"The ultimate measure of commercial success for a recording act is having a gold or platinum record. The recording industry Association of America awards a gold record to any single or album that sells 500,000 copies" – I bought this copy of The Billboard Book of Gold and Platinum Records at Sedgefield car-boot sale.
Typically a gold album, single or cd is electroplated. A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet measuring roughly 5 meters on a side. A sheet of gold leaf can be as thin as 0.000127 millimeters, or about 400 times thinner than a human hair.
How much gold is in a gold disc? Is a techno record, with more pits going to worth substantially more than easy-listening muzak? I have written to several manufacturers of gold discs and await a reply.
To date South Africa has produced one third of all the world's known gold mined since the Middle Ages, from depths of over four kilometres below the surface of the earth. So there's a good chance that the gold covering the Bee Gees 'How Deep is your Love?" gold disc is from there.
An Australian digger, George Harrison, who, in 1886 crushed and panned some rock from the land of Witwatersrand, discovered the world’s richest goldfield. He had discovered the main reef at the future site of Johannesburg, which became the world's richest goldfield and the largest mining city with a population of 2,000,000 people.
Gold production is increasingly shifting to low-income or lower-middle-income countries which together accounted for two thirds of global output in 2004.
Gold is the leading export for developing countries such as Mali (59% of goods exports in 2003), Tanzania (44%), Ghana (32%), Guyana (26%) and the second most important for Guinea (23%)." - (figures from Trustingold.com)
One company that specializes in the mining of gold - Barrick - operate on five continents. They have 27 producing mines and 8 exploration mines. These are situated in the United States, Canada, Tanzania, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Australia and Papau New Guinea.
Opencast mining practices, the most profitable form of gold mining which Barrick practice on 5 continents produces on average 70 tons of waste (including a substantial amount of arsenic waste) for every ounce of gold as highlighted by CorpWatch in an article available here entitled Barrick's Dirty Secrets
Barrick has a large amount of literature on corporate responsibility located on their website, and a rebuttal to some of the claims in the CorpWatch article in a pdf available here called The Facts and Corpwatch
A rcent accident at a mine owned by Harmony Gold Mining also highlights the poor working conditions of miners in South Africa, three thousand of whom were trapped over a kilometre underground, some for more than two days. - BBC news article here
So, after going to all that trouble and waste to extract the gold, where does the gold end up? Some of it – quite a large amount of it in fact ends up under 33 Liberty Street, Manhattan, USA, which is the address of the Federal Reserve Bank, and whose reserves lie five floors beneath the streets. The bank began 'receiving' its gold during the World Wars, acting as a giant safety deposit box and serving as guardian of the precious metal, which it protects at no charge as a gesture of good will to other nations. Which is nice, isn’t it?
Only 2% of the 9,000 tons (700,000 bars) of the stored gold belongs to the United States. Of the 63 account holders, 49 are countries; the rest belong to international organizations. It is worth approximately US$116 billion and is reputedly the largest gold repository in the world, though this can’t be confirmed as the Swiss are a little more reserved about their reserves and don’t report their gold stocks, much less allow you to go on a tour of them.
Another country whose trading structure in gold is balanced on the opaque side is the UK. Members of the London bullion market typically trade with each other and with their clients on a ‘principal-to-principal basis’. All risks, including those of credit, are between the two parties to a transaction.
Unlike a futures exchange, where trading is based around standard contract units, settlement dates and delivery specifications, this market allows what the LBM refer to as ‘flexibility’, which, when browsing their literature I took to mean ‘confidentiality’, as transactions are conducted solely between the two principles involved.
