Gold FAQs

1. What is Gold and why is its chemical symbol Au?

Gold is a rare metallic element with a melting point of 1064 degrees centigrade and a boiling point of 2808 degrees centigrade. Its chemical symbol, Au, is short for the Latin word for gold, 'Aurum'. Aurum means 'Glowing Dawn'. It has several properties that have made it very beneficial to mankind over the years. For example, its excellent conductive properties and its inability to react with water or oxygen are notable.

 2. Where does the word Gold come from?

Research and history suggests the word gold appears to be derived from the Indo-European root 'yellow', reflecting one of the most obvious properties of gold. This is reflected in the similarities of the word gold in various languages: Gold (English), Gold(German), Guld (Danish), Gulden (Dutch), Goud (Afrikaans), Gull (Norwegian) and Kulta (Finnish). South Atlantic Auctions gives tribute to the languages in our Frequently Asked Questions Title.

 3. How much gold is there in the world?

So far it was estimated that all the gold ever mined amounts to about 193,000 metric tons.

 4. Why is gold measured in carats?

The answer to the measurement of gold goes back to ancient times in the Mediterranean /Middle East, when a carat became used as a measure of the purity of gold alloys. Please read Question 5. The purity of gold is now measured also in terms if fineness, i.e parts per thousand. Hence, 18 carats is 18/24th of 1000 parts = 750 fineness.

 5. What is a Carat?

A Carat (Karat in USA & Germany) was initially a unit of mass (weight) based on the Carob seed or bean used by ancient merchants in the Middle East. The Carob seed is from the Carob or locust bean tree. The carat is still used as such for the weight of gem stones (1 carat is about 200 mg). For gold, it has come to be used for measuring the purity of gold where pure gold is defined as 24 carats. How and when this change occurred is not clear. It does involve the Romans who also used the name Siliqua Graeca (Keration in Greek, Qirat in Arabic, now Carat in modern times) for the bean of the Carob tree.

The Romans also used the name Siliqua for a small silver coin which was one-twenty fourth of the golden solidus of Constantine. This latter had a mass of about 4.54 grams, so the Siliqua was approximately equivalent in value to the mass of 1 Keration or Siliqua Graeca of gold, i.e the value of 1/24th of a Solidus is about 1 Keration of gold, i.e 1 carat.  

6. Who owns most gold?

If we consider national gold reserves, then most gold is owned by the USA. Germany and the IMF follow the USA. If we include Jewellery ownership, then India is follows as the largest repository of gold in terms of total gold within the national boundaries. In terms of personal ownership, it is not known who owns the most, but is possibly a member of a ruling royal family in the East.

 7. How far would gold stretch if it were laid around the world?

 If we make all the gold ever produced into a thin wire of 5 microns (millionths of a meter) diameter, the finest one can draw a gold wire. Then all the gold would stretch around the circumference of the world an astonishing 7.2 million times.

 8. How much does it cost to run a gold mine?

Gold mining is very, very expensive, especially in the deep mines of South Africa where mining is carried out at depths of 3000 meters and proposals to mine even deeper at 4,500 meters are being pursued. Average mining costs are US $238/troy ounce gold average but these can vary widely depending on mining type and ore quality. Richer ores mined at the surface (open cast mining) are significantly less expensive to mine than underground mining at depth. Such mining requires high priced sinking of shafts far into the ground.

 9. How does a gold mine work?

The gold-containing ore has to be dug from the surface or blasted from the rock face underground. After this it is hauled to the surface and milled to release the gold. Then the gold is then separated from the rock (gangue) by techniques such as flotation, smelted to a gold-rich dori and cast into bars.

 These are then refined to gold bars by the Miller chlorination process to a purity of 99.5%. If higher purity is needed or platinum group metal contaminants are present, this gold is further refined by the Wohlwill electrlytic process to 99.9% purity. Mine tailings containing low amounts of gold may be treated with cyanide to dissolve the gold, and this is then extracted by the carbon in pulp technique before smelting and refining.  

 10. How much does gold bar weigh?

Gold is made into a large number of different bars of different weights. The most common are the large 'London Good Delivery Bars.' These bars are traded internationally and weigh about 400 Troy Ounces, i.e. 12.5 kg/ 27 lbs. Each. Others are denominated in kilograms, grams, troy ounces, etc. In grams, bars range from 1 g up to 10 kg. In troy oz, from 1/10 tr.oz. up to 400 tr.oz.. Other bars include tola bars and Tael bars.

