What is Gold? Definitions, Facts & Uses


What is Gold?

Gold is a precious metal that is yellow, bright, and soft, yet dense. It is conductive, malleable, and ductile in its pure form. This chemical element has an atomic number of 79, an atomic mass of 196.96657 u, and the symbol Au. Gold is used in jewelry, investments, electronics, aerospace, medicine, and more. Gold can also refer to a deep, shiny, yellow, or yellow-brown color. The term "gold" is also used as an adjective to describe something made of gold or has the color gold.

Pure gold, fine gold, or 24-karat gold refers to the metal refined to 99.9% purity. Pure gold is not suitable for jewelry because it is soft. It is normally in the form of bullion.

Gold bullion is the pure precious metal formed into bars, rounds, or ingots. Bullion is used in commodities trading, central bank reserve assets, and gold investing.

Gold nuggets are naturally occurring pieces of metal. These are pieces that have broken off the main lode of gold because of weathering or mining. Nuggets found in rivers or streams are called alluvial gold or placer gold. Alluvial means derived from alluvium. Alluvium refers to loose silt, sand, or gravel deposited on river beds. Placer gold is gold found through placer mining. Placer mining is the process of harvesting gold and other rare-earth minerals from alluvial deposits.

Gold ore is the deposit of gold encased with different rocks and minerals. Gold ore is found as nuggets or in hard rock mining veins or lode. Native gold can form minerals with quartz, pyrite, calaverite, and sylvanite. It is also found as a naturally occurring alloy like electrum, an alloy of gold and silver.

Gold alloy is a mixture of gold with other metals to make it harder because the pure metal is soft.

Yellow gold is an alloy of gold, silver, copper, and zinc. It is hypoallergenic and tarnish-resistant. It is used to make high-value jewelry at 75% purity or 18 karats. Lower-purity forms of yellow gold are also available at cheaper values.

White gold is an alloy of gold, nickel, and zinc usually made at 18 karats or 75% purity. It was made to resemble platinum. White gold is softer and more malleable. It is also less expensive than platinum and formed to make more intricate designs.

Rose gold, or pink gold, is a pink-colored alloy of pure gold, copper, and sometimes silver. It can be made up to 18 karats. The pink hue can be deepened by increasing the concentration of copper.

A gold coin is a high-purity gold used in the past as currency but is now treated as a valuable collectible, an investment product, or a store of value. They are no longer used as legal tender because the metal value is now much higher than the currency value.

Gold leaf is a thin sheet of gold produced by hammering or beating. It is used for decorations in gilding. Because gold is malleable, a 0.2-inch wide nugget of gold can be hammered into a sheet of about 5.4 sq. ft.

Gold vermeil is jewelry made of high-quality sterling silver plated with gold. It differs from standard gold plating, which uses metals like brass or copper instead of silver.

Paper gold, or digital gold, is paper or digital securities backed by physical gold or gold-related assets. Examples are gold mutual funds, gold ETFs, and sovereign gold bonds. Bitcoin has also been referred to as “digital gold” although the cryptocurrency does not have any link to physical gold.

The many uses of gold

Gold is primarily used in jewelry and investment. In jewelry, it is used to make rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and watches. It can be shaped into many intricate designs. It is durable and will not tarnish. It is also hypoallergenic, making it desirable for more users.

