Research project

Urban Gold Rush

‘Urban Gold Rush’ by Sandra Wilson is a research project comprising three exhibitions and supporting publications.

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Start date

May 2017

Completion date

October 2020






‘Urban Gold Rush’ is a research project comprising three exhibitions and supporting publications, in which Wilson foregrounds questions of cultural consumption and sustainability of precious metals in the field of jewellery, in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Recycling electronic waste is a critical  international issue with 90% of scrap, such as mobile phones, illegally traded or dumped annually. While e-waste contains hazardous substances, it is also a rich resource of precious metals; as little as 11% of these are being recovered (in some countries, such as India, this figure is as low as 1.5%).

Wilson is the first jeweller to use a hydro-metallurgy process to recover precious metals. She collaborated with Love Chemistry Laboratory, Edinburgh University (July 2017 to - date) a world-leading facility that has developed a new ligand that specifically targets gold, Wilson has gone through the recovery process, creating metals in liquid solution and solid state.

A comprehensive review of historic alchemists underpinned the research and Wilson created a technical diary to document and study the effects of different metal solutions on different types of silver: new surface finishes using electrochemical replacement plating and artefacts have been created to showcase the value of this novel methodology.

This work has been exhibited and presented at international events in Germany (2018), India (2019), USA (2019), and China (2020). It has received national press attention from The Times, The Financial Times, The People’s Friend (combined circulation of 2.5M), The Conversation, with over 70,000 reads in the first month, and US-based Metalsmith Magazine.

This work led to Wilson being CI on an EPSRC funded project (£398,820 (£32,439 to the University)) to develop a new sustainable metal supply chain that will particularly benefit female rural artisans in India, who are subject to exploitative middlemen and poor wages and conditions, while preserving their cultural heritage.


Project lead(s)

Professor Sandra Wilson