‘Fake’ Gold Detected: The Tungsten Gold Bar
COMMENTARY-ProspectingJournal.com-It isn’t everyday that the word tungsten is used synonymously with gold. This week, a 1,000-gram ‘fake’ gold bar was found in the United Kingdom. Upon realizing discrepancies in the weight of the bar of gold, further tests revealed that the bar had been drilled out and filled with tungsten. In effect the bar was valued at much lower than what was initially thought, and had the trick gone unnoticed, the counterfeiter would have pocketed a substantial amount of profit. Somewhat surprisingly, this isn’t the first time we are learning about gold counterfeiting. In October 2009, bankers in Hong Kong discovered gold bars from the US that were filled with Tungsten, with similar instances also occurring in Ethiopia and South Africa. In almost every documented situation Tungsten is commonly chosen as a substitute. It is a material substantially cheaper than gold but shares the exact same density, to the third decimal. This makes it the ideal material for counterfeiting. Ever since the story was uncovered many analysts have been proclaiming the implications of ‘fake gold’, and justifiably so. If we are to believe we live in a world full of these ‘fake gold’ bars, we must then accept that there is a vast discrepancy between perceived wealth and actual wealth. In fact, some have even suggested that this will damage gold’s image, a metal normally seen as a safe method of storing wealth. While that may be the case, the nature of the gold market suggests this is unlikely. Given the manner in which gold is handled, there are many reasons to discard the regularities of gold counterfeiting. And there are even more reasons to practice continued faith in the metal.
When gold is produced in a refinery, few can predict where the gold will end up and how it may be used. Many gold bars are melted and used for jewelry, amongst other occupations, and there are many opportunities in which gold will trade hands and become subject to inspection. Significantly, the largest quantities of gold bars are stored in banks. Banks regularly deploy a system in which gold is cyclically sent off for cutting and refining, in an effort to prevent chipping in order to maintain a marketable standard of presentation. Tungsten plated gold would almost certainly become detected in this banking process. So without even taking into account the technical difficulties associated with counterfeiting gold itself, the nature of the market is one that disallows this type of negative activity. And if we ever do find ourselves in the growing midst of widespread gold counterfeiting, it only costs $3000 to purchase a meter that is able to detect tungsten. Alternatively, there are less expensive and more time-consuming means of effectively measuring for abnormalities. In other words, gold counterfeiting will likely prove more of a hiccup than a major obstacle in the long-term health of the industry.
It is also unlikely that this story will affect the price of gold. It does create a sentiment towards the possibility that gold-derived wealth is inaccurately perceived because some bars are fake and thus overvalued. And in theory, less ‘real’ gold would drive up prices. But in reality we have every reason to believe fake gold bars only exist on a relatively minor scale and currently hold few implications towards global demand.