It’s easy to assume when you admire your beautiful engagement ring on your finger that the rarest parts of your piece of jewelry are the jewels.
Diamonds are actually made from one of the most common elements in the universe: carbon. Their molecules are lined up perfectly in such a way that they create the scintillating, sparkling gems that you know. However, as valuable as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other precious gemstones can be, they aren’t the rarest part of your jewelry.
The precious metals that form the setting of your jewelry are, in fact, precious for a reason: unlike the carbon that makes up your diamond, there are very limited amounts of the elements gold, silver, and platinum here on Earth or even in the universe. That’s because when you’re wearing a precious metal, you’re really wearing the heart of a star.
How are Precious Metals Formed?
It might be hard to believe, but gold and other precious metals are not naturally created on Earth. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and power to create gold at all. It’s only through nuclear fusion — the nuclei of atoms fusing together — to create the element gold. There are only three places where this fusion can happen: a particle accelerator, a nuclear reactor, or in the heart of a star that has gone supernova.
A supernova occurs at the end of a star’s life. The star has used up all of its nuclear energy, collapses in on itself, and then explodes, sending bits of its matter shooting out into the universe. The explosion of a supernova creates enough energy to fuse many atoms together at their nuclei, creating gold, silver, platinum, and other precious metals before flinging them out into the universe. In fact, Earth’s supply of gold may have been created when two supernovas collided with each other, sending out unprecedented amounts of atomically-fused elements.
How did Gold and Other Precious Metals Make Their Way to Earth?
The prevailing theory is that following the supernova or the collision of dead stars, a gold-rich meteorite shower struck Earth roughly 3.8 billion years ago. Earth was still in its molten state, slowly cooling in the aftermath of the Big Bang. The precious metals struck Earth and other planetary bodies in our galaxy — it’s possible that this meteorite shower is one of the reasons that our moon is pock-marked with craters — and, clinging to the iron in Earth’s mantle, sank to the molten core of the Earth.
If all the gold sank to the Earth’s core, could we humans find and use it? That’s a question that scientists are still trying to figure out the precise details of, but the widest accepted belief is that while most of the gold on earth is likely still in the core, the rest was “circulated” or thrown to the surface during volcanic events and settled in the crust of the earth. Over time, these veins of gold would be slowly covered up by soil and rock before later being discovered by humans.
The next time you garnish yourself with a beautifully made piece of jewelry, don’t just admire the sparkle of your gemstones. Touch the cool, smooth exterior of the setting and think of the billions of years and miles it journeyed, the unfathomable power and energy that took to create it, and the incredible luck for that vein of gold to be thrown out of the core of the Earth and into the vein that it was mined from.