Gold use as investment

  • Physical gold collectibles such as gold coins, and jewelry. The advantage of owning physical gold is that you have a tangible asset that's universally recognized for its value. However, there are costs related to storage, insurance, and transaction fees.
  • Physical gold is also used to protect a retirement portfolio through a gold IRA.
  • Gold ETFs are funds that track the price of gold. They can be bought and sold like stocks on a stock exchange. This gives the investor exposure to gold without having physical gold in possession.
  • You can also gain exposure to gold through gold mining stocks. The value of the stock does not perfectly track gold price but you can profit from their growth and success. This can be risky as its subject to the risks of running a mining operation.
  • Gold mutual funds invest in a variety of gold-related assets, such as gold mining stocks. They provide more diversification compared to investing in individual gold mining stocks or physical gold but also carry similar risks.
  • Gold Futures and Options are derivative contracts used to speculate on the future price of gold. These can provide high potential returns but also carry significant risks.
  • Digital Gold or Gold Tokens are blockchain-based assets that represent a certain amount of physical gold stored in a secure location. They allow for fractional ownership and easy trading of gold, but they're a newer type of investment and may carry risks related to the technology and the reliability of the token issuer.
  • Gold certificates are documents issued by a company that owns gold. These certificates entitle the holder to a specific amount of gold. They can be bought and sold, but the buyer must trust that the issuer actually has the gold in question.

Gold use in currency

  • Gold is a very durable metal. It doesn't corrode or tarnish, unlike many other metals, so gold coins or other forms of gold currency can last for centuries.
  • Gold can be divided into smaller parts without losing its value. You can melt down a gold coin and make smaller coins, or use tiny amounts of gold to trade for less valuable goods, and each piece will still be valuable based on its gold content.
  • Gold is consistently the same wherever you find it. Unlike gemstones, which can vary widely, gold is the same anywhere else. This means gold coins have the same value everywhere.
  • Gold is malleable and ductile. It can easily be minted into coins or shaped into bars for trading.
  • Gold is rare and that makes it a good store of value.
  • Gold is very dense that a largely valuable amount can be stored in a small and easily transportable form.
  • Gold is chemically inert and is not affected by air, heat, moisture, and most solvents. It doesn't rust or tarnish and maintains its appearance over time. Gold coins retain their value over a long period of time.
  • Although the modern financial system has moved beyond currencies backed by a gold standard, gold continues to be considered a valuable asset and a hedge against inflation or economic instability.

Gold uses in computers, electronics, and aerospace

  • Gold is used in connectors, switches, and relay contacts. It ensures a reliable flow of electricity. You'll find gold connectors in many devices, including computers, televisions, and high-speed internet equipment.
  • Gold is used for wiring in some high-end electronics, especially in critical components where data transfer is vital. Its excellent conductivity makes it a good choice for this purpose.
  • Many computers use gold-plated edge connectors to ensure a reliable flow of electricity. Gold is also used in the tiny wires used to connect the parts of integrated circuits, microprocessors, and memory chips.
  • Because of its resistance to tarnish and corrosion, gold is used in some soldering applications to create a strong, stable, and long-lasting joint.
  • In satellites and other space equipment, gold is used as a radiation shield. It protects astronauts and delicate electronic components from radiation in space. It’s used in spacecraft windows and helmet visors.
  • In the vacuum of space, common lubricants like oil and grease can't be used because they will vaporize. Gold remains lustrous and malleable even in these extreme conditions. It can be used in thin layers to lubricate mechanical parts and reduce wear.
  • Gold's high reflectivity in the infrared part of the spectrum makes it an excellent material for infrared reflectors that help control the temperature of the spacecraft.
  • Some types of fuel cells use gold in various components due to its excellent corrosion resistance and conductive properties.

Gold uses in glassmaking

  • The gold ruby glass, also known as "cranberry glass," is a red glass made by adding gold salts or colloidal gold to molten glass. The glass is then reheated, making the gold precipitate into tiny, uniformly distributed particles. These particles scatter light and give the glass a rich, red color.
  • Gold is applied as a thin, decorative coating to the surface of glass objects, such as ornaments or the tops of fancy perfume bottles. It can also be used to make mirrors, where the gold layer is coated on the back of a piece of glass.
  • Gold is used in radiation-shielding glass which is used not just in spacecraft but in medical or industrial applications as well.
  • Gold can be used in stained glass to create a range of colors, from reds and pinks (from tiny particles of gold) to blues and greens (from gold in a higher oxidation state). Some of the beautiful, vibrant colors seen in stained glass windows of old churches were created using gold.
  • Many artists use gold leaf or gold dust in their glass works to create beautiful, luminous effects.

