The Evolution of Gold, Simplified
How and When was Gold first found
Gold was first discovered in its most basic and natural state – as shining, yellow nuggets in streams and in the ground of the ancient world. However, there is little unanimity in the archaeological and scientific communities on identifying exactly when and where humans first found gold.
Early Uses of Gold
Gold is one of the first precious metals known to humans. Due to its beauty and rarity, gold became a symbol of royalty and glamour in nearly every culture that was able to obtain it. Its brilliance and resistance to tarnishing made the precious metal ideal for making many things such as royal structures, ornaments and jewellery.
It was in 2600 B.C. that the ancient Mesopotamians would make some of the first gold jewellery, paving the way for a variety of aesthetic and decorative uses.
Gold also gave rise to the concept of money itself. Gold has been used as the currency of choice throughout history due to it being durable and portable. The first known use of gold in transactions dates back over 6000 years. Early transactions were done using pieces of gold, which replaced barter arrangements, thus making trading much easier. This currency was eventually adapted to other forms such as gold coins and then paper money.
Some early printings of paper money were backed by gold and had a "gold standard". This means that a stockpile of gold was maintained to back every unit of money or paper dollar in circulation. Under this gold standard, anybody could present paper currency and demand in exchange for 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.
To show the purity of gold in jewellery, hallmarks originated. These included the mark of the assaying office that certified the purity as well as the fineness or caratage of the gold. Later, trademarks that showed which goldsmith had manufactured the product were added.
Hallmarking gold jewellery was Europe's earliest form of consumer protection, dating back to the 1200s. As craft guilds arose in Middle Ages Europe, state-appointed assayers examined precious metal goods. Their prescribed marks became a pre-requisite for gold items offered for public sale.
Similar hallmark systems to clearly identify the fineness/caratage and origin of gold items have been introduced over time and around the world. Different countries have adapted and created their own requirements as well as distinctive gold hallmarks and markings.
For example, in Singapore, hallmarking for gold purity is not made compulsory (unlike in some countries such as the United Kingdom). However, there is the SAO (Singapore Assay Office) Hallmarking Scheme, which is a voluntary scheme where manufacturers, traders and retailers of gold jewellery submit their jewellery pieces to SAO for assaying and hallmarking. After a series of tests and when SAO is satisfied with the fineness of the jewellery pieces, it will mark every individual piece with the hallmark (symbol of lion head logo) to attest to its quality and purity.
Modern Day Gold
To date, gold has been found on every continent, except Antarctica. The top countries that gold comes from include China, Russia, Australia, and the United States. A total of 197,576 tonnes of gold exists above ground, as of 2019. This is equal to a cube with each side measuring roughly 21.7 metres.
The world consumption of new gold produced is about 50% in jewellery, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.
It is very common to see gold jewellery, in different forms, colours, types and designs. Gold has been adapted and mixed with other metals to offer different karats (24K, 22K, 18K etc) and colours (yellow gold, white gold, rose gold). People, not limited by gender and age, are using gold jewellery.
As for investment, there are a few main ways that people now invest in gold - physical gold, gold savings accounts, gold ETF and trading gold on the stock exchange. Physical gold investments include buying and keeping gold bars, coins and even jewellery!
The most important industrial use of gold is in the manufacture of electronics. Some electronic devices use very low voltages and currents which are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish at the contact points. Gold is not only anti-corrosive, but also a highly efficient conductor that can carry these tiny currents. Other uses of gold include medical, dentistry and even glassmaking.
Even though gold is no longer used as the main currency and the gold standard has long since been abandoned, gold will continue to hold it’s value and play an important part in the world in years to come.