To Be (gold leaf) or Not To Be (gold leaf)? That is the question!
Updated: May 16, 2020
The question we should ask is, what is gold leaf? Knowing the answer will help to make educated decisions when it comes time to purchase framed artwork or mirrors because all that glitters is not gold.
Gold leaf is gold hammered into fine sheets that average about 0.12 microns in thickness. To understand how thin these gold sheets are, consider standard copy paper is around 130 microns, and a single hair on your head is about 60 microns. The hammer pounding process is called gold beating, and the act of using the gold leaf to adorn a surface, such as a frame, is called gold gilding.
Gold is a commodity traded on the COMEX, the most significant gold futures exchange. As of Friday, May 1, 2020, gold was trading at US$1,700 per Troy Ounce. One Troy Ounce is equal to 31.1 grams, as opposed to one standard ounce at 28.3 grams.
The gold leaf which our artisans use comes from the Giusto Manetti Battiloro company in Florence, Italy. They have been producing gold leaf since 1600.
For thousands of years, gold leaf was a decorative material. It provides a warm golden glow in low light and a stunning brilliance in sunlight. 24k gold leaf covers the Statue of Liberty's torch and several domes on top of state capitol buildings throughout the United States.
Gold leaf is so thin that when you hold it up to the light, it is translucent. Gold leaf disappears when you rub it between your fingers, leaving only a slight sheen on your fingertips.
Karat Levels and Shades of Gold Leaf
Gold leaf comes in a variety of karat levels, which in turn produces different shades. "Pure Gold" has a value of 24k, which is 99.9% gold and has a rich yellow shade. "White Gold" has a value of 12k, which is 50% gold, and the rest typically silver. For gilding frames, something between the pure and white gold is used, typically, 22k gold leaf, which is about 92% gold. Other metals mixed with the gold change the color or shade of the leaf. If you add more silver or palladium, the leaf becomes whiter. Whereas adding copper will make it redder. When palladium is used instead of copper to the 22k gold leaf, a paler shade creates the color Moon Gold.
Pure gold leaf (24k) will not tarnish or change color over time. Silver leaf, 18k, and 12k gold leaf will darken if not sealed against oxidation. Imitation gold leaf, also known as composition leaf or Dutch Leaf, is made of copper and zinc and will tarnish. Imitation silver leaf is thin aluminum foil, and will also slowly tarnish over time.
Gold Leaf Packaging
Gold leaf is packaged in paper books using specialty tissue paper that separates the leaf and does not adhere to the gold. Each book contains 25 leaves. Twenty books make up a Pack of gold leaf with 500 leaves total.
Gold leaf typically comes in 3-1/8" square (Asian), or 3-3/8" square (European) size. Silver leaf usually is larger at 3-3/4" square. Imitation or Artificial gold leaf is generally only available in larger sizes, which is one way to tell the difference visually.
Gold Leaf Thicknesses
Gold leaf is available as single, double, or triple thickness. Our artisans use double-thick leaves. "Double" gold has about 20% more gold by weight than a regular leaf, which makes it about 20% thicker. Because the double-leaf is thicker, it is more durable and opaque than regular single thickness leaf.
FINISH: Burnished (left) and Matte (right)