Sunday, May 1, 2016

How Gold Leaf is Made

By on Sunday, May 01, 2016 3 Comments

I've often considered gilding beads and brass stamping with real gold leaf.  Solid gold anything is way too expensive for most of us.  The tissue paper thin gold leaf is remarkable and how they make it is even more so.  Goldbeating - pounding thin gold bars or ribbon -  was discovered by the Ancient Egyptians 5000 years ago. They were the first to appreciate the durability and malleability of the precious metal.

Except for some mechanization, the basic technique and tools have hardly changed since ancient times. Pounding the gold for hours and hours is still done by hand in some parts of the world. Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) is famous for the production of gold leaf.  This short travel video shows the craft. The presenter is not quite right. 24K (pure) gold is not used for the making of gold leaf. It is actually more like 23 K because small amounts of silver and copper are added. Pure gold is too soft and would stick to itself.

Picture source

This delightful British Pathé film (1959) shows the whole process from the casting to the final gold leaf.   The hammering machines help.  There were still skilled people back then in the UK who did it by hand because they could get the gold leaf more uniformly thin.  Imagine years of apprenticeship just to learn how to beat gold by hand!!

Gold leaf is usually lifted using chopsticks and cut with sharp bamboo! And a hare's foot instead of the more usual brushes for smoothing down the gold leaf.

The material used in between the gold is critical for goldbeating.  In the British film, they use vellum made from ox intestines!

The Japanese take gold leaf production to a high level of craftsmanship indeed. A very laborious affair.  They take great care in the making of the special washi paper used in between the gold.  The quality of the interlining or pounding glossy paper affects the finish of the gold leaf.

Handling gold leaf is so tricky.  This lady neatly blows on the gold leaf or taps it with her chopstick to make it smooth out instantly on the paper!

Now you know why gold leaf is so expensive considering the small amount of gold involved!

Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 



  1. I actually saw this in person when I visited Kanazawa Japan it was really interesting

    1. That is so cool!! I wish I could see it in person.

  2. That is truly amazing. Even making the washi paper is amazing.

    Do they still make it like this today? Imagine spending your life with a hammer in your hand pounding gold....very hard to think of that as your job day in and day out. Especially when you can't afford any of the product you are pounding....

    Thanks for showing this Pearl. I was absolutely transfixed. And I don't even wear gold but it is a beautiful metal.