Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gold is the most malleable of all metals. It is said that it can be spun to a finer thread than that of a human hair. Gold can also be beaten to airy thinness to make the delicate gold leaf used by goldsmiths, gilders, restorers and crafters. Throughout history, it’s found its way onto everything from jewellery, books and picture frames to sculptures, coffins, domes and palaces.

The origins of gold leaf

The art of gold leafing goes back thousands of years to the African continent. Initially gold foil was applied to wooden objects to give the appearance of having been crafted from solid gold. In fact, an Iron Age historical site in South Africa revealed such an object, the now famous Mapungubwe rhinoceros. Further north, tomb murals in Egypt show the ancients hand-beating gold, which would probably have taken weeks or months to achieve the desired thinness. Nowadays, rollers are used to flatten and elongate gold, which can become so wafer-thin that it, is almost transparent.

All that glitters is not gold

Shakespeare wrote the phrase but he certainly wasn’t thinking about gold leaf when he did. Still, the reference is applicable in this context to the extent that not all gold leaf is real or pure. This is often where the concern about edible gold comes in. The kind sprinkled on certain desserts and flaked into your welcome glass of bubbly at GOLD Restaurant, is of the highest quality available.

Real versus fake

The 18 to 24 carat varieties fall into the pure or real range. Anything below this contains other alloys such as zinc and copper and is certainly not safe to ingest. Fake gold leaf is used for d├ęcor (art and craft) applications. It’s easier to work with and less costly. Real gold leaf is used for edible or restorative purposes and is resistant to corrosion.

To become proficient at gold leafing

Gold leaf is susceptible to moisture, tearing and adheres to all kinds of surfaces, sometimes in the case of beginners, not the surfaces for which it was intended. Application is challenging and requires a great deal of patience, practice and finesse. For those interested in participating in a Cape Town based gold leafing workshop, contact Linda Cameron-Dow on

If you’re curious but not ready for a workshop, the next time you’re having dinner at GOLD Restaurant look out for the gold leaf on the columns and accents on the stairway railings.



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