Gold is the shining embodiment of wealth. Not only is it used to
make expensive products, but it’s also used to add extra bling to luxurious items, from smartphones, to supercars, and even beef steaks. But other metals that are rarer
than gold are much cheaper. So, why is gold so expensive? Scientists believe gold arrived on Earth after the collision of
two neutron stars in space forged gold atoms
together into meteorites, which crashed into Earth
about 3.9 billion years ago. Over millions of years,
Earth’s bubbling hot core forced gold nuggets towards the surface. Gold flakes have been
found in Paleolithic caves estimated to date back
roughly 40,000 years, marking the first known instance of human contact with the material. But what exactly is gold? Gold is a relatively rare metal with lots of versatility. It’s highly malleable, meaning it can be deformed or changed without fracturing the material. But what distinguishes it from
other useful precious metals is its totally unique
bright-yellow appearance. These factors give gold many practical and superficial uses on Earth. Alistair Hewitt: If you’re
a bride, gold is the perfect embodiment of love and emotion. If you’re an investor, gold’s an excellent portfolio-diversification tool. People like to know that they’ve got an element of their wealth
which they can feel. Often, it looks beautiful, it’s got a wonderful design on it, and that adds a degree of
emotion to the investment. And if you’re a manufacturer
or if you’re someone making smartphones or tablets, gold is an element with the symbol Au and the atomic number 79,
viewed as the most noble of all of the noble metals. It’s a perfect material
for conducting electricity. And it doesn’t corrode; it doesn’t rust. So it’s great to have in your product. Narrator: Over many
centuries, civilizations across the globe became enamored
with the beautiful metal, such as the ancient Egyptians. Not only did they use it as a currency, they also buried themselves in gold, believing it to be the flesh of the gods. In fact, King Tutankhamun was laid to rest in three gold-wrapped coffins, the innermost of which
was made from sheets of pure, beaten gold, which would now be worth over $1 million. In 1792, the US Congress
passed the Coinage Act, which established a fixed
price of gold to US dollars. Over the next century,
gold mining captured people’s imagination, during
the great US gold rush. The first was in 1799, after
12-year-old Conrad Reed discovered a huge, 17-pound gold nugget on his family’s farm in North Carolina. Fifty years later, in 1849, tens of thousands of prospectors, known as the 49ers, raced to San Francisco in search of riches, giving name to the San Francisco 49ers
football franchise. These gold rushes heralded the start of modern-day gold mining. Despite humans mining gold for millennia, the complexity of this
process hasn’t changed. Hewitt: Mining is just as challenging and difficult as it’s ever been before. What’s changed, probably,
is the labor intensity in some mines, as people have
increasingly used technology. But some of the challenges
aren’t necessarily associated purely with mine production. They could be associated
with the environments within which they’re operating, so. And licenses that people need to operate, whether it’s a formal
license from a government or a social license
from a local community. I mean, those are still challenges that mining companies need to navigate and kind of work their way through. And that contributes to the complexity of mine production today,
probably just as much as it did many, many years ago. Narrator: Identifying gold
mines is a daunting task. It can take up to 10 years for geologists, chemists, and engineers to
examine a potential site. And even then, the likelihood of a mine being developed into
a productive gold mine is less than 0.1%. Only 10% of these sites
contain enough gold to justify further development. But aboveground, gold is everywhere. On our fingers, around our necks, and even in our mouths. Gold is used in medicine, architecture, and almost every electronic component. We even launch gold back
out into the universe from where it came, not only as a reliable component
of spacecraft circuitry, but also in the lining
of astronauts’ visors to protect them from
the sun’s harmful heat and ultraviolet light. So, with all that in mind,
it might surprise you to know how little gold there
actually is here on Earth. If you melted down the world’s entire aboveground stock of around
190,000 tons of gold, it would form a 72-foot cube. However, if that was divided up equally for every person on Earth, we’d all get roughly an ounce of
pure, 24 karat gold each. That’s about $1,500 worth. So, how does this volume divide out into different industries? Hewitt: If we have a
look at the 190,000 tons of stock of gold aboveground, the lion’s share of it’s in jewelry. Around about 50% of it is in jewelry. The next level down comes
to private investment. So, that could be individuals
holding bars or coins, or, indeed, individuals holding a share of an exchange-traded fund. And then you’ve got central banks. Central banks account for around about 17% of that stock of gold, so a very significant volume. And then the final element,
around about 13%, 14%, is technology or dentistry. Narrator: Is the future of
gold as bright as its surface? New deposits of gold are
increasingly hard to come by and increasingly difficult to locate. Geologists have estimated
that only 55,000 tons remains buried away in the Earth’s crust. Which means, if current
global mining rates continued, we could run out of newfound
gold in just 20 years. So, as gold mining continues to slow and the costs associated
with mining increase to meet the challenge of extraction, gold could become even more expensive.