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Fun on Friday: Plastic Gold

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My stepdad used to grump about everything being made out of plastic. This was a thing with him even way back when I was a little kid. “All these plastic toys… back in my day toys were wood and metal.” It really got under his skin when they started using plastic in tools. He called them “cheap” even when they worked every bit as well as the old, heavy tools of “his day.”

Well, he’d really go ballistic if he were alive today because now they’re making gold out of plastic.

Yes. You read that right.

Plastic gold.

Welcome to the future.

No. They aren’t literally turning plastic into gold. If somebody figured out how to do that, they’d be rich. Right up until the moment the price of gold hit zero. But scientists have discovered how to replace other metals in 18-karat gold to create a stronger, lighter substance.

It’s really kind of bizarre. If you drop a disc of this gold compound on a table, it sounds like a plastic button. But the 18-karat purity of the gold is preserved. It’s just as gold as an 18-karat gold bracelet in the display case at Tiffany & Co.

Swiss scientist Raffaele Mezzenga led the team that came up with this process. Scientists create plastic gold using a mixture of protein fibers and a polymer latex instead of the conventional recipe of gold and base metals. This gold formulation also contains tiny air pockets, invisible to the naked eye. The result is a compound five to 10 times lighter than traditional 18-karat gold.

“This gold has the material properties of a plastic,” Mezzenga said in a news release. “As a general rule, our approach lets us create almost any kind of gold we choose, in line with the desired properties.”

Obviously, this could change the jewelry industry. But it could have other applications as well, including watches, radiation shielding, catalysis, and electronics.

Here’s the question though. Would you wear a gold chain that felt like plastic?

I bet a lot of people wouldn’t. We just intuitively equate weight with quality. I can hear my dad now. “I’m not giving that cheap crap to your mother!”

The thing is, it’s still gold. And most of the value in gold jewelry is in the gold! This plastic gold may feel like a cheap plastic toy. But don’t give it to Junior to play with. It ain’t cheap. It’s gold

Of course, the best gold is pure gold. That’s what you’ll get if you buy from SchiffGold. No plastic here. My stepdad would be pleased.

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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About The Author

Michael Maharrey is the managing editor of the SchiffGold blog, and the host of the Friday Gold Wrap Podcast and It's Your Dime interview series.
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