Gold is the jeweler’s de facto precious metal for creating most of the world’s fine jewelry. Of course in more recent times, platinum and titanium among other metals have expanded the range of metals for luxury goods. Around 4,000 BC gold first appeared in precious accessories. Then, in about 600 BC gold found utility as coinage, first in Lydia – or modern day Turkey.
Most of the world’s gold is recovered from three main locales: China, Australia, and South Africa. But the US has had its own glory days in gold discovery (in the lower 48 and Alaska) so it still ranked 4th in global production by 2016.
How Much Gold is There?
So we may wonder, just how much gold is there in the world? Could the total amount have a reliable tracking method as to its actual amount? The US Geological Survey thinks they pretty much have the answer to this intriguing question. According to the scientific body established by an act of Congress in 1879, it’s not that much – really. They calculate approximately 244 thousand metric tons of gold have been discovered to date. They’ve got it even more sorted out. The sum includes 187 thousand metric tons already produced with another 57 thousand metric tons existing in underground reserves.
Those figures are difficult to visualize, but perhaps another description would help us put gold’s quantity in context. The entire world’s gold could be compacted into a cube measuring 23 meters on every side – roughly fitting into 3 Olympic-size swimming pools. That doesn’t seem like a lot of anything given we are talking about a global mass since time immemorial.
One for the History Books
Sometimes gold gets re-discovered. First from the earth – and a second discovery after being lost or buried. Who doesn’t love a sunken treasure tale? Here’s one to hypnotize the most jaded jewelry historian. Back in 1857 the steamship S.S. Central America met an unfortunate end off the coast of South Carolina. The so called “Ship of Gold” sank during a hurricane on September 12, 1857, on its Panama to New York City voyage.
While the tragedy was of epic importance, it soon became eclipsed by the Civil War and its aftermath. Of the 425 souls onboard, only 153 survived. And for over a century, most everything onboard lay preserved like a time capsule in the chilly waters some 7,200 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Its historical booty spanned the breadth of the human experience of its day. The eclectic mix of passengers included ordinary travelers, society mavens, and gold-field workers. Gold was also onboard – lots of it we’re told. Its cache included 50 lbs. of gold dust, 10,000 coins, and 577 monetary ingot gold bars.
All told, the 30,000 lbs. of lost California gold decimated the public’s confidence, creating the “Panic of 1857.” All that gold from the Sierra Foothills lay undisturbed on the ocean floor until being spotted in 1988. By the late 20th century, recovery efforts began, and millions of dollars’ worth of those gold coins were sold off by 2000. More golden treasures were auctioned in 2017.
Window to Our Past
The latest SS Central America shipwreck auction took place on December 3, 2022. Collectors and historians of every ilk were held in rapt attention during the sale. Holabird Western Americana Collections, of Reno, NV offered items like Victorian-era clothing, firearms, books, paper currency, glassware, jewelry, and gold objects, all testifying to life in pre-Civil War America.
One item’s historical significance stirred tremendous interest. The oldest known pair of gold-miner’s work pants earned $114,000 – the highest price ever paid for historical Americana from Levi Strauss made specifically for workers in the Gold Rush.
A Pricey Dispute
Where money is concerned, drama often follows close behind. American deep-sea explorer Tommy Thompson played a pivotal role in much of the S.S. Central America’s golden hoard recovery. He profited with multi-millions off the sale of many of its gold coins but allegedly did not settle with investors in the venture. A dispute led to his arrest and conviction – he’s currently incarcerated pending release of the coins or settling up of finances.
Any Gold Left?
As fascinating as these details are, this is not the end to the gold’s shiny story. According to research presented in Forbes, September 15, 2017 ($771 Trillion Worth of Gold Lies Hidden in the Ocean: Good Luck Getting It), the world’s oceans are concealing about 20 million tons of gold, according to data of sunken ships worldwide. This jaw-dropping value more than surpasses the world’s GNP. Since recovery efforts are often impossible irrespective of the willingness of deep-pocket investors, this golden trove will remain exactly where it is for now.
Gold will always be precious and rare, keeping it highly desirable for use in jewelry and luxury goods. Naysayers may predict gold’s run-out in our century in order to push its purchase as an asset. But savvy pundits in the game say, “hang on.” Mining.com, October 1, 2020, predicted we’re nowhere near running out of gold. Perhaps at some point the world may be depleted of its gold resources – but Mining.com claims, “We’re a long, long way from that moment now.”