Gold and Covid-19 have found themselves in the same sentence regularly over the last few weeks, as the global economy is rocked by the outbreak and investors have sought the safe haven as is so often historically the case. Even the World Gold Council recently published a piece on how Gold had a hidden role in diagnosing the disease, with the metal forming a critical component in diagnostic test kits. But gold has been used in other products beyond bars and preciously jewellery for a long time, with its unique characteristics making it an even more valuable resource.
It’s perhaps not surprising that gold appears in unexpected places. It’s soft and wonderfully workable. It doesn’t tarnish or corrode, it conducts electricity and if it needs to be tougher or hold an intricate form, it alloys beautifully with metals such as zinc or nickel. So it’s perfect for multiple applications in industry.
Dentistry, for example, loves gold. Its softness and pliability means it’s been used in dental work for the last 4,000 years, as a filling and as a wire to hold teeth in place. That makes sense: if you’re going to have a filling, it might as well look fantastic as well as being easy to work, corrosion-resistant and non-allergenic. And gold also doesn’t have the health concerns associated with mercury fillings. Gold-capped teeth are also enjoying a surge in popularity, thanks to the US hip-hop scene, sported by rappers like Flavor Flav and Nicki Minaj.
Then there’s the previously mentioned medical devices, which make up a vast market estimated to be worth around $136bn in the US alone. So while a single device might only use a tiny amount of gold, it’s plenty when you add it up. Many of these devices will require electroplating, and gold is the metal of choice.
While the precious material certainly isn’t the cheapest option, it’s one of the best. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly popular for implants, such as stents and pacemakers, or to cover the batteries many devices need to operate. That’s due, again, to its resistance to corrosion and what’s called its ‘biocompatibility’ – your skin, organs or tissue don’t react to it, reducing the risk of infection. Plus, that lovely gold sheen so prized by jewellers is even more valuable when it’s covering a device that’s actually implanted in the human body. The more visible an implant is, the easier it is for a surgeon to find it.
And gold is also a vital component in mobile phones. The World Gold Council estimates that each one contains about 50mg. Again, that’s not much until you consider the billion of phones on the planet. Electronics in mobile phones, such as LEDs and liquid crystal displays, use very low currents and voltage. If anything gets in the way of their contact points, they won’t work properly. That means that those contact points have to be made from something that won’t degrade or corrode – so gold is the ideal solution. It’s found in computers for the same reason.
It might even play a part in your favourite tune, too. In the 16th and 17th century, gold or silver stringed instruments were highly prized. As researcher Patrizio Barbieri writes: “The use of gold was also thought to have a favourable impact on two acoustic parameters: intensity level and “sweetness” of sound.”
Flutes in particular lend themselves beautifully to gold – some can even be made from solid gold – and brass instrument mouthpieces can be gold, too. These days, it’s used in musical instruments both for its longevity and its prestige. It doesn’t tarnish or corrode, so it’s perfect to coat high-end electric guitar strings – Queen’s legendary guitarist Brian May is apparently a fan. Gold-plated connectors for stereo systems are also popular with those who love their music.
And for the guitarist and gold fan with a cool $2m to spare, Gibson Guitars’ Eden of Coronet model is the world’s most expensive guitar. It’s plated with 1.6kg of 18-carat gold, and it’s encrusted with more than 400 diamonds. Admittedly, gold might not make much difference to the sound – but it’s hard to find an instrument that’s more rock’ n’roll.
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Important disclaimer: this document is not an official research report and the views expressed in it are those of the authors. The authors are not registered research analysts and there is no assurance the trends mentioned will continue or that the forecasts discussed will be realised. Gold as a commodity is not a specified investment for the purpose of giving advice under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, therefore, this does not give rise to rights to claim compensation under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.