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What Is Gold Used For? 20 Common Uses For Gold

Gold and fiat cash.
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Of all the minerals mined from the Earth, none is more useful than gold. Its usefulness is derived from a diversity of special properties. Gold conducts electricity, does not tarnish, is very easy to work, can be drawn into wire, can be hammered into thin sheets, alloys with many other metals, can be melted and cast into highly detailed shapes, has a wonderful color and a brilliant luster. Gold is a memorable metal that occupies a special place in the human mind.

A Bit Of Gold History

When Spanish explorers first arrived in the “New World” they met the native people of South America. These two cultures had been separated by a vast ocean, they had never touched one another, they spoke different languages and entirely different lives. Yet they had one thing in common - they both held gold in the highest esteem and used it to make some of their most important objects.

Throughout the history of our planet, almost every established culture has used gold to symbolize power, beauty, purity, and accomplishment. Today we continue to use gold for our most significant objects: wedding rings, Olympic medals, Oscars, Grammys, money, crucifixes, and ecclesiastical art. No other substance of the same rarity holds a more visible and prominent place in our society.

Jewelry: The Primary Use Of Gold

Gold has been used to make ornamental objects and jewelry for thousands of years. Gold nuggets found in a stream are very easy to work and were probably one of the first metals used by humans. Today, most of the gold that is newly mined or recycled is used in the manufacture of jewelry. About 78% of the gold consumed each year is used in the manufacture of jewelry.

The special properties of gold make it perfect for manufacturing gold jewelry. These include very high luster, desirable yellow color, tarnish resistance, ability to be drawn into wires, hammered into sheets, or cast into shapes. These are all properties of an attractive metal that are easily worked into beautiful objects. Another extremely important factor that demands the use of gold as a jewelry metal is tradition. Important objects are expected to be made from gold.

Pure gold is too soft to stand up to the stresses applied to many jewelry items. Craftsmen learned that alloying gold with other metals such as copper, silver, and platinum would increase its durability. Since then most gold used to make jewelry is an alloy of gold with one or more other metals.

The alloys of gold have a lower value per unit of weight than pure gold. A standard of trade known as “karatage” was developed to designate the gold content of these alloys. Pure gold is known as 24 karat gold and is almost always marked with “24K”. An alloy that is 50% gold by weight is known as 12 karat gold (12/24ths) and is marked with “12K”. An alloy that contains 75% gold by weight is 18 karat (18/24=75%) and marked “18K”. In general, high-karat jewelry is softer and more resistant to tarnish - especially when in contact with perspiration.

Alloying gold with other metals changes the color of the finished products. An alloy of 75% gold, 16% silver, and 9% copper yields yellow gold. White gold is an alloy of 75% gold, 4% silver, 4% copper, and 17% palladium. Other alloys yield pink, green, peach, and even black-colored metals.

Financial Gold: Coinage, Bullion, Backing

Because gold is highly valued and in very limited supply, it has long been used as a medium of exchange or money. The first known use of gold in transactions were done using pieces of gold or pieces of silver. The rarity, usefulness, and desirability of gold make it a substance of long-term value. Gold works well for this purpose because it has a high value, and it is durable, portable, and easily divisible.

Some early printings of paper money were backed by gold held in safekeeping for every unit of money that was placed in circulation. The United States once used a “gold standard” and maintained a stockpile of gold to back every paper dollar in circulation.

Under this gold standard, any person could present paper currency to the government and demand in exchange an equal value of gold. The gold standard was once used by many nations, but it eventually became too cumbersome and is no longer used by any nation.

The gold used as a financial backing for the currency was most often held in the form of gold bars, also known as “gold bullion”. The use of gold bars kept manufacturing costs to a minimum and allowed convenient handling and storage. Today many governments, individuals, and institutions hold investments of gold in the convenient form of bullion.

The first gold coins were minted under the order of King Croesus of Lydia (a region of present-day Turkey) in about 560 BC. Gold coins were commonly used in transactions up through the early 1900s when paper currency became a more common form of exchange. Gold coins were issued in two types of units. Some were denominated in units of currency, such as dollars, while others were issued in standard weights, such as ounces or grams.

