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.
Celtic jewellery such as torcs were worn by early Welsh princes, and ancient gold artefacts found in Wales include the Mold Cape and the Banc Ty'nddôl sun-disc, found at the Cwmystwyth Mines in 2002. It is not possible to confirm that these use Welsh gold since there were strong trade links between Wales and Ireland at the time and Ireland was the major area of gold working in the Bronze Age British Isles. Irish gold is especially well known from the Irish Bronze Age as jewellery, in the form of gold lunulae, torcs, "gorgets", rings, and bracelets. 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. The Clogau Gold Mine (sometimes known as the Clogau St David's Mine) was once the largest and richest mine of all the gold mines in the Dolgellau gold mining area. It is situated in Bontddu, near Barmouth in Gwynedd in north-west Wales.
After producing copper and a little lead for quite a number of years, the mine developed into gold production in the 1862 'rush' and continued as a major operator until 1911, during which 165,031 tons of gold ore was 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.
In 1989, William Roberts, founder of Welsh jewellery brand Clogau, acquired the rights to mine and conducted a few years of small scale mining at the Clogau St David’s mine in Dolgellau before its eventual closure in 1998 – due to the high costs of extraction and the diminishing quantities of rare Welsh gold being found.
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.
The first major link between Welsh Gold and the Royal family began on 13 July 1911 when Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, was officially invested as Prince of Wales in a special ceremony at Caernarvon Castle on the fringes of Snowdonia, North Wales. Carnarvon and Caernarvon are Anglicised spellings that were superseded in 1926 and 1974 respectively.
The regalia used in the investiture of the Prince of Wales consisted of a coronet, a rod, a ring, a sword and a robe or mantle with doublet and sash and incorporated pure Welsh gold, identifiable by the Welsh dragon stamp. The investiture took place at the instigation of the Welsh politician David Lloyd George, who invented a ceremony in the style of a Welsh pageant, and coached Edward to speak a few words in Welsh. The investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July 1969 at Caernarfon Castle, was an update of what had happened in 1911 and the regalia was used once again. This very same rare Welsh gold has been used to create wedding rings for some members of the Royal Family since 1923. This tradition was founded by The Queen Mother, then Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, on her marriage to the Duke of York on 26 April 1923.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s wedding ring, from her marriage to The Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November 1947 is crafted from a nugget of pure Welsh gold from the Clogau St. David’s mine. Other members of The Royal Family to have Welsh gold wedding rings include Princess Anne (1973), Princess Diana (1981), Prince Charles (1981 & 2005) and Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall (2005).
The tradition of using Welsh gold in the wedding rings of the British Royal family was carried into its 88th year with the most recent Royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 29 April 2011. Catherine commissioned her wedding ring to be made from pure Welsh gold.
Due to its rarity, Welsh gold is much more expensive to buy on the 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.
- National Trust: Dolaucothi Gold Mines
- 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.
- "Mineralogy of Wales". MIneral Database. National Museum of Wales. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
- Wales Underground: Gold
- Wales calling: Gold Mining in Wales
- The Geology of the Dolgellau Gold-Belt
- 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.