Need a gift for the man who has everything? Give him a tie woven from pure gold! Scientists from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, also known as EMPA, have developed a way to coat polyester fibers with a nanometer-thin layer of the precious metal, making it supple enough to weave. It’s an endeavor 10 years in the making, marking the first time anyone’s managed to keep the shiny stuff permanently bonded to fabric. To fete its accomplishment, EMPA is releasing a limited number of gold ties, tailored in the Zürich tie manufactory Hofmann und Co AG, just before Christmas. Retailing at 7,500 Swiss francs (or roughly $8,450) apiece, each tie will comprise 8 grams of 24-karat gold, plus a sheen that says “I belong to the 1 percent.” Bah humbug, indeed.
ALL THAT GLITTERS
To create the fiber, scientists used a refrigerator-size apparatus to bombard a piece of gold with fast-moving argon ions. Knocked off the metal surface, the gold atoms land on polyester fibers that are slowly pulled through the machine. The result is a permanently coating of gold that resists rolling, wrinkling, weaving in a loom, and even machine-washing.
Don’t expect gold-fiber accessories to be little more than very extravagant novelties. Even at full capacity, production is limited to 600 pieces per year.
EMPA may have wounded up with pliable gold, but it actually sought to create fabric from silver, which has antibacterial qualities and considerable interest among textile and apparel companies. Silver is also an excellent conductor of electricity, making any such fiber suitable for electronic sensors or industrial antistatic filters.
Researchers soon figured out that what was possible with one metal would be copacetic for another. After launching the “Gold Fiber Project” in January 2010, EMPA managed to produce a kilometer of gold-coated material over the summer, with production expected to ramp up by the end of the year.
Whether the fiber has applications beyond a statement of vulgar excess remains to be seen, but don’t expected the planned run of pocket squares, bow ties, scarves, and even bags to be little more than very extravagant novelties. Even at full capacity, production is limited to 600 pieces per year for the world market. Far fewer products will actually see fruition, however, because quantities of gold-coated thread have already been reserved by parties such as Jakob Schlaepfer, which will use gold yarn in its Autumn/Winter 2012 haute couture collection of decorative textiles.