Gold History & Knowledge

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', which literally means 'Glowing Dawn'. It has several properties that have made it very useful to mankind over the years, notably its excellent conductive properties and its inability to react with water or oxygen.

2.Where does the word Gold come from?

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).

3. How much gold is there in the world?

At the end of 2001, it is estimated that all the gold ever mined amounts to about 145,000 tonnes...

4. Why is gold measured in Karats?

This stems back to ancient times in the Mediterranean /Middle East, when a karat became used as a measure of the purity of gold alloys (see next Question 5). The purity of gold is now measured also in terms if fineness, i.e parts per thousand. Thus 14 karats is 14/24th of 1000 parts = 583 fineness.

5. What is a Karat?

A Karat (Carat in some other countries) was originally 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 Karats. 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 grammes, 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 karat.

6. Who owns most gold?

If we take national gold reserves, then most gold is owned by the USA followed by Germany and the IMF. If we include jewellery ownership, then India is 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 much new gold is produced per year?

In 2001, mine production amounted to 2,604 tonnes, or 67% of total gold demand in that year. Gold production has been growing for years, but the real acceleration took place after the late 1970s, when output was in the region of 1,500 tpa. This year’s output will fall short of production levels in 2001. This is partly for specific operational reasons at some of the larger mines (Grasberg and Porgera), along with lower grades at some of the operations in Nevada. The reduction in exploration and development expenditure over the past five years is leading a number of analysts to suggest that, with other operations nearing the end of their lives, global production is likely to drop slightly over the next two to three years – subject always of course to price.

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

Gold mining is very capital intensive, particularly 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. Typical 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) is considerably cheaper to mine than underground mining at depth. Such mining requires expensive sinking of shafts deep 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. This is then hauled to the surface and milled to release the gold. The gold is then separated from the rock (gangue) by techniques such as flotation, smelted to a gold-rich doré 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 electrolytic 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 a gold bar weigh?

Gold is made into a large number of different bars of different weights. The most well known are the large 'London Good Delivery Bars' which are traded internationally. These 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 gr. up to 10 kg. In troy oz, from 1/10 tr.oz. up to 400 tr.oz.

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