Swiss team engineers first weavable, washable, wearable pure gold-coated fiber
November 2, 2011
What do you buy for the person who has everything? An obvious choice is something that's never existed before. Enter the determined textile specialists at Swiss research institute EMPA who spent the last ten years developing a method to affix pure gold onto silk. Only slightly less scarce than hen's teeth and spider silk cloth, the thread can be woven into a beautiful, surprisingly durable and washable 24 carat fabric that Goldfinger himself would be proud to wear.
While not the first attempt to weave precious metals into cloth, this may be the most innovative. Previous efforts (which began with silver) included wrapping a core polyester thread with a thinner layer of metal, much in the way guitar strings are made, but the results were less than satisfactory. Luckily, the antibacterial properties of silver created a ready market for fibers coated with it, so the team pressed on, eventually arriving at a very high-tech solution- a plasma coating machine. It worked so effectively with silver, the researchers decided to try it with gold, as well.
The device, which emanates a purplish glow when in operation, bombards a chunk of gold with a stream of fast-moving argon ions, which dislodges individual metal atoms. The now gold-laden gas jet is directed at a silk thread which gets coated with a thin, nanometer or so layer of the metal as it's slowly pulled through the ion (plasma) stream. The EMPA team claims this is the world's first textile to sport gold that won't come off in the weaving and washing process. That may be, but it certainly ranks among the most expensive thread ever made (next to Tolkien's mithril, of course).
So what will a garment made of this gilded cloth set you back? Plans are currently under way to market standard neck ties, which contain about 8 grams of pure gold each, for the princely sum of 7,500 Swiss francs (about US$8500). Perhaps they have an aluminum fabric in the works for the other 99% of us?