 11. Alchemy: Can base metals be turned into gold?

All metal atoms are made of the same building blocks of protons, neutrons and electrons, but they are made in different quantities. Given this, it could be possible to change base metals into gold or any other metal of value to mankind. In practice, it is achieved only in nuclear reactions, where heavy radioactive metals decay into other lighter elements, including some isotopes of gold. The reality is that man's ancient dream of turning base metals into gold is not a practical proposition. So it remains a dream.

 12. How big is a ton of gold?

By tradition, gold is weighed in Troy Ounces (31.1035 grams). With the density of gold at 19.32 g/cm3, a troy ounce of gold would have a volume of 1.64 cm3. A metric tone (equals 1,000kg = 32,150.72 troy ounces) of gold would therefore have a volume of 51, 760 cm3 (i.e. 1.64 x 32,150.72), which would be equivalent to a cube of side 37.27cm (Approx. 1' 3'').

 13. Who was the legendary King said to have turned everything he touched into gold?

King Midas was the legendary King said to have turned everything he touched into gold.

 14. What are the qualities of gold that do not just apply to Jewellery, but to many modern processes?

Gold has endured the test of time and has certainly found its place in the 21st century among today's modern technology. Gold is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and so it has been widely used in the electrical and electronics industries. Gold plating can be used in the circuitry of calculators, telephones, and tape recorders. Gold has been used on artificial satellites and space vehicles. Astronauts going into space use gold on their helmet visors and space suits to reflect the intense radiation of the sun.

 15. What can acids, abrasives and other harsh chemicals do to your gold?

Acids, abrasive and other harsh chemicals found in some common household cleaning solutions can weaken your gold or damage its finish. So it is best to cover up rings and bracelets with rubber gloves while doing heavy-duty cleaning. Or better yet, take them off altogether.

 16. How can gold lose its luster?

Gold can lose its luster if repeatedly exposed to dust, moisture, perspiration and makeup. So make sure to clean your Jewellery regularly. You can use lukewarm water, or bring it to your local jeweler and have it professionally steam-cleaned.

 17. What does chlorine do to gold?

Beware of chemicals. Chlorine is the worst enemy of gold. Repeated exposure can weaken gold's structure, eventually leading to breakage. So keep your gold Jewellery away from chlorinated cleaning products and out of swimming pools and Jacuzzi's.

 18. What country measures wealth in terms of one's gold holdings?

In rural India, gold is a big status symbol where people measure wealth in terms of gold holdings on individuals.  

19. Why invest in gold?

Gold is completely free of credit risk, although it bears a market risk, gold has always been a secure refuge in unsettled times. Its 'safe haven' attributes attract wise investors. Gold has proved itself to be an effective way to manage wealth. For at least 200 years the price of gold has kept pace with inflation. Alan Greenspan, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the United States of America, said "Gold still represents the ultimate form of payment in the world."  

20. Why is the number 50 of relevance to gold?

Gold is the recommended Jewellery gift for couples celebrating their 50th anniversary.

 21. What did King Ferdinand of Spain say about gold in the early 1500's?

In the early 1500's, King Ferdinand of Spain laid down the priorities as his conquistadors set out for the New World. "Get gold," he told them, "Humanely if possible, but at all costs, get gold."  

22. What is the biggest source of demand for gold in 2006?

At 70%, the biggest source of gold demand in the year 2006 is for the production and consumption of Jewellery.

 23. What is the most expensive gold coin in the world?

One of the world's rarest and most sought after collector coins, the 1933 Double Eagle, was sold at Sotheby's auction house in New York on Tuesday 30th July 2002 for the record sum of $7.59 million.

  The coin, featuring a standing Liberty on one side and an eagle on the other, was minted at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. However, it was not circulated because President Roosevelt abandoned the Gold Standard. After the abandonment, all 445,500 of the coins, which each had a face value of $20, were put into storage and demanded by Roosevelt to be melted down in 1937. It was not until the 1940s that it was discovered ten coins had not been returned.  

Nine coins were subsequently recovered but one coin got away and ended up in the collection of King Farouk of Egypt. It mysteriously disappeared again in the mid 1950s and resurfaced in 1996 when a UK coin dealer tried to sell it to undercover Secret Service agents in New York.  

After prolonged legal wrangling it was agreed that the coin be sold at auction with the proceeds split between the dealer and the US Mint's enterprise fund. So said, this was done.

24. What percent of annual gold consumption is recycled each year?

Because of its high value, gold has always been recycled. This even dates back to before the Bronze Age. Hence, modern Jewellery and even dental crown may have some gold that was mined in prehistoric times and formed part of a valued gold artifact or Jewellery belonging to royalty or other high placed official in ancient civilizations. Today, at least 15% of annual gold consumption is recycled each year.