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.
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.
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.
Purchasing in Stores
Gold leaf can be purchased in art stores or by wholesalers online. It is typically compressed to a thickness of only 1/250,000 of an inch and distributed in paper sized gold squares and held between layers of glassine paper. The gold leaf is usually 22 karat gold.
Gold Leaf in food
Since medieval times, gold leaf in the form of flakes and dust has been used to embellish and decorate gourmet food. This gold leaf does not add any nutritional value and is ignored by the digestive system as it passes through. It also does not create long-term monetary value--the small bits of gold are lost once consumed--yet gold's association with wealth and richness adds commercial value and appeal to these dishes.
Greg Day is a freelance writer currently living in New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and enjoys hiking, theater, history and his two kittens.