A long wait for Scottish gold ‘but it will be worth it’
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The promise of Scottish gold was a heady lure. Mining precious metals in the Trossachs national park would offer jewellers locally sourced materials with full transparency — and offer consumers jewellery imbued with the romance of the Highlands. The dream, however, has stalled.
The Cononish mine, (pictured above) owned by Scotgold Resources since 2007 and largely funded by private investors, is yet to deliver a consistent source of gold for jewellery — despite a successful trial via Hamilton & Inches, an Edinburgh retailer, and Sheila Fleet, a designer in Orkney.
The problem, according to Phillip Day, chief executive of Scotgold Resources, has been a series of “technical challenges”. But he believes the latest issue holding back the mine — the potential of which was identified in the 1980s — will be resolved in months rather than years.
“The specialist processing required for Scotgold’s Scottish gold is a separate and additional step from that which produces the concentrate gold,” he says.
“There is a very rich and successful production of concentrate gold already established. As soon as the difficulties in the processing of gravity gold are resolved, Scotgold’s Cononish mine will be well positioned to activate its traceable Scottish gold supply chain.”
Concentrate gold differs from that destined for jewellery shop windows. Gold for jewellery must be processed using a technique called gravity concentration, which separates the precious metal from the crushed ore. The gold must then be tracked, registered and, later, hallmarked by the Edinburgh Assay Office, with a stag’s head to identify it as Scottish gold.
In June, Scotgold accessed ore that peaked at a gold content of 40g a tonne in an area with a further expected average yield of 10g a tonne. In August, it produced 50 tonnes of concentrate. These are positive rumblings after the company had to be propped up by a short-term loan of £2m in May, funded by some directors and a third party.
A test batch of metal was first used by Sheila Fleet Jewellery to create and sell 100 pieces of jewellery in 18ct Scottish gold four years ago. Each piece was numbered and sold with a certificate. The brand has new designs ready for when it receives the next batch, promised for next spring.
“We have to be very patient,” says Fleet, who has been crafting jewellery since the 1960s. She says that, when she started out, she would not have thought it possible to create jewellery in Scotland with Scottish precious metals.
“I take my hat off to the investors and the team, all the people involved, because it’s a huge task to open a gold mine and they have had to jump through huge hoops,” she says. “We’ve waited all this time, we can wait a few more months.”
The early products were a proof of concept for Sheila Fleet Jewellery, and the brand hopes to one day be able to offer the choice of all its items in Scottish gold. The origin, the company says, is attractive to people with a connection to the country — and it sees particular potential in wedding rings.
Hamilton & Inches also enjoyed a positive start with Scottish gold. Its debut jewellery collection crafted in 22ct Scottish gold sold out when it launched in 2019, despite costing more than other gold. “We foresee that demand continuing [once we receive more Scottish gold] and not just from a jewellery point of view; we also see it as a corporate opportunity,” says Victoria Houghton, the chief executive. In February, a whisky decanter decorated in Scottish gold, created by Hamilton & Inches to hold a bottle of 50-year-old single malt from the Glenrothes distillery, sold at auction for £39,000.
Vivien Glass, founder and chief executive of Johnston Resources, which is a consultant to Scotgold, confirms that the market is willing to pay above the odds for Scottish gold. Its first batch of 1oz rounds was released in a sealed-bid auction in 2016. The first lot, numbered ‘No 1’, sold for £21,000. On average, the gold achieved a premium of nearly 380 per cent on the bullion price, she says.
While the wait for more metal continues, there is another way to access Scottish gold.
Vincent Thurkettle is a gold panner who in 2005 retired early from the Forestry Commission to sift for “wild gold” in rivers. “In the winter, I make most of my money from growing Christmas trees; in the summer it’s from gold and treasure,” explains Thurkettle, a former president of the World Goldpanning Association and a gold medallist at the World Goldpanning Championships in Canada in 2007.
Sifting is a skill that he is passing on to others through courses he runs, which he says earn more than panning for the gold itself, which tends to bring in £100 a day before expenses.
The gold he does find is available for sale at about £100 a gramme — more than double the bullion price. Thurkettle, though, is fussy about who he sells it to. His ideal customer is not a tourist, investor or even a fellow panner, but a jeweller. He wants his “ethical and beautiful and rare” gold to have a destiny befitting the passion he has put into his 40-year quest to find it.
Jewellery, he believes, “has so much emotion and power”, and is a fitting vessel.
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