What immediately comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘gold’? More often than not, it is jewelry. And next would be gold bars.
From that alone, you already know that gold is such a precious and valuable metal. It is also one of the most sought after, not just now, but also throughout millennia and all over the world. In fact, it is even the primary cause of some historic wars between different countries.
In fact, Gerald M. Loeb, a famous investment banker and stockbroker, once said that “the desire for gold is the most universal and deeply rooted commercial instinct of the human race.”
You may take his statement literally or not, but the undeniable truth is that gold is one of the most important elements in the world.
But did you know that aside from its monetary value, there are also other uses for gold that are as equally important?
Before we discuss it further, we first need to trace its origins.
History of Gold
Have you ever been inside a museum? If so, chances are that you have seen displays of ancient gold handicrafts and jewelry. And if you have been to similar museums of other countries, it’s likely that you also saw their own golden historical artifacts on display. In all corners of the world, there is historical proof of human interest when it comes to gold from the past, present, and surely even in the future.
While there is definite proof that gold is as old as dinosaurs, no one can say for sure when it was actually discovered and by whom. However, there are archaeological pieces of evidence that gold was already in use as in early as the Bronze Age. Evidence suggests that gold was likely discovered due to its appearance; the shiny yellow color of gold nuggets must have caught the eye of people who were used to seeing grayish rocks and stones.
Do you remember stories of your childhood about golden treasures? What if we tell you this is true?
In fact, gold used as treasures were discovered in a burial site in Varna, Bulgaria. As of now, this is considered as the “oldest gold treasure” and they actually date back to sometime between 4600 BC to 4200 BC. However, archaeologists are still clueless on how the people discovered that gold can be smelted and formed into different shapes.
But if we talk about how gold was used in the past as a social symbol, no one can beat the Ancient Egyptians. Their hieroglyphics showed that gold was as common back then as sand, and since they are a desert country, you can imagine how abundant gold was back then in Egypt. After all, they were the biggest producers of gold during that time.
No wonder these Egyptians used so much gold, especially the ruling elite and the royalty. In fact, the mask of King Tutankhamen, famously known as “King Tut,” was discovered to contain gold weighing a total of 24 pounds. Gold was also important not just for the pharaohs but also the priests and in Egyptian mythology, or basically all those in power.
They even had a currency exchange ratio for gold and silver, which is likely the first of its kind in the world. They mandated that a piece of gold is equivalent to two and a half pieces of silver. That’s how much they value it. But surprisingly, gold was not initially used for trade by these Ancient Egyptians. They were used mostly for jewelry, tools, art and religious purposes. It was much later when they used gold for trade for wealth expansion.
Credit for the first use of gold as a form of currency is often given to the Lydians. It is widely believed that the creation of gold coins for currency purposes began in the Kingdom of Lydia, which is now known as the western part of Turkey.
Later, the Ancient Greeks and Romans also began to use gold coins as money. However, Greeks placed higher value to it because of their belief that there is a connection between gold and their gods and demigods. As such, any Greek who owns gold is considered wealthy and has a high status in life. Using gold coins was a much common occurrence with Romans, that’s why it isn’t as highly valued when compared to the Greeks.
In the Americas, especially in South America, gold was also in abundance and it was heavily used in creating religious tokens and ornaments. This prompted the 14th century conquistadors from Europe to sail there and acquire as much gold as they can, even destroying civilizations in the process. Others, including the famed pirates, followed suit when they realized how gold can actually give them much power.
In the United States, a monetary system that involves gold and silver, known as the Mint and Coinage Act, was only established in 1792. At that time, a dollar has the same value (in grains) as 24.75 for pure gold and 371.25 for pure silver. This meant that both gold and silver were also considered legal tenders at that time, just like money.
A gold rush occurred in the country sometime in the 1800s, because of the discovery of deposits of gold in large quantities. It was also not that difficult to pan gold from the rivers, where they are commonly found, and these led to a large influx of people coming in from nearby territories. They also wanted to strike gold, literally.
The production of gold was so great due to the gold rush that there was a need to establish another branch of the US Mint, this time in San Francisco. However, this changed due to the two World Wars that occurred, resulting in the closure of mines and less gold was produced overall. The gold standard had to be changed after the Second World War and the Bretton Woods took its place.
