Gold has been known and highly valued since prehistoric times. It may have been the first metal used by humans and was valued for ornamentation and rituals. India is the world’s largest consumer of gold, as Indians buy about 25 per cent of the world’s gold, purchasing approximately 800 tonnes of gold every year. India is also the largest importer of the yellow metal; in 2008 India imported around 400 tonnes of gold.
Of all the precious metals, gold is the most popular as an investment. Investors generally buy gold as a hedge or safe haven against any economic, political, social or currency-based crises. These crises include investment market declines, currency failure, inflation, war and social unrest. Investors generally buy gold for two main reasons: to financially gain from increasing gold prices, and/or as a hedge or safe haven against any economic, political, social or currency-based crises.
Like other precious metals, gold is measured by troy weight and by grams. When it is alloyed with other metals the term carat or karat is used to indicate the amount of gold present, with 24 carats being pure gold and lower ratings proportionally less. The purity of a gold bar can also be expressed as a decimal figure ranging from 0 to 1, known as the millesimal fineness, such as 0.995 being very pure.
The price of gold is determined on the open market, but a procedure known as the Gold Fixing in London, originating in September 1919, provides a daily benchmark figure to the industry. The afternoon fixing appeared in 1968 to fix a price when US markets are open.
Historically gold coinage was widely used as currency; When paper money was introduced, it typically was a receipt redeemable for gold coin or bullion. In an economic system known as the gold standard, a certain weight of gold was given the name of a unit of currency. For a long period, the United States government set the value of the US dollar so that one troy ounce was equal to $20.67 ($664.56/kg), but in 1934 the dollar was devalued to $35.00 per troy ounce ($1125.27/kg). By 1961 it was becoming hard to maintain this price, and a pool of US and European banks agreed to manipulate the market to prevent further currency devaluation against increased gold demand.
Pure gold is non-toxic and non-irritating when ingested and is sometimes used as a food decoration in the form of gold leaf. It is also a component of the alcoholic drinks Goldschläger, Gold Strike, and Goldwasser. Gold is approved as a food additive in the EU.