The World Gold Council is the marketing organisation for the global gold market, and as such, its primary objective is to drive the demand for gold in all its forms. Jewellery 'demand' accounts for around 70% of total consumption. The WGC highlights marketing strategies for women's jewellery. "Gold jewellery is perceived to be an integral part of a woman’s appearance. Our research showed that gold jewellery is considered by the majority of the consumer segments to be a necessary item rather than just an accessory – women derive strong emotional benefits from wearing gold jewellery, it is believed to complete a woman’s appearance. - A Passion for Gold:Realising Potential in the Gold Market Consumer Research Summary
"India is the world's largest gold jewellery market by volume accounting for around 590 tonnes of consumption demand in 2005. Gold jewellery buying is associated with a number of festivals and, in particular, with weddings. The gold given at weddings is important for women as it traditionally remains her property. For festivals, Diwali is a traditional gold giving occasion. Akshaya Tritya has become important in the south, encouraged by WGC promotions. The majority of gold used in India is imported but most jewellery is fabricated within the country. Indeed India has a thriving jewellery industry and has become a major exporter.
In terms of consumption demand, the USA is the world's second largest gold jewellery market by volume (around 350 tonnes) and the largest by retail value (around $16billion). Retail value refers to the value of jewellery sold rather than the gold content." – from Trustingold.com
Gold was one of the first metals to come into common use (estimated at somewhere between 6000 and 9000 years ago as it was recoverable in metallic form without the need for sophisticated refining processes undiscovered at that point.
Since alluvial gold (the kind that’s just lying around) has pretty much all been picked up, people have increasingly gone to great lengths to find ways of extracting the gold that is in harder to get at forms.
There is of course the alchemist’s approach – the attempt to use lead (atomic number 82) and transmute it to gold (atomic number 79).
This involves changing the atomic number – the number of protons – but this can’t be altered by any chemical means. Using physics, however, you can add or remove protons and transmute one element into another. The problem lies in the fact that lead is stable, so forcing it to release three protons requires a vast input of energy, which greatly surpasses the value of the resulting gold. If (or when depending on what your favourite reading material is) we get to the stage that we can successfully convert matter into energy in a controlled and efficient manner, this would be a highly likely daily occurrence available in hobby kits (available at a car-boot sale near you) throughout the world. – One gram of matter properly converted would keep an old-fashioned 100 watt lightbulb burning for 28,000 years.
As this hasn’t happened yet, (at least in a commercially bottle-able form) it may explain the fact that in the Middle Ages, an ounce of gold would get you about 307 loaves of bread, and that, in 2007, an ounce of gold will still get you around the same 307 loaves of bread.
So it’s possible to transmute lead into gold, but there are also reports that it has been done in a tiny quantity by Glenn Seaborg in 1980. A later report of accidental alchemy dating from 1972 has also been doing the rounds. Here, the story goes that Soviet physicists at a research facility in Siberia accidentally discovered a reaction that transmuted the lead shielding of their experimental reactor to gold.
Looking skywards, the nucleosynthesis that occurs in the stellar explosions of supernovae regularly transmute elements, Here, however, gold is turned into lead, and never the other way round, which may partly account for the difference in value.
Back down to the Earth, still others have attempted to extract gold from seawater. Even at a conservative estimate of 10 ppt of gold in seawater, there is about 25 billion ounces of gold in solution in the oceans. Throughout the course of human history, a total of about 3.3 billion ounces of gold have been unearthed, which is an amount equivalent to a cube that measures 55 feet on one side, or thereabouts. This gold again, however, has so far not been commercially viable to extract.
A much more cost-effective way of extracting gold would be to employ sharp-eyed people at the end of sewer pipes to pick up wedding rings and the like that have accidentally made their way down the plug hole before they get to the sea.
If, after reading this, you’re considering to join countless others in the pursuit of all that glitters, there are more cost-effective ways of sizing up whether there is gold in them there hills.
Termites have also been used as a reliable record of where gold can be found:
“Maps of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), about 60 kilometres north of Que Que (now Kwe Kwe) show a gold mine named Termite founded by the Black brothers in the 1920s. They established the presence of gold by collecting a mass of termites from a mound, rendering them down and sampling the residue. They used the same methods to establish the nearby Leopard, Leopardess and Lion mines.” (From issue 2615 of New Scientist magazine, 04 August 2007, page 21)
Gold appears non-toxic in plants and trees and is pushed into the extremities, into the leaves. Assayers sometimes use leaves as a non-intrusive form of mapping for gold.