Today gold coins are no longer in wide use for financial transactions. However, gold coins issued in specific weights are popular ways for people to purchase and own small amounts of gold for investment. Gold coins are issued as “commemorative” items. Many people enjoy these commemorative coins because they have both a collectible value and a precious metal value.

A person on their phone.

Uses Of Gold In Electronics

The most important industrial use of gold is in the manufacture of electronics. Solid-state electronic devices use very low voltages and currents which are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at the contact points. Gold is a highly efficient conductor that can carry these tiny currents and remain free of corrosion. Electronic components made with gold are highly reliable. Gold is used in connectors, switch and relay contacts, soldered joints, connecting wires, and connection strips. 

A small amount of gold is used in almost every sophisticated electronic device. This includes cell phones, calculators, personal digital assistants, global positioning system (GPS) units, and other small electronic devices. Most large electronic appliances such as television sets also contain gold.

One challenge with the use of gold in very small quantities is the loss of metal from society. Nearly one billion cell phones are produced every year, and most of them contain about fifty cents worth of gold. Their average lifetime is under two years, and very few are currently recycled. Although the amount of gold is small in each device, their enormous numbers translate into a lot of unrecycled gold.

Use Of Gold In Dentistry

How would iron work as a dental filling? Not very well. Your dentist would need blacksmithing tools, your smile would be rusty after a filling, and you would need to get used to the taste of iron. Even at a much higher expense, gold is used in dentistry because of its superior performance and aesthetic appeal. Gold alloys are used for fillings, crowns, bridges, and orthodontic appliances. Gold is used in dentistry because it is chemically inert, nonallergenic, and easy for the dentist to work.

Medical Uses Of Gold

Gold is used as a drug to treat a small number of medical conditions. Injections of weak solutions of sodium aurothiomalate or aurothioglucose are sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Particles of a radioactive gold isotope are implanted in tissues to serve as a radiation source in the treatment of certain cancers.

Small amounts of gold are used to remedy a condition known as lagophthalmos, which is the inability of a person to close their eyes completely. This condition is treated by implanting small amounts of gold in the upper eyelid. The implanted gold “weights” the eyelid, and the force of gravity helps the eyelid close fully.

Radioactive gold is used in diagnosis. It is injected in a colloidal solution that can be tracked as a beta emitter as it passes through the body. Many surgical instruments, electronic equipment, and life-support devices are made using small amounts of gold. Gold is nonreactive in the instruments and is highly reliable in electronic equipment and life-support devices.

Uses Of Gold In Aerospace

If you are going to spend billions of dollars on a vehicle that when launched will travel on a voyage where the possibility of lubrication, maintenance, and repair is absolutely zero, then building it with extremely dependable materials is essential. This is exactly why gold is used in hundreds of ways in every space vehicle that NASA launches.

Gold is used in circuitry because it is a dependable conductor and connector. In addition, many parts of every space vehicle are fitted with a gold-coated polyester film. This film reflects infrared radiation and helps stabilize the temperature of the spacecraft.

Gold is also used as a lubricant between mechanical parts. In the vacuum of space, organic lubricants would volatilize and they would be broken down by the intense radiation beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Gold has a very low shear strength, and a thin film of gold between critical moving parts serves as a lubricant - the gold molecules slip past one another under the forces of friction and that provides a lubricant action.

Uses Of Gold In Awards And Status Symbols

What metal is used to make the crown worn by a king? Gold. This metal is selected for use because gold is the metal of the highest esteem. Gold is chosen for use in a king’s crown because it is the metal associated with the highest esteem and status.

Gold is associated with many positive qualities. Purity is another quality associated with gold. For this reason, gold is the metal of choice for religious objects. Gold is also used as the first place winner’s medal or trophy in almost any type of contest. First-place winners at the Olympic Games are given gold medals. The Academy Awards Oscars are gold awards. Music’s Grammy Awards are made of gold.

Uses Of Gold In Glassmaking

Gold has many uses in the production of glass. The most basic use in glassmaking is that of a pigment. A small amount of gold, if suspended in the glass when it is annealed, will produce a rich ruby color.

