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A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Historically goldsmiths have also made silverware, platters, goblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, and ceremonial or religious items, but the rising prices of precious metals have curtailed the making of such items to a large degree.
Goldsmiths must be skilled in forming metal through filing, soldering, sawing, forging, casting, and polishing metal. Traditionally, these skills had been passed along through apprenticeships, however, more recently Jewelry Arts Schools specializing solely in teaching goldsmithing and a multitude of skills falling under the jewelry arts umbrella are available. Many universities and junior colleges also offer goldsmithing, silversmithing and metal arts fabrication as a part of their fine arts curriculum.
Compared to other metals, gold is malleable, ductile, rare and it is the only solid metallic element with a yellow color; it is easily melted, fused and cast without the problems of oxides and gas that are problematic with bronzes, for example. It is fairly easy to "pressure weld", which is to say that two small pieces can be pounded together to make one larger piece, similar to clay. Gold is a noble metal— it does not react with most elements. That means it is usually found in its native form lasting indefinitely without oxidization and tarnishing.
Gold has been worked by humans in all cultures where the metal is available, either indigenously or imported, and the history of these activities is extensive. Superbly made objects from the ancient cultures of Europe, Africa, India, Asia, South America, Mesoamerica, and North America grace museums and collections around the world. Some pieces date back thousands of years and were made using many techniques that are still used by modern goldsmiths.
In medieval Europe goldsmiths were organized in guilds and were usually one of the most important and wealthy of the guilds in a city. The guild kept records of members and the marks they used on their products. These records, when they survive, are very useful to historians. Goldsmiths often acted as bankers, since they dealt in gold and had sufficient security for the safe storage of valuable items. In the Middle Ages, goldsmithing normally included silversmithing as well, but the brass workers and workers in other base metals were normally in a separate guild, since the trades were not allowed to overlap. Many jewelers were also goldsmiths. The Khudabadi Sindhi Swarankar community is one of the oldest communities in goldsmithing in India, whose superb gold artworks were displayed at The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.
The printmaking technique of engraving developed among goldsmiths in Germany around 1430, who had long used the technique on their metal pieces. The notable engravers of the 15th century were either goldsmiths, such as Master E. S., or the sons of goldsmiths, such as Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer.
A goldsmith might have a wide array of skills and knowledge at their disposal. Gold, being the most malleable metal of all, offers unique opportunities for the worker. In today's world a wide variety of other metals, especially platinum alloys, may also be used extensively. 24 Carat is pure gold, and was historically known as fine gold. However, 24 Carat gold is rarely used, because it is so soft, so it is usually alloyed to make it stronger and create different colors; goldsmiths may have some skill in that process. Then the gold may be cast into some item, usually with the lost wax casting process, or it may be used to fabricate the work directly in metal.
In the latter case, the goldsmith will use a variety of tools and machinery, including the rolling mill, the drawplate, and perhaps swage blocks and other forming tools to make the metal into shapes needed to build the intended piece. Then parts are fabricated through a wide variety of processes and assembled by soldering. It is a testament to the history and evolution of the trade that those skills have reached an extremely high level of attainment and skill over time. A fine goldsmith can and will work to a tolerance approaching that of precision machinery, but largely using only his eyes and hand tools. Quite often the goldsmith's job involves the making of mountings for gemstones, in which case they are often referred to as jewelers.
'Jeweller', however, is a term mostly reserved for a person who deals in jewellery (buys and sells) and not to be confused with a goldsmith, silversmith, gemologist, diamond cutter and diamond setters. A 'jobbing jeweller' is the term for a jeweller who undertakes a small basic amount of jewellery repair and alteration.