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Uses of gold

Gold’s historical allure is well known. Throughout the ages, civilisations have venerated the precious yellow metal, coveting its lustre and value. The idea of gold jewellery or coins is well established, but gold is also used in other ways - some that might surprise you!

Owing to five distinctive properties, gold holds an exceptional place in human history and is used for a variety of purposes. It is the many uses of gold that keep it in demand at all times, and ensure it will always have an intrinsic value.

What are the physical properties of gold?

The physical properties of gold are unique to the world of metals, and each one has its own benefits. It is the combination of all these properties that make gold such a useful metal.

  • It is very rare
  • It will not rust, and is non toxic
  • It is one of the most beautiful metals
  • It is easy to work, and extremely malleable
  • It has a high electrical conductivity

What is gold used for?

Gold is used for a surprising number of things. Many people will be familiar with its use in jewellery, and coins, but its industrial uses are numerous and also important in the demand for gold globally.

  • Wealth protection and a financial exchange
  • Decoration, jewellery and medals
  • Electronics
  • Space exploration
  • Medicine and dentistry

Uses of gold and its properties

Top 5 uses for gold

1) Wealth protection and a financial exchange

One of the oldest uses of gold is for coins, and other financial assets. Purchased by governments, central banks, financial institutions and private investors, gold is used as a physical store of wealth. The rarity of the yellow metal has helped maintain its value throughout the ages. Golds ability to maintain value while other assets are dropping means it is stored, as pure gold bars and coins, in huge vaults – or under floorboards – for its investment value alone.

The exact amount of gold bullion held for investment purposes is difficult to put an exact figure on. As well as national reserves, individuals can also own investment bullion. It is believed that the US holds the largest reserves but there has not been a physical full audit since Eisenhower’s time in the 1950s. Germany is believed to have the second largest reserves but both Russia and China are adding to their stockpiles at an increasing rate.

For a breakdown of the top ten countries with the highest gold reserves, click here.

2) Jewellery, adornments and medals

Jewellery, and other decorative gold products, account for the largest global use of gold. China and India are the two largest consumers, taking over half of all global production in 2018. In that year, over 1,200 tonnes of gold were consumed for jewellery in China, and over 500 tonnes in India. Whilst no doubt admiring the beauty and prestige of gold jewellery, many of these buyers will also have an eye to its investment value.

This precious metal has historically been used as a symbol of luxury, superiority and wealth. Besides jewellery, gold is used to increase the value of a huge range of decorative items, such as medals and badges. Goldleaf has traditionally enhanced artworks and, recently, artist Maurizio Cattelan has even exhibited a gold toilet in the Guggenheim museum in New York!

3) Electronics

Gold does not corrode, is a great conductor of electricity, and is highly resistant to heat. Physically, it is a soft, pliable metal and can be easily stretched or plated into thin coatings. For these reasons, gold is perfect to use in electronics, particularly for cables and connectors. With consumer technology growing annually, there is increasing demand from the electronics industry, particularly in cell phones. In 2018, electronics consumed over 1,400 tonnes of gold, and in 2017, it accounted for 34% of gold used in the US.

4) Space exploration

Closely allied with electronic uses, space exploration and satellites are another growing consumer of gold. Besides the numerous electronic components, thin coatings of the metal are used in for shields and visors, and golds dependability is essential for the high-risk situation of space travel and exploration.

Gold particles reflect infrared radiation from the sun, helping to keep temperatures down on darker panels and visors. Gold can also be used as a lubricant, and the volatility of organic lubricants makes them unsuitable to the extreme temperature ranges and high radiation of space.

5) Medicine and dentistry

Because it is non-reactive and non-toxic, gold has for many years been used in dentistry and medicine. New applications are being discovered every year, for example in prosthesis, where longevity is essential. Small amounts of gold are also injected as a treatment for Rheumatoid arthritis and muscle damage, and micro-particles are being used in the treatment of some cancers. Gold has even been used in Covid tests!

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