The majority of gold is newly mined. In fact, around three quarters of gold in circulation will have been mined, and then refined. However, with demand for gold far outweighing the amount of the material that can be sourced from the ground, around 25% of gold demand is met through recycled materials. As gold is practically indestructible, the precious metal is typically recycled, rather than being destroyed.
The problem is that gold mining is a very long winded process, and these processes cannot easily be scaled to increase or decrease production rapidly in line with varying levels of demand. It can actually take between 10 and 20 years for a mine to produce materials following identification of golf deposits in an area. Recycling allows for this demand to be met quicker and easier. Jewellery is the most commonly recycled gold product, accounting for 90% of recycled gold. The remainder comes from technologies.
Gold mines are present all across the world – in fact, Antarctica is the only continent on the planet where gold is not currently mined. However, it has not always been this way, and until recently most gold mines were heavily concentrated in Africa. Today, all major mining continents contribute almost equally to the total gold mined per annum:
Asia: 23% (attributable to China’s 14% total annual production)
South America: 17%
North America: 16%
CIS Region: 14%
While it is believed that mine production has the technical capabilities to grow significantly, this growth is heavily dependent upon new discoveries. As mines have grown, the volume and scale of new discoveries has correspondingly diminished and today it’s rare to see or hear of a major new discovery. Gold mining also isn’t a process or endeavour that can be done quickly and the time frame for getting a mine up and running is not insignificant. In 2017, Chinese miners announced that they had discovered the country’s largest deposit with 382.58 tons of gold reserves detected in the province of Shandong. The mining company forecast that it would mine some 55 tons of that discovery by 2019. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is a large proponent of mining and was said to be pushing for its reserves to increase to 14,000 tons within three years.
Indonesia is a prolific gold mine hot spot, with the largest gold mine in the world located in Papua.
How Much Gold Has Been Mined?
A little more than 190,000 tonnes of gold has been mined to date, with most of this being produced from 1950 onwards. All of this gold still exists, in one form or another, as gold cannot be destroyed, so total above ground gold figures will continue to rise. Around 2500 to 3000 tonnes of gold are added to the total every year through mining.
The majority of gold that is mined is made into jewellery, with around half being used to create rings, necklaces, and other accessories. However, jewellery is not the only use for gold. Around 21% is held in private investment portfolios, and 17% in the official sector.
Around 54,000 tonnes of gold is held in underground reserves, which can be mined at existing gold prices. However, it can be tricky to calculate this with any certainty, with the figure subject to changing gold prices, mining costs, new discoveries, and surveys.
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