Gold uses in dentistry and medicine

  • Gold is an excellent material for dental crowns, bridges, and implants due to its malleability, durability, and biocompatibility. A gold crown can be very thin yet incredibly strong, meaning less tooth structure needs to be removed before placement. Gold crowns also cause minimal wear to the opposing tooth.
  • Gold foil can be used for fillings because it can last longer than amalgam or composite fillings.  If a tooth is too damaged for a filling but not enough for a crown; the inlays and onlays can be made of gold.
  • Gold is sometimes used in orthodontic appliances or braces due to its workability and resistance to corrosion. It can also be used in the production of prosthetic devices, including temporomandibular joint (TMJ) replacements.
  • Gold salts, most notably aurothiomalate (Myochrysine), have been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis for decades. They're believed to help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness, though their use has decreased with the development of newer drugs.
  • Gold nanoparticles are being explored as a means of delivering drugs directly to cancer cells, which can help to destroy the cancer cells without damaging healthy cells around them. This is still in the experimental stage, but early results are promising.
  • Gold nanoparticles can be used in various diagnostic tests. For example, pregnancy tests often use gold nanoparticles coated with antibodies that bind to the pregnancy hormone hCG.
  • Gold's excellent biocompatibility and resistance to bacteria and corrosion make it useful in certain surgical instruments and implants. For example, gold wires can be used in surgical sutures, and gold implants can be used to help repair damaged blood vessels.
  • Gold-198, a radioactive isotope of gold, is used in some forms of nuclear medicine, including both diagnostic imaging and treatment.
  • Gold's excellent electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion make it valuable in the electronics found in various medical devices, including pacemakers and cochlear implants..

Gold uses in chemistry

  • Gold nanoparticles are highly effective catalysts for a number of chemical reactions such as the oxidation of carbon monoxide (CO) into carbon dioxide (CO2). This is a reaction that's critical for the operation of devices like fuel cells.
  • Gold's ability to form compounds with particles at the nanometer scale makes it important in the field of nanotechnology. These particles have unique properties that differ from bulk gold, including high surface area and quantum confinement.
  • Gold is used in chemical analysis techniques. For example, in inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), gold is used to correct the data for the effects of matrix interferences due to its stable nature.
  • Gold electrodes are used in electrochemistry due to their high conductivity and resistance to oxidation and corrosion.
  • This branch of organometallic chemistry explores compounds containing gold–carbon bonds. They are used in several reactions of academic interest and also have implications for catalysis.
  • Gold nanoparticles are used to develop chemosensors because of their optical properties. They can offer high selectivity and sensitivity for the detection of metal ions, anions, and molecules.

25 interesting facts about gold

Gold economic facts

  1. The US Federal Reserve held 8,134 metric tonnes of gold in 2021. At its peak in 1973, the Fed stored more than 12,000 metric tonnes of monetary gold. New York’s US Federal Reserve Bank is reported to hold 25% of the world's gold reserves.
  2. In 2018, China led the world in gold mining production. Next was Australia, followed by Russia, the US, and Canada.
  3. China was also the world's biggest consumer of gold in 2018. India is a close second, followed by the United States, Germany, and Thailand.
  4. The Swiss Franc was the last remaining country to have a gold-backed currency. It converted into a fiat currency in 1999. Fiat currency is a currency designated by the government
  5. Gold is rarer than diamonds. A one-troy-ounce gold nugget is rarer than a five-carat mined diamond. Diamond is made of carbon and carbon is one of Earth’s most abundant elements. The average concentration of gold in the Earth’s crust is 5 parts per billion. This means you will find only 5 kg of gold in 1 billion kilograms of the earth's crust.
  6. The standard unit of traded gold is 400 troy ounces. It is called the “London Good Delivery Bar”. There are just over 31 grams in a troy ounce of gold.
  7. Gold has applications in electronics and computers, such as connectors and wires. Unlike other conductive metals like copper and silver, it does not tarnish or corrode.
  8. The world’s oceans contain up to 15,000 metric tonnes of gold. It's estimated that there's one gram of gold for every 100 million metric tons of ocean water in the Atlantic and North Pacific. There is also gold on the seafloor. However, it's not yet practical to extract gold from seawater or mine it on the seafloor.
  9. Every continent on Earth has gold.

