Watches A Glittering History of Gold

5 min

From coins to culture to civilizations, find out what makes gold one of the most treasured elements in human history.

The Incas believed it to be the “tears of the sun”. Ancient Egyptians knew it as the “flesh of the Gods”. Explorers journeyed across South America to seek out a lost city made from this element. During the 19th Century, miners scoured the planet for this gleaming, glittering metal. Gold has bedazzled human beings for centuries. Across the rich tapestry of time, gold has captivated civilizations, kingdoms, miners, jewelers, even watchmakers. From Mughal miniatures to our global economy, from English idioms to Greek myths, gold holds a special place in the story of humanity. But what makes gold so alluring, so seductive, so entwined with the tales of empires? Let’s find out.

The birth of an obsession

It doesn’t rust. It isn’t toxic. It’s malleable. It’s luminous. These are just some of the reasons why gold was, and still is, considered “noble”. In the beginning, this prized metal was used solely to create jewelry and idols for worship. But then something happened that changed the way we perceived gold for generations to come. It all started in Nubia, a gold-laden region in Egypt. Around 1500 BC, the people here made gold the first official medium of exchange for trade. And so the country began forging the Shekel, a coin that weighed 11.3 grams. Unconsciously, they had started a trend that would become an obsession.

The golden ages

The first minting of pure gold coins began in the kingdom of Lydia, circa 560 BC. And then in 50 BC, the Romans issued a gold coin called Aureus, derived from the Latin word for gold, Aurum. (Chemistry buffs might know this from the periodic table of elements.) A few thousand years later, the Republic of Florence introduced the first gold Ducat. It went on to become the most popular gold currency for about five centuries. 

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Mughal empire ruled over large swathes of Central and South Asia. Art and culture flourished in Mughal courts. Almost every great Mughal emperor had an appreciation for gemstones and gold. But they didn’t see Aurum as simply a currency. That’s why gold was used ​​generously to adorn meticulously designed miniatures as well as grand monuments. 

Fast forward to 1848, a Californian carpenter reported the finding of gold flakes in a stream. In 1868, a man uncovered gold in his backyard in South Africa. These sorts of stories spread across the world like wildfire, sparking the famous ‘gold rush’. The phenomenon shaped the way humans immigrated, traveled and settled across the world. People from everywhere beat a path to different parts of the planet, hoping they would strike gold.

TAG Heuer Carrera Date 29mm (WBN2450.BD0569)

The gold standard

As centuries rolled by, as the modern world came into focus, the world’s economy found itself fused to the gold standard. The gold standard was a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account, for example the U.S. Dollar, was based on a fixed quantity of gold. The system gradually became untenable, and it was abandoned in the 1970s. But through all of it, gold continues to convey a myriad of different meanings in contemporary culture. Whether you call it “bling” or “Aurum”, gold remains a symbol for prosperity, fortune and success. It has molded our world and we’ve used it to shape our culture. Proof that it is truly malleable.

Wrists of gold

Watchmaking isn’t immune to the glory of gold. And that’s especially true when it comes to TAG Heuer. Our watchmakers have harnessed the beauty of this metal to create generations of timepieces that have captured the hearts of watch collectors and enthusiasts. That’s why we’re introducing a glorious selection of TAG Heuer Carrera Date 29mm timepieces. If you’d like to take a closer look at these shiny new pieces, follow the link.