master E. S., or the sons of goldsmiths, such as Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer.

The modern goldsmith

It has been said that goldsmithing is the only art which uses some aspect of all other arts. Thus a fully realized goldsmith might have a wide array of skills and knowledge at their disposal. Gold, being the most malleable metal of all, offers unique opportunities for the worker. In today's world a wide variety of other metals, especially platinum alloys, may also be used extensively. 24 karat gold is generally called fine gold, and is the starting place for working with gold. Usually the gold is alloyed into any of various blends and colors, and the goldsmith may have some skill in that process. Then the gold may be cast into some item, usually with the lost wax casting process, or it may be used to fabricate the work directly in metal. In the latter case, the goldsmith will use a variety of tooling, including the rolling mill, the drawplate, and perhaps swage blocks and other forming tools to make the metal into shapes needed to build the intended piece. Then parts are fabricated through a wide variety of processes and assembled by soldering. It is a testament to the history and evolution of the trade that those skills have attained an extremely high level of attainment and skill over time. A fine goldsmith can and will work to a tolerance approaching that of precision machinery, but largely using only his eyes and hand tools. Quite often the goldsmith's job involves the making of mountings for gemstones, in which case they are often referred to as jewelers.
For further insight into the art of goldsmithing see bench jewelers.

See also

goldsmith in Catalan: Orfebreria
goldsmith in German: Goldschmied
goldsmith in Spanish: Orfebrería
goldsmith in French: Orfèvrerie
goldsmith in Hebrew: צורף
goldsmith in Dutch: Goudsmid
goldsmith in Norwegian: Gullsmed
goldsmith in Portuguese: Ourivesaria
goldsmith in Finnish: Kultaseppä
goldsmith in Swedish: Guldsmed
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