In the 1970s, archeologists uncovered an ancient burial site containing 3,000 gold artifacts in present-day Bulgaria, on the shores of the Black Sea. One high-status male from the ancient Varna civilization had gone to the grave determined to be absolutely swaddled in gold. Gold earrings and circular gold plates formed a corona around his skull. He still wore gold bracelets on his wrist, gold necklaces around his clavicle, and even a gold penis sheath on his pelvis. This man was buried sometime in the 5th century BCE, which means that before mankind invented the wheel, it had fallen under gold’s mesmerizing spell. Some things never change.
Gold. The Ancient Egyptians believed it formed the flesh of the sun god Ra. The Incas called it “tears of the Sun.” Why have we assigned so much value to gold for so long? A big part of our obsession stems from the simple fact that gold is a geological marvel. It is an exceptionally rare metal that occurs in Earth’s crust at a rate of two parts per billion. It is incredibly malleable, able to take virtually any shape without breaking apart. And It doesn’t corrode, meaning that it never loses its trademark luster.
“Gold is something physical that people can enjoy and pass on,” says contemporary DIY jewelry designer Kristopher Kites. Kites, who makes custom pieces for artists like J Balvin, recently released a plastic, translucent chain of golden skulls inspired by Ultra Gold, the new pineapple-flavored drink from Monster Energy. “Some cultures have fallen because of their entanglement with gold, and some have been amplified by it,” he said. “But somehow gold’s value reigned overall to become the most important metal in society. I mean, how can you not like gold? It’s badass.”
Gold’s status goes beyond the precious metal. The color gold has come to represent the best. We give gold medals to Nobel Prize winners and Olympic champions. We use it to gild custom PlayStations and membership cards. We wear it because it is warm, expressive, and bright. It radiates joy, light, and hope, and it carries a historical and even mythical mystique. In today’s world, gold holds immense cultural significance as a symbol that resides at the heart of fashion, music, and art.
Gold is, of course, a staple of haute couture and award show red carpets; the color’s single most iconic fashion moment came in 1997, when the designer and rising star Lee Alexander McQueen debuted his Givenchy collection, a series of gold and white dresses inspired by Greek antiquity. Panned by critics at the time, the collection is now considered a masterpiece.
But gold is unique not because it is a staple of high fashion, but because of the way it bridges high fashion and street culture. A decade before McQueen’s Givenchy collection hit the runway at Paris Fashion Week, MC Hammer was selling out arenas wearing his nylon golden parachute “hammer pants.”
Hip hop has cultivated a unique appreciation for gold jewelry—chains, pendants, rings, watches, grills—that has continuously evolved ever since Kurtis Blow rocked six gold chains on the cover of his 1980 debut album. Rappers turned the showmanship associated with bling—a term that was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004—into its own kind of artistic expression.
Lil Jon argued that “crunk ain’t dead” by putting it on a chain. Rick Ross famously performed at the BET Awards while wearing a gold pendant bearing his own likeness. And the giant gold Horus chain Kanye West wore in his “Power” music video remains one of his gaudiest looks ever.
Contemporary artists have embraced gold as a muse. This year, Monster Ultra Gold is crafting an exclusive capsule collection inspired by the launch of their new can in collaboration with three emerging artists in Kites, home goods maker Manila Mixtape, and footwear designer Vandy the Pink. Manila reinterpreted the can’s colors by cutting twenty custom gold mirrors using a CNC machine. Vandy channeled Ultra Gold by incorporating naturalistic spots of golden fur into the Reebok Beatnik clog, one of his favorite mediums to work with.
“The color gold has always represented luck and wealth in my Asian culture,” Vandy says. “It’s something that means more than its physical form. I believe the value of gold is priceless.”
While gold has never gone out of style, it is enjoying a unique cultural moment. As it continues to evolve from royal flex to a vehicle for personal expression, its associations with creativity and excellence have never been more powerful. Celebrated artist Takashi Murakami has long been inspired by gold; he uses his ultra-expressive sculptures, paintings, prints, and other mediums to explore the relationships between gold, religious iconography, contemporary culture, and the natural world.
His gold sculptures have exhibited everywhere from Versailles Palace to the Gagosian. Though the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo is currently exhibiting a 10-meter-tall statue of his work “Flower Child and Parent” outside their entrance, his immersion in gold may have peaked in 2019, when he decked out an entire exhibit at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary in gold—walls, art, and all.
Artists like Murakami and the designers behind Monster Ultra Gold’s capsule collection are evidence that our obsession with the gold standard will never wane, and that we are living in the golden age of gold. "Gold ain’t goin’ anywhere,” Manila says. “Gold has been here and it’s gonna stay here forever. It doesn’t matter if it’s in fashion, art, investing, food, etc. Gold is constant. Gold can make dreams come true."