Gold historical facts

  1. All the gold in the world came from outer space. Gold was deposited to earth by bombarding meteorites over 200 million years after the earth formed.
  2. Experts estimate that humans have mined around 187,200 metric tonnes of gold so far. All of the gold ever mined would fit into a 22 cubic meter box.
  3. The first gold coins in history were made in the Kingdom of Lydia, now Western Turkey, around 600 BC. They were made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold. King Croesus of Lydia made the first pure gold coins. They were made with standard weights and purity which played a crucial in the growth of trade during that time.
  4. The Perth Mint in Western Australia created the largest gold coin ever in 2012. It weighed one metric tonne and measured 80 cm (31.4 inches) in diameter.
  5. gold rush is a rush of miners to an area where gold and other precious metals are first discovered. An estimated 90,000 people joined the California Gold Rush in 1849. They were called “49ers”. By 1855, over 300,000 people went to California seeking gold and putting up businesses. Among them were Levi Strauss, Mark Twain, and Lotta Crabtree, one of the famous actresses of that era.
  6. The largest gold nugget ever was the “Welcome Stranger”. It weighed 2316 troy ounces and was found at Moliagul in Australia in 1869.
  7. The symbol for gold—Au—comes from the old Latin name for gold, aurum, which means "shining dawn" or "glow of sunrise." The word gold comes from old Germanic words-"gulþ" and "ghel"-, meaning "yellow/green."

Gold physical and chemical facts

  1. The boiling point of gold is 2808 degrees centigrade. It melts at 1064 degrees centigrade.
  2. Gold is a highly dense metal having a density of 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter. It weighs 19.3 times as much as water. Even with this high density, it is soft, malleable, and ductile.
  3. Gold is the only yellow metal. All other metals darken or turn a yellowish color after they have oxidized or reacted with other chemicals.
  4. Although gold is a heavy, dense metal, it is generally nontoxic but can be an allergen for some. Gold metal flakes may be eaten in foods or drinks. This is demonstrated by Chef Nusr-Et Gokce, also known as Salt Bae, in his Nusr-Et Steakhouse. He has steak covered in 24-karat edible gold leaf.
  5. Gold is a 'noble' metal. A noble metal does not react with other substances. It does not rust, oxidize, or lose its shine. It resists most acids. It is almost indestructible. Only a hydrochloric and nitric acid mixture, called aqua regia, can dissolve gold.
  6. Gold can be melted, re-melted, and used over and over again. Recycled gold retains its look and luster. Gold is considered sustainable jewelry.
  7. One ounce of 24-karat gold can be formed into a sheet of 9 square meters because gold is very malleable. Gold is the most malleable element. A sheet of gold can be made very thin that it becomes transparent.
  8. Gold is extremely ductile. A single ounce of gold can be stretched into a thin thread 5 microns wide and 50 miles long. Gold threads can even be used in embroidery.
  9. Gold can be created in earthquake fault zones. Gold is dissolved in fluids deep inside the Earth’s crust where pressure is extremely high. During an earthquake, breaks in the crust can release and make the pressure drop. This process dissolved substances such as gold and silicate minerals. They can expand to as much as 130,000 times their former size. Large earthquakes deposit as much as 0.1 milligrams of gold per square meter in a fault zone’s surface quickly.


Gold is a precious metal that has varied uses across different fields, although its main use remains in jewelry and investment. It is the preferred precious metal for setting up a gold IRA. It is important to know more about gold and how it helps protect a retirement portfolio. The best company that gives proper gold investment education is Augusta Precious Metals.

About the author 

Ronald Cagape

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