Gold, recognizable by its yellowish cast, is one of the oldest metals used by humans and eventually grew to symbolize both wealth, royalty, and immortality. Humankind’s fascination with gold can be dated back as far as 4000 B.C. and were used as money by many cultures, but the first firm evidence we have of human interaction with gold occurred in ancient Egypt around 3,000 B.C. Gold played an important role in ancient Egyptian mythology and was used to craft elaborate jewelry, religious artifacts, and utensils such as goblets. The rarity, malleability, durability, ease to identify, and intrinsic value of gold made it perfect for money.
In modern history, gold was shaped by events such as Roosevelt’s confiscation order in 1933 and President Nixon ending the direct convertibility of gold to US dollars in 1971. Although gold is no longer the basis of the modern monetary system, there is more gold demand today than ever before.
The largest deposit of gold can be found in South Africa in the Precambrian Witwatersrand Conglomerate. This deposit of gold ore is hundreds of miles across and more than two miles deep. It is estimated that two-thirds of the gold mined comes from South Africa. Other major producers of gold include Australia, the former Soviet Union, and the United States (Arizona, Colorado, California, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Washington).
From the ancient Egyptians to the modern U.S. Treasury, gold have had such an influential role in human history.
While gold is valued based on the market-determined price of refined raw gold, the form of gold may increase in value beyond that price. Gold in the form of large nuggets or rare bars are more valuable than standard bars or small nuggets of gold.
Gold nuggets are naturally occurring pieces of gold whose rarity increases drastically with size. Because of this rarity, gold nuggets always cost more than their gold content. Gold nuggets can be found in glacier streams or even in quartz crystals.
Gold bars are any cast or minted gold made by a recognized manufacturer. Different types of minted bars are available that vary in purity, but they are all generally valued at a premium lower than their pure gold content. Gold bars come in a variety of shapes, including bars and coins.
The purity of gold is expressed in carats, often abbreviated to ‘ct’ of ‘K’ in the USA and some other countries. Pure gold has a purity of 24 carats. Various other purities exist that are measured relative to 24 carats. These are summarized in the table below.
Table 1. The relationship between gold content (by weight), its carat rating and hallmark rating for standard gold alloys.
|Purity||Gold content (wt. %)||Fineness|
|24 carat gold||99+||990|
|22 carat gold||91.6||916|
|18 carat gold||75.0||750|
|14 carat gold||58.5||585|
|9 carat gold||37.5||375|
An alternative method of expressing purity is ‘fineness’. This expresses the purity of gold in parts per 1000.