If you’ve long thought “what is gold used for?” - then look no further as we’ve amassed practically all modern uses of gold today and created one big list. This post deals with present day uses, so if you’re looking for ancient/historic gold uses or interesting/unusual usages, then you’ll have to wait hold off for those posts later. Just to give you the big picture before we delve into the details, 45% of gold today is used in jewelry, 45% in used the form of investments and finance, and the remaining 10% is for technological and industrial use (75% of that going to producing electronics).
Gold in Jewelry: Until recently, jewelry constituted nearly all the demand for gold and stood far and away as the most common use of gold. The last several years has seen a rapid rise in the demand of gold as an investment however and today jewelry represents ‘only’ 45% of total yearly demand. The properties of gold - namely being malleable, ductile, noble, rare, and yes shiny - all help contribute to making gold a preferred metal in the creation and use of jewelry.
Gold in Investing: The second most popular use of gold is in the form of investment through various tools such as ETFs, futures trading, and bars/coin investing with 45% of yearly demand going way of investors. Regardless of whether you expect gold prices to explode or not, you’d be hard pressed to argue against gold’s function as a store of value which in today’s inflationary markets is certainly an investment that people are starting to consider more and more seriously.
Gold in Banking: Related to the point above, central banks have once again become net buyers of gold and are starting to fill up their coffers with gold bullion (now a tier I asset with the Basel III bank regulations) to serve as reserves with the US Dollar starting to lose its credibility. In Turkey, commercial banks can hold gold to meet their “required reserves” and as a result are in the process of acquiring gold from citizens who are estimated to hoard gold worth anywhere from $100-$300 billion.
Gold as Money: Through a majority of recorded history, especially since around 560 BC and the minting of the first gold coins, the yellow metal has been a preferred form of money across most civilizations. The last century has seen a shift to paper fiat money and away from gold, but recent global financial woes has once again increased the appetite for the precious metal to serve a monetary function.
Gold in Dentistry: According to Artzney Buchlein, who published the first book on dentistry in 1539, gold leafs were used to fill out cavities going back 3,000 years.The earliest found records of gold being used in dentistry stretches back to 700 B.C. with Estrucan dentists using gold wires to place replacement teeth into the patient’s mouth. Modern uses of gold in dentistry is usually in the form of white gold or gold alloys and include areas such as bridges, fillings, crowns, and orthodontic appliances thanks to gold being a bio-compatible metal. The fact that gold is inert and non allergenic has kept it as a popular choice despite rising prices and development of cheaper substitutes.
Gold in Phones: Gold in connectors, switches and relay contacts allows phones to remain free of corrosion and are an important part of modern cell phones. An average of 33 gold-plated contacts are present in phones which allows rapid dispersion of heat and prevents tarnishing. U.S. Geological Survey estimates that a single mobile device contains an average of 0.034 grams of gold - which translates to $1.83 of gold per phone under today’s prices. The number of cell phones sold annually has surpassed 1 billion, which has naturally opened up added incentives to recycle gold out of older cell phones.
Gold in Computers: Gold can be found inside desktops and laptops in the form of edge connectors employed to mount microprocessor and memory chips onto the motherboard as well as plug-and-socket connectors used to attach cables. While silver and copper are better conductors, gold’s resistance to corrosion makes it the preferred choice.
Gold in Electronic Devices: Gold is present in almost all small electronic devices because of low voltages and currents are easily interrupted by corrosion or tarnish. So that means anything from GPS systems to tablets to calculators to alarm clocks contain gold. Even large appliances such as microwaves, washing machines, and TVs contain a hint of gold.
Gold in Medicine: Gold is used in the healthcare industry in a variety of forms and applications:
1) Arthiritis: Slow but steady injections of sodium aurothiomalate or aurothioglucose (gold salts) are sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Gold salts are use to 2) Cancer Treatment: Radioactive gold nanoparticles are implanted in tissues to serve as a radiation source in the chemotherapy of certain types of cancer. This gold dust used as a drug-delivery microchip is one that holds plenty of promise. 3) Lagophthalmos: Lagophthalmos is a disorder where one is unable to close the eyelids completely. Gold weights are surgically attached to the patients to weigh down the eyelid and make it close through the force of gravity. 4) Medical equipment: Critical tools such as surgical equipment, life support devices and pacemakers contain gold due to its nonreactive and reliable nature. 5) Diagnosis: Gold nano-particles ringed by a charged polymer coating and an X-ray scatter imaging technique has allowed scientists to detect small tumors (as small as 5 millimeters) that would otherwise be undetected by ultrasound, CT and MRI scans which are limited to 5 centimeters in diameter. This method can be used for diagnosing the flu as well. 6) Implants: Gold is resistant to bacterial infections and hence can be featured inside the body in the form of inner ear implants, stunts, gold beads and the wires of pacemakers.
Gold in Aerospace Equipment: When the price of gold is not a major factor and absolute reliability is required, we can truly see the extent of gold usage in modern applications. Consider if you will the U.S. Columbia space shuttle - it contained gold usage in a dozen of different ways and packed a reported 41 KG of gold. Key to gold’s use in aerospace is its ability to reflect infrared radiation. Gold coated polyester helps the spaceship reflect harmful rays as well as stabilizing core temperatures across the ship. Astronaut outfits also employ gold, particularly the visor, for pretty much the same reasons outlined above. Much of the electronics on-board also contain gold with the main reasons outlined in earlier sections, but with the added benefit that it severs as a lubricant between mechanical parts in vacuum of space.
The above gold applications probably cover over 99% of modern gold uses and will have hopefully answered questions about what gold can be used for. If you prefer more basic information that can more easily be consumed, do check out this infographic.