Royal gold Welsh gold from the Dolgellau belt has been the source of royal jewelry for almost a century
Welsh gold from the Dolgellau belt has been the source of royal jewelry for almost a century
By Cecilia Keating
April 26, 2018
The remains of Clogau gold mind in Wales, the most prolific mine in the Dolgellau gold belt. Clogau closed down large-scale operations in 1911. Gerallt Pennant/Wikimedia
For over a century, Welsh gold has been sought after because of its connection to royalty, its rarity and its unusual pink tint. While most gold mines in the country shuttered 20 years ago, the industry may be poised for a revival; not only has Welsh gold been thrust into the public limelight by media speculation about Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle’s wedding bands, but there has also been a flurry of interest in dormant gold mines in northern Wales.
Historically, the majority of Welsh gold mining took place in the Dolgellau gold belt, which stretches across Snowdonia National Park. No gold mines are currently operating there, but a 2012 report by mining consultancy Snowden estimated the area contains US$220 million dollars of untouched gold.
In December, the Clogau-St. David’s mine, once the most prolific in the region, made headlines when junior miner Alba Mineral Resources announced plans to bring it back into production after a nearly 20-year closure. One month later, Welsh jewellery firm Clogau, currently running down a stockpile of Dolgellau gold for its jewellery, submitted an application to restart work at the nearby Gwynfynydd mine.
First mined for copper and lead, Clogau was the site of two gold rushes in the 19th century. Since 1800, it produced 81,000 ounces of the 131,000 produced in Dolgellau. The mine continued as a large-scale operation until 1911, when it was closed due to diminishing returns. Gwynfynydd was less prolific, producing 45,000 ounces in total between 1883 and 1998, and large-scale operations ended in 1916.
Clogau and Gwynfynydd were mined intermittently throughout the 20th century, but gold was scarce and operations were expensive in the U.K.’s high-wage economy. Moreover, pollution controls in Snowdonia were stringent and waste was disposed of at a high cost. By the time both Clogau and Gwynfynydd were announced commercially exhausted in 1998, gold cost more than £1,000 per ounce to extract.
Because it is so scarce and expensive to mine, Welsh gold fetches up to three to five times the spot gold price. Jewellers that sell Welsh gold items – like jewellery firm Clogau – ration it to “a touch” in each piece. In November 2017, gold nuggets and flakes from the Clogau mine totalling around two ounces were expected to fetch between £1,600 and £2,000 in an auction; they went for £10,500.
For years, many erroneously believed that Welsh gold ore had an unusual warm, pinkish tint. In fact, it just appeared so because Victorian jewellers diluted the gold with silver, bronze or copper. But the myth worked to their advantage and boosted the gold’s mystique and desirability, so they perpetuated it.
Welsh gold’s royal connections have also heightened its allure. Exchanging wedding rings made of pure Welsh gold has been a tradition for the British royal family for almost a century. In 1923, the Queen Mother and King George VI were given a Clogau gold nugget for their wedding rings. Enough gold remained in the nugget to create wedding rings for the Queen and Prince Phillip in 1947, the Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon in 1960 and Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981.
There is less than one gram left of that original nugget, but in 1981 the Royal British Legion topped up the Queen’s supply when they gave her 36 grams of Welsh gold of unknown origin. One kilogram of gold from Gwynfynydd was presented to the Queen on her 60th birthday in 1986. Either of these gifts could have been the source for the pure Welsh gold wedding rings exchanged by Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, and by Prince William and Kate Middleton six years later. Royal pundits are now speculating whether Prince Harry and Markle will carry on the tradition.
Welsh gold’s connection with royalty is not limited to wedding bands, and pre-dates King George VI’s wedding. In 1911, gold from Clogau was incorporated into the coronet, rod, ring and sword worn by 17-year-old Prince Edward – later King Edward VIII – at his public investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in Wales in 1911.
The regalia was used again for Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969 – apart from the coronet, which King Edward VIII smuggled to France with him after he abdicated the throne in 1936. Relations between King Edward VIII and his family were so bitter that the Royals did not stoop to asking for the coronet’s return. Another was commissioned, also out of Welsh gold from Dolgellau.