The Science of Gold

For nearly 6,000 years, humans have had an innate appreciation for gold – an almost awe-inspiring reverence for this yellow metal.

Sure, this metal can be stretched and fashioned into almost any conceivable shape, and conduct electricity like no other, but what exactly have we been thinking for so long?

To understand gold’s value, and ultimately the reasons to invest in gold, one needs to understand the science of gold.

The Periodic Table

All the substances that we know to exist in the universe today, which cannot be broken into simpler substances, can be found on the periodic table of the elements.

The table provides an array of the 118 chemical elements in existence, or rather, all ordinary matter in the universe. Of these, 94 occur naturally on earth, with gold being one of them.

These elements, and the combination of these elements known as compounds, usable to mankind, are known as natural resources. We consume and utilise these natural resources, via industry (mining, farming, manufacturing, technology) to meet our needs and desires as a civilisation.

Gold – The Indestructible Commodity

Commodity is the economic term used for an element or compound which is an economic good, and which various units or instances do not vary from each other (fungible). In the context of gold, the units of gold are commonly weighed in Troy ounces, and one ounce of pure gold does not differ in appearance or chemical properties from another.

Oxygen, another element, reacts with most of our natural resource compounds. Over time, oxygen causes almost every commodity to decay, establishing an ‘expiry date’ for the things we use.

There are eight noble metals, however, that are unreactive to oxygen, making them virtually indestructible. Gold, is one of these.

Additionally, gold is also resistant to most acids than any of the other precious metals mentioned above, only dissolving in aqua regia, a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, and in alkaline solutions of cyanide.

Gold – The Rarest

Of the eight noble metals, only four are commonly used as commodities: gold, silver, platinum and palladium. Of these, gold is the rarest.

How rare? All the gold ever mined is currently estimated at roughly 190,000 tonnes – only enough to form a gold cube of 21 metres on each side. This would allow it to comfortably fit into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Origins

Theories related to the origins of this elemental unit add to the notion of unrivalled rarity. Gold, much like other heavy elements, are believed to have been produced in supernovae – the phenomenon whereby a star explodes at the end of its life, sending the stellar materials (elements and gases) into space.

The gold found on earth, then, was thus theoretically ‘placed’ here when a star exploded close enough to our earth to ‘blast’ it with gold particles. This would have occurred billions of years before any life on Earth and won’t be happening again in our lifetimes.

If it did, we would probably be wiped out as a civilisation….

Supply and Opportunity Cost

Each year, the world mines an average of only 4,000 tonnes a year of gold. To put that into perspective, the world produces the same amount of iron ore every two minutes, and that amount of copper every 2 hours.

As we require roughly the same amount of labour and energy to dig up a ton of copper-bearing, as we do a ton of gold-bearing rock, the opportunity cost of producing a kilogram of gold is drastically more. .

As a result, gold will always be cost proportional (stable value) to all other resources over time, even if the price fluctuates in the short term.

Gold as money

As communities, we cooperate and exchange what we produce (goods and services). As civilisations grew, this complex latticework of transactions expanded, required a stable, non-perishable intermediate commodity that could be possessed in between exchanges.

This medium of exchange was effectively a technology created by humans to solve the inefficiencies with exchanging decaying, perishable commodities – we called this technology money.

Historically, many different commodities were chosen to be a certain society’s money, from squirrel hides, to cowry shells, to blocks of salt. Ultimately, however, civilisations resolved that gold, given its innate properties described above, was the optimal and most useful element to possess and trade as money as it best maintains its value over time.

Conclusion

Gold is irreplaceable, virtually indestructible; resource-expensive to extract; extremely rare; cannot be printed like fiat currency; and has a 6,000 year track record of storing economic value.

This makes gold the ultimate money and store of value- the perfect investment tool to protect your savings – and not because of government decree or some popular fad, but because science deems it so.