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Features & Columns
by Helen Semeinis

All that glitters is gold

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From 3600 BC to the present day, gold has been a driver of the world's development and economy. From the Emperors of Roman Greek descent, to the dynasties of ancient Egypt and Syria, right up to the gangster rappers on the streets of Compton, this rare metal has always been considered a commodity.

Early civilisations equated gold with gods and rulers as it was sought after in their name and dedicated to them. One of the most iconic pieces of gold in history is 18-century Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamen’s burial mask, which was a plaster cast of the great leader’s face made as a memento after his death. Made out of gold and precious stones, this funeral mask was used in the mummification process and believed to have the power to strengthen the spirit of the deceased and safeguard the soul from malevolent spirits has it made it way to the afterworld. Over and above this the tomb Tutankhamen was laid to rest in was nothing but gold – so much so that when Howard Carter, the famous archeologist who discovered this tomb, opened it he saw: “gold – everywhere the glint of gold”.

Ancients Egyptians, as a people, were well known throughout history for their love of and association with gold and the importance they awarded it. History has it that they believed that this metal, with its illuminous qualities and non-destructive nature was the skin of their gods and associated with eternal life and a solar deity named Ra the God of Sun. Gold was so important to the Egyptian pharaohs that it was reserved for the exclusive use of royalty and important nobility; always associated with beauty and power.

When the Spaniards first came across gold they claimed they’d found enough to build a bridge with it that would span the distance from Peru across the ocean to Spain. In the Inca civilization, they believed that gold was the sweat of the sun god Inti and so it was used to construct objects that had religious significance.

In pre-Hispanic Colombia, gold had great meaning and was not used in any way as currency. It was admired more for its radiance and association with the sun and spirituality and was often used in powder form to cover the body of the future king in a coronation ceremony. When used in ornaments it was to show the rank of a leader or a religious shaman. Many of the citizens of the time believed that the illumination surface of the gold meant it could communicate with the spirits and other supernatural beings.

Money, money, money

Gold is deemed valuable in every culture around the world for a myriad of reasons; it cannot be artificially produced or printed, it doesn’t tarnish and has always been considered attractive by most people.

It also has a very strong reputation in the investment and banking world. Unlike other currencies, which lose value due to factors such as inflation, gold has maintained its value through the ages making a very worthwhile investment. Trends have shown that when currencies weaken and the cost of living goes up, so does the price and value of gold as more people turn to it as a way to hedge against inflation. As in many times in history, in this present age gold is currently ranked as the world's top currency and according to Money Morning, investors are now realising the full potential of investing in gold.

Today, like most commodities, the price of gold is driven by supply and demand, including demand for speculation. The price of gold is closely related to interest rates, as interest rates rise the general tendency is for the gold price, which earns no interest, to fall; as interest rates dip, the price of gold rises.

The demand for gold has also grown among investors and it is often used in investment portfolios to hedge against portfolio volatility and minimise losses during periods of market shock. It serves as a liquid asset when selling other assets would cause losses.

Gold has often been used as a safeguard against inflation, because its price usually rises when the cost of living goes up. It retains its value not only in times of financial risk, but also in times of geopolitical uncertainty. To note, however, are concerns from other investment specialists who note that gold being a “fear trade” or a “safe haven investment” might no longer be an attractive investment once markets start correcting and currencies and stocks get stronger.

Bling nations

There are various ways different races and cultures use gold as a display of wealth and status. In the hip hop world, few videos that will get the seal of approval if it doesn’t showcase rappers with over-sized platinum chains, jewellery and the ever so fabulous ‘grillz’. Famous Lil Jon set the Guinness World record with the world’s largest pendant, which was made out of white gold and diamonds and valued at US$500k!

In cultural Indian weddings the gold brought by the bride is an announcement of her family's wealth. As well as this, gold has great religious significance, as it is the symbol of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and considered highly favourable.

It has become a stereotype among many South Africans to have gold dentures as a fashion statement, and a sign that they have ‘made it’ in life.

Gold gone crazy

There will always be some people that take things too far. Here are a few items you would not expect to see in gold and yet…

Gold braai
Valued at US$164k, this gold-plated barbecue grill stand made by Beefeater Barbecue is made up entirely of gold, save for the grilling surface.

Gold bathroom
Every single element found in this bathroom is made of gold. It can be found in the Hang Fung Gold Technology showroom in Hong Kong. And should you want to experience it you will have to fork out US$128.

Gold-plated cars
This, it would seem, is the latest trend in the Arab countries. Many car-owners in Dubai are gold-plating their cars to give them that shine. Topping that list is the gold Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 on show in Dubai that was built on a carbon fibre base and opulently covered with nothing but solid gold.

Gold shirts
In a bid to impress the ladies, Indian moneylender Datta Phuge commissioned a designer to make him a shirt made out of white velvet, 3.2-carat gold, and buttons made out of Swarovski crystals. Valued at US$22,400 we can only hope it found him love.

Gold Lego
Tired of Lego in boring primary colours? Despair no more – for somewhere in the universe there are gold Lego bricks and mini-figures!

The list also includes:

• Gold tricycles
• Gold vibrators
• Gold ice-cream
• Gold instant noodles
• Gold pencils


Fast facts

  • Gold has been referenced in ancient writings as early as 2600 BC in Egypt and Syria.
  • The Egyptians originally started smelting gold in about 3600 BC using clay blowpipes. 
  • Gold was first used as coinage in the late 8th century BCE in Asia Minor. 
  • From about 1500 BC, gold was used for its monetary value for international trade.

 

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