Gold is also used when making specialty glass for climate-controlled buildings and cases. A small amount of gold dispersed within the glass or coated onto the glass surface will reflect solar radiation outward, helping the buildings stay cool in the summer, and reflect internal heat inward, helping them stay warm in winter.

Gold Gilding And Gold Leaf

Gold has the highest malleability of any metal. This enables gold to be beaten into sheets that are only a few millionths of an inch thick. These thin sheets known as “gold leaf” can be applied over the irregular surfaces of picture frames, molding, or furniture.

Gold leaf is also used on the external and internal surfaces of buildings. This provides durable and corrosion-resistant covering. One of the most eye-catching uses of gold leaf is on the domes of religious buildings and other important structures. The cost of this “roofing material” is very high per square foot. However, the cost of gold is only a few percent of the total project cost. Most of the cost goes to the labor of highly skilled artisans who apply the gold leaf.

Printing

Gold ink is becoming increasingly popular with printing companies since photos printed in gold can produce high quality and long-lasting images. CD’s and DVD’s that have been coated in printed gold can also resist scratches and last longer.

Gold make up brushes.

Cosmetics & Beauty

Gold is frequently used in the cosmetics industry and has been hailed as a revolutionary ingredient in everything from topical skincare creams to lip balms and moisturizers. Gold nanoparticles have been used in the products of some pretty influential names in the beauty industry including L’Oreal and Dior.

Manufacturing

Gold is frequently used in manufacturing due to its ability to conduct heat and reflect light. It can also be used as a lubricant in any number of engineering applications due to its resistance to cold and welding.

Investment

Gold has been a popular commodity for centuries and is viewed by investors as a safe haven and an excellent store of wealth. Due to the fact that it is a tangible commodity with a long history of market performance, gold is often purchased by investors seeking to protect themselves against the risks of inflation and downturns in the economy.

Gold Going Digital

Gold has been digitized in various forms to open gold investment to those wishing to actively trade. Whether it takes the form of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), spread betting on the gold price, or Gold equity funds, the precious metal plays a growing role in investors’ portfolios.

Collateral For A Loan

In some countries, like India for example, gold is considered very precious and can be used as collateral against loans. As we move towards a more digitized financial system, tangible assets such as gold are likely to become more important, and using gold as collateral could become more commonplace.

Food & Drink

Some particularly up-market restaurants use gold shavings or gold leaf to decorate their more extravagant dishes. Gold is non-toxic and can be eaten without consequences, however, it can't be digested and passes straight through the body.

In Space

Gold plays a key role in protecting astronauts from harmful infrared rays from the sun. The visor on their helmet is coated with a thin layer of gold which acts as a filter. With such vast sums being invested in space research, reliability is the key, so the high cost of gold isn’t a deterrent to its usage.

Computers & Laptops

Gold is also frequently used in other electronic devices such as laptops and computers. It is one of the best natural conductors of electricity which is why it is often found in computer chips, allowing your computer to pass on, and receive information more easily.

Mobile Phones

Not many people know this, but gold can be found in the electronics of every single mobile device in the world. Research carried out by the World Gold Council, discovered that a single phone can contain up to 50 milligrams of gold.

Use Of Nanoparticles For Cancer Treatment

Colloidal gold nanoparticles are increasingly being used to help the delivery of chemotherapy. Their minute size and non-immunogenicity make their molecules ideal for targeted drug delivery systems. 

Future Uses Of Gold

Gold is too expensive to use by chance. Instead, it is used deliberately and only when less expensive substitutes cannot be identified. As a result, once a use is found for gold it is rarely abandoned for another metal. This means that the number of uses for gold has been increasing over time.

Most of the ways gold is used today have been developed only during the last two or three decades. This trend will likely continue. As our society requires more sophisticated and reliable materials, our uses for gold will increase. This combination of growing demand, few substitutes, and limited supply will cause the value and importance of gold to increase steadily over time. It is truly a metal of the future.

 

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All articles are provided as a third party analysis and do not necessarily reflect the explicit views of GSI Exchange and should not be construed as financial advice.

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