Precious Metals


Gold has been treasured since ancient times for its beauty and permanence. Most of the gold that is fabricated today goes into the manufacture of jewelry. However, because of its superior electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion and other desirable combinations of physical and chemical properties, gold also emerged in the late 20th century as an essential industrial metal. Gold performs critical functions in computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines, and a host of other products. Although gold is important to industry and the arts, it also retains a unique status among all commodities as a long-term store of value. Until recent times, it was considered essentially a monetary metal, and most of the bullion produced each year went into the vaults of government treasuries or central banks.


Silver has been known and used for thousands of years. In ancient times, silver was used for jewelry, ornaments, utensils, and as a substance that could be bartered for other goods and services. This belief that silver had an underlying "value" led eventually to its use as the basis for monetary systems such as that of the Roman Empire and as a means of paying for international trade. The discovery during the 18th and 19th centuries of large silver deposits in the New World, however, resulted in the conversion of most monetary systems to the gold standard. Despite the loss of its status as the basis for the world's monetary systems, the belief in the value of silver remained. In 1990, silver was produced by at least 55 countries. Mexico was the largest silver producing country, followed by the United States, Peru, the former U.S.S.R., Canada, and Australia. In essentially all producing countries, the primary source of silver is its recovery as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, or zinc production.

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