Gold is the most malleable of all metals. It can be drawn into a monoatomic wire, and then stretched about twice before it breaks. Such nanowires distort via formation, reorientation and migration of dislocations and crystal twins without noticeable hardening. A single gram of gold can be beaten into a sheet of 1 square meter, and an avoirdupois ounce into 300 square feet. Gold leaf can be beaten thin enough to become semi-transparent. The transmitted light appears greenish blue, because gold strongly reflects yellow and red. Such semi-transparent sheets also strongly reflect infrared light, making them useful as infrared (radiant heat) shields in visors of heat-resistant suits, and in sun-visors for spacesuits. Gold is a good conductor of heat and electricity.
Gold is resistant to most acids, though it does dissolve in aqua regia, a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, which forms a soluble tetrachloroaurate anion. Gold is insoluble in nitric acid, which dissolves silver and base metals, a property that has long been used to refine gold and to confirm the presence of gold in metallic objects, giving rise to the term acid test. Gold also dissolves in alkaline solutions of cyanide, which are used in mining and electroplating. Gold dissolves in mercury, forming amalgam alloys, but this is not a chemical reaction.
A relatively rare element, gold is a precious metal that has been used as a neutron reflector in nuclear weapons (w71), and for coinage, jewelry, and other arts throughout recorded history. In the past, a gold standard was often implemented as a monetary policy, but gold coins ceased to be minted as a circulating currency in the 1930s, and the world gold standard was abandoned for a fiat currency system after 1971.
Whereas most metals are gray or silvery white, gold is slightly reddish-yellow. This color is determined by the frequency of plasma oscillations among the metal’s valence electrons, in the ultraviolet range for most metals but in the visible range for gold due to relativistic effects affecting the orbitals around gold atoms. Similar effects impart a golden hue to metallic caesium.
Medicinal applications of gold and its complexes have a long history dating back thousands of years. Several gold complexes have been applied to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the most frequently used being aurothiomalate, aurothioglucose, and auranofin. Both gold(I) and gold(III) compounds have been investigated as possible anti-cancer drugs. For gold(III) complexes, reduction to gold(0/I) under physiological conditions has to be considered. Stable complexes can be generated using different types of bi-, tri-, and tetradentate ligand systems, and their efficacy has been demonstrated in vitro and in vivo.
Gold has been widely used throughout the world as money, for efficient indirect exchange (versus barter), and to store wealth in hoards. For exchange purposes, mints produce standardized gold bullion coins, bars, and other units of fixed weight and purity.
The first known coins containing gold were struck in Lydia, Asia Minor, around 600 BC. The talent coin of gold in use during the periods of Grecian history both before and during the time of the life of Homer weighed between 8.42 and 8.75 grams. From an earlier preference in using silver, European economies re-established the minting of gold as coinage during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Bills (that mature into gold coin) and gold certificates (convertible into gold coin at the issuing bank) added to the circulating stock of gold standard money in most 19th century industrial economies. In preparation for World War I the warring nations moved to fractional gold standards, inflating their currencies to finance the war effort. Post-war, the victorious countries, most notably Britain, gradually restored gold-convertibility, but international flows of gold via bills of exchange remained embargoed; international shipments were made exclusively for bilateral trades or to pay war reparations.
After World War II gold was replaced by a system of nominally convertible currencies related by fixed exchange rates following the Bretton Woods system. Gold standards and the direct convertibility of currencies to gold have been abandoned by world governments, led in 1971 by the United States’ refusal to redeem its dollars in gold. Fiat currency now fills most monetary roles. Switzerland was the last country to tie its currency to gold; it backed 40% of its value until the Swiss joined the International Monetary Fund in 1999.
As of September 2017, gold is valued at around $42 per gram ($1,300 per troy ounce).
Like other precious metals, gold is measured by troy weight and by grams. The proportion of gold in the alloy is measured by karat (k), with 24 karat (24k) being pure gold, and lower karat numbers proportionally less. The purity of a gold bar or coin can also be expressed as a decimal figure ranging from 0 to 1, known as the millesimal fineness, such as 0.995 being nearly pure.
The price of gold is determined through trading in the gold and derivatives markets, but a procedure known as the Gold Fixing in London, originating in September 1919, provides a daily benchmark price to the industry. The afternoon fixing was introduced in 1968 to provide a price when US markets are open.
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