Welsh gold is highly prized because of its origin and scarcity, and occurs naturally in two distinct areas of Wales. One area is in North Wales in a band stretching from Barmouth, past Dolgellau and up towards Snowdonia. This was mined at several mines, the largest of which were the Gwynfynydd Gold Mine, near Ganllwyd, and the Clogau Gold Mine near Bontddu. In South Wales, it is found in a small area in the valley of the River Cothi at Dolaucothi where it is known to have been mined by the Romans. Jewellery such as torcs were worn by early Welsh princes but it is not possible to confirm that this was Welsh gold since there were strong trade links between Wales and Ireland at the time and Ireland was a major producer of gold artefacts. Irish gold is especially well known from the Irish Bronze Age as jewellery, torcs, amulets, rings, bracelets and so on. It was presumably collected by panning from alluvial placers in river beds or near old rivers.
The earliest known Welsh gold mine was the Dolaucothi Gold Mines near Pumsaint in Carmarthenshire, which was initiated by the Romans in or about 74 AD, and closed in 1938 and was donated to the National Trust in 1941. A hoard of gold objects was found near the village of Pumsaint close to the mines in the 18th century and is now in the British Museum.
However, Dolaucothi is best known for its exploitation on a large scale during the Roman period, from about 75 AD on to 300 AD at least. Hydraulic mining methods preceded opencast and then deep mining at the site. The many opencast workings were produced by hushing and fire-setting during the Roman period in Roman Wales. The workings were initially under military control with a small Roman fort under the present village of Pumsaint and the workings have yielded large amounts of late Roman pottery (77 AD to 300 AD plus) from the reservoir known as "Melin-y-milwyr" or soldiers mill.
The Dolaucothi mine is open to the public under the aegis of the National Trust and visitors can explore the many surface features at the site, as well as be escorted on a tour of the extensive underground workings.
The Gwynfynydd Gold Mine in Dolgellau closed in January 1999. In January 2007, the BBC and other news organisations reported that the final traces of "economically extractable" gold had been removed from the mines and surrounding soil. Even the local road surface had been filtered for traces, marking the end of the current mining operation. Gwynfynydd was discovered in 1860. It was active until 1998 and has produced 45,000+ troy ounces of Welsh gold since 1884.The Queen was presented with a kilogram ingot of Welsh gold on her 60th birthday (April 1986) from this mine. In the 1990s the mine was open to the public and provided guided tours which included the opportunity to pan for gold. The mine closed because Health and Safety issues and because of changing pollution control legislation which would have made the owners liable for the quality of the mine discharge into the River Mawddach had the mine remained open.
Another gold mine lies nearby, the Clogau mine. After producing copper and a little lead for quite a number of years, the mine developed into gold production in the 1862 gold rush and continued as a major operator until 1911 during which time 165,031 tons of gold ore were mined resulting in 78,507 troy ounces (2,442 kg) of gold. It worked the St David's lode of Clogau mountain alongside the co-owned Vigra Mine. Since 1911, the mine has been re-opened several times for smaller scale operations. It last closed in 1998.
Welsh gold forms in veins or lodes of ore that yield up to 30 troy ounces per long ton (920 g/Mg). In comparison, South African gold ore yields just a quarter of a troy ounce for every tonne mined (8 g/Mg). However the South African gold fields are vastly more extensive.
Jewellery made from Welsh gold is worn by members of the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II and her mother, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, Diana, Princess of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall all wear or wore wedding rings fashioned from Welsh gold, as did Kate Middleton for her marriage to Prince William. In April 1986, the Queen was presented with a kilogram ingot of gold from the Gwynfynydd gold mine on her 60th birthday, one of at least three gifts of Welsh gold made to the British royal family since 1923.
Due to its rarity, Welsh gold is much more expensive to buy on high street and is often mixed with other gold bullion. Jewellery often perceived as Welsh gold sold in the UK only contains an extremely small percentage of real Welsh gold. The usual way of describing such jewellery is that "each piece contains a touch of Welsh gold", and cannot be described legally as Welsh gold. The definition of "a touch" is open to interpretation but in reality is usually much less than 1 percent. The addition of copper amongst other metals produces the rose colour of some commercial jewellery and has created a false impression of what authentic Welsh gold looks like. When in its natural state Welsh gold is the common yellow colour or can appear more yellow-white as a gold/silver natural alloy called electrum.
- Gold working in the Bronze Age British Isles
- Gwynfynydd Gold Mine
- Clogau Gold Mine
- Gold mining
- Hydraulic mining
- Mining in Roman Britain
- Wyre Davies (1999-01-26). "Welsh gold mine closes". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- [news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/help/3681938.stm Final Welsh gold mine closing][dead link]
- Swansong for Welsh bands of gold
- Prior, Neil (27 April 2011). "Welsh gold wedding ring continues royal tradition". BBC News. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- History of Welsh gold and Clogau gold, accessed 25 April 2011.
- "Prince William Won't Wear a Wedding Band". People. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
- "Mineralogy of Wales". MIneral Database. National Museum of Wales. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
- Photos of natural Welsh Gold from the Clogau mine
- Wales Underground: Gold
- Wales calling: Gold Mining in Wales
- National Trust: Dolaucothi Gold Mines
- The Geology of the Dolgellau Gold-Belt
- The Independent: The Last Gold Miner in Wales
- Aerial photographs of gold mines in Wales
- I. M. Platten and S. C. Dominy (2009) "Geological mapping in the evaluation of structurally controlled gold veins: A case study from the Dogellau gold belt, north Wales, United Kingdom", World Gold Conference 2009, South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, PDF file, accessed 14 November 2010.