In 1998 there were widespread reports of scientists using this property to mop up gold using a process used in other mining industries as part of their clean-up operations called phytoextraction. This was being done on the spoil heaps of old mines in New Zealand, by adding a chemical reagent, ammonium thiocyanate, to the soil and growing Indian mustard plants. This allows gold to concentrate in the plant a thousand times more effectively than it would otherwise do. To remove the gold, the scientists simply harvest and burn the plants (and can generate electricity to be sold whilst they do this), and then smelt gold from the ashes.
Andrew Dunn of the BBC Science Unit reported back in October 7th 1998 that “The scientists, led by phytoextraction expert Professor Robert Brooks from Massey University in Palmerston North, say they are trying to reduce the amount of thiocyanate they use to make the process cheaper and to allow the plants to grow for longer and accumulate more gold.
If they succeed the process could become cost-effective.”
Now, I sense a problem here, in that, if the process becomes cost effective, the price of gold should theoretically go down, thus reducing the cost-effectiveness of doing it in the first place. All seems to have gone a little quiet though, so perhaps Professor Brooks is taking a leaf out of the diamond trades book and keeping the quantity available a secret.
If anyone wishes to try this in the UK, Carmarthenshire had a gold mine in operation from Roman times until the 20th Century, and if Indian mustard plants are unavailable, you could try one of its relatives such as the cabbage, caulifower, brussel sprout or broccoli.
Gold has long been revered for its mystical qualities, the warding off of spirits and the healing of the sick. John Dee was charged with finding the elixir of life for Queen Elizabeth One to enable her to live forever (which in re-incarnated form as Elizabeth Two has been achieved according to Prince Charles – perhaps he should be using one of gold mining’s nasty by-products to achieve the succession quicker – see under arsenic.)
So, throughout the ages gold was used medicinally, and new medicinal uses are being found today. A radioactive isotope of gold, gold-198, is used for treating cancer. Gold helps focus lasers more accurately, allowing for greater accuracy in medical procedures for heart conditions and tumors. Gold in the form of AuNa3O6S4 is used as a treatment for arthritis. Biochemists also use gold to bond with complex and compound materials, such as proteins, to create drugs.
‘Cold Welding’ is a useful property of gold in its pure form. Two pieces of pure gold will "weld" together the instant they are brought into contact with each other. The contact surfaces of the gold diffuse into each other, creating a solid metallic bond.
This property is in everyday use in the manufacture of many microelectronic "chips" where thin pure gold wires will instantly cold-weld themselves to the gold plated pads of the circuit etchings.
This enables different elements of the circuitry to be interconnected without the use of heat and without risk of power loss due to the inherent electrical resistance of more conventional connections.
This, together with the fact that it’s a good conductor of heat and electricity and doesn’t tarnish when it is exposed to the air, means that it’s used in many modern goods that need reliable contacts such as airbag circuits in cars, as gold bonded compressor vanes in aeroplanes to cool their turbines from exhaust that can reach 1150 degrees Farenheit.
Even the people that mine gold (and other ores) underground rely on gold activated sensors to warn of low levels of oxygen.
As it’s also a good reflector of infrared radiation it’s also used to help shield everything from skyscrapers to spacecraft from the sun's heat. In spacewalks, an astronaut relies on gold coating to protect the vital lifeline tethering him to the ship, while the astronaut's eyes are shielded from the sun's rays by a gold-coated visor.
It’s used in weather monitoring in geo-stationary weather satellites, where sheets of gold-coated Mylar deflect heat that would otherwise degrade their performance.
In the Hubble telescope, all parts of its electronic camera are coated with gold to insulate against heat damaging its celestial snapshots.
It’s even used to preserve the life of is used to preserve the life of photographs by replacing the silver atoms present in an image in the form of Chlorauric acid (HAuCl4)
I could go on, but won’t.