The Vietnam War marked the beginning of the end of the gold standard, brought about by the derelict budget of the United States. The Bretton Woods system was no more after the decision to axe it was made by President Nixon. Other people tried to establish a new gold standard but all attempts were unsuccessful due to the continuously rising prices of gold.
Even at present, no gold standard exists in any country. Gold is now seen as an investment, not a currency.
Properties of Gold
Ask anyone what they know about gold and they would likely talk about its color. After all, its shiny, yellowish color is what makes it distinct from other metals. However, not all products incorporating gold have the same finish – some are brighter and some just look quite dull. This is where the term ‘karat’ come into the scene.
Karat, or carat, is the term used to determine how much gold is available in an object. You usually hear this term when it comes to gold jewelry. To be precise, here are the common values of karats and their gold content:
- 8 karats – 33.75% gold
- 9 karats – 37.8% gold
- 10 karats – 42% gold
- 12 karats – 50.25% gold
- 14 karats – 58.5% gold
- 18 karats – 75% gold
- 21 karats – 87.5% gold
- 22 karats – 91.75% gold
- 24 karats – 100% gold
The color of gold is usually yellowish, especially when it is still in mass form. However, you can also get shades of black, purple, or ruby when it is finely divided. Its color is also affected when it is alloyed with metals of different colors.
Gold is also known for its malleability, even being known as the metal that is the most ductile and malleable. This is why it can be easily formed into various shapes and sizes, including very thin sheets. Just an ounce of gold is enough to create a thin wire that can reach 50 miles in length. Because of its characteristic softness, it needs to be alloyed with metals, normally copper and silver, to harden.
Being a dense metal, it has a high melting point of 1065 ˚C and boiling point of 2000 ˚C. However, these numbers only apply when we talk about pure gold that is free from alloys. When alloys are added to it, the melting and boiling points may either increase or decrease.
But how did gold get its name? The word ‘gold’ is actually from the word ‘geolo,’which is an old English word that literally means ‘yellow.’ If you recall your periodic table of elements, you might remember that a select few elements have symbols that seem unrelated to their common English term and gold is one of them. Gold also has an atomic number of 79 and is symbolized by ‘Au’ in the periodic table, which is derived from its Latin name of ‘Aurum,’ which is translated as ‘shining dawn.’
One of the elements that is already in its natural state when discovered, gold is only produced in nature; they can never be produced or manufactured using man-made equipment. Despite its seemingly common appearance, this transition metal is mined mostly in only a few countries, namely South Africa, Australia, China, Russia, Canada, the United States, Peru, Uzbekistan, Mexico, and Brazil.
How to Spot Fake Gold
Given the rarity and high value of gold, it comes as no surprise that it is one of the metals that is widely counterfeited. The proliferation of fake gold is a common problem because its value goes up a lot over time. This is why so many people not only produce counterfeits but are also victimized by it.
To avoid being fooled by fake gold, here are some things you can do to check whether you are being offered real gold or not:
- The magnet test. Using a magnet to see if it is real gold or not is probably the most common test to check its authenticity. You just need to bring a Neodymium or rare earth magnet with you and see if it will attract the gold. If it doesn’t move at all, there’s a higher chance that it is real gold. After all, gold is not magnetic.
- Using the “touchstone” method. Ideally done by professionals, acids and testing stones are used to see if the supposed gold will have a reaction to it. The purer it is, the less it will react to the acid. This can physically affect gold, so is often only used on gold about to be recycled.
- Through taste and smell. Gold is a metal that does not have any smell or taste, so you can go ahead and use your senses. Don’t worry about toxicity; it’s not harmful when ingested and people even use elemental gold as an additive for certain dishes.
- Doing the scratch test. You can drag gold across a ceramic plate that is not glazed to see what kind of scratch it leaves behind. Actual gold will leave behind gold streaks as well, not other colors.
- Dropping it in a container of water. Because gold is dense, it should always sink when dropped in a container filled with water.
- Price. If the price is too good to be true, warning flags should be raised. Gold is never dirt cheap.
There are other much more accurate tests to determine real gold from the fakes, but they cost more. What we have mentioned here are the common and less inexpensive ones that can confirm the possibility only of it being real gold.
It’s even much harder now to determine real gold from not. Just doing one of the above tests is no longer enough to determine the real from the counterfeit. Some fakes are already nearly as good as the originals, and can even deceive anyone untrained who does some of the tests we mentioned.
Take for example, the gold bar. By weight alone, a tungsten bar that has been covered in gold will be easily mistaken as a pure gold bar because of their similar weight. This is why tungsten is a favorite of gold bar counterfeiters.
Does Gold Have Any Practical Uses?
We all know that gold is commonly used in the jewelry industry. In fact, as much as 80% of the total gold produced yearly, and even recycled, on average is crafted into different types of jewelry. After all, this is where most of the demand for gold comes from.
10% of the total gold is then used for the production of coins and other finance-related products of various governments. Despite being no longer used as a currency, some countries still produce gold coins but they only keep it for their reserves.
So, where does the remaining gold go to? You may not believe this but they actually go to non-jewelry or non-finance-related industries. We have made a list of fields or industries where gold is used for practical applications, which may surprise you:
- Awards and Medals. Do gold medals really contain gold? Chances are, they do. The amount of gold, however, will depend on where it is being used. The more prestigious an event is, the more likely the awards or medals being given away contain higher amounts of gold. This is due to the high value and symbolism placed on gold throughout time. After all, only royalty and other powerful people have gold in the past.
- Portable Electronic Devices. Did you know that your mobile phones and other portable electronics contain gold? This is due to gold not easily corroding nor tarnishing, especially when subjected to low currents or voltages common to these devices, as well as being a great conductor of electricity. But don’t go rushing to the nearest jeweler just yet; each mobile device contains gold that roughly amounts to only 50 cents.
- Computers. What makes gold ideal for use with computers is because of its conductivity. Accuracy and reliability are important for computers to power up and transfer data, and to meet that, it should have an efficient conductor that won’t easily break down, hence the use of gold on many of its components.
- Aerospace Industry. Aside from their sophisticated computers, gold is also used for the protective gear of astronauts, and even in spacecrafts. Their signature round helmets have visors that are coated with gold that are in thin layers. The same goes for the spacecrafts they use and other equipment launched into space. This can be attributed to the reflective properties of gold that keep away harmful amounts of radiation and for temperature regulation due to the proximity with the sun.
- Climate Control. If you think adding tint to glass windows is the only way to prevent too much heat from entering a building, think again. Gold can also be used to regulate heat that penetrates glass, as well as contain the heat produced by HVAC systems. This is why many buildings now use specialty glass that contain traces of gold within it or on its surface for their windows.
- Dentistry. Yes, gold teeth really do exist. You might not know this but it is a common practice for dentists to use gold in fillings, bridges, and crowns on the teeth of their patients. Gold is also used for various orthodontic equipment, due to its non-toxic nature and bio-compatibility.
- Art. Have you noticed grand buildings that seem to have been decked in gold, especially up on the roof? Or frames, furniture, and even moldings that looked like they are covered in gold? Chances are, they really are. Gold is used in decoration for centuries and the practice continues even now, because of its malleability and how it can be turned into sheets referred to as ‘gold leaf’ used for covering irregular shapes. Artisans also use colloidal gold in glass to create shades of purple or red.
- Healthcare. You might have been offered skincare products that are marketed to contain traces of gold. Their supposed benefits may be true or not but what is real is that gold is used for medical purposes, especially when dealing with arthritis. The Chinese have also used gold to cure ailments, like smallpox, and to remove mercury in humans for centuries.
- Food and Drinks. We already mentioned that gold is used for decorative purposes, especially in art, but did you know that gold is now also used to garnish various food and drinks? Although it is non-toxic, do note that it doesn’t have any nutritious benefits.
Gold is too soft and pricey to really be used by your construction contractor, but it’s definitely an interesting material with lots of purposes, and like a lot that you had never thought about.
Do you now see how truly valuable and useful gold is, beyond the gold bars and jewelry?