What Does a Gold Refiner Do?

(Click here for “What’s the Difference between Appraisers, Assayers, Smelters, Refiners and Recyclers?”)

Smelting and refining has evolved into a sophisticated process that uses advanced equipment to separate precious metals from a wide range of rocks, minerals, compounds, chemicals and even manufacturing scrap and used items.

 The birth of modern mining, smelting and refining of gold and other precious metals: 16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

The birth of modern mining, smelting and refining of gold and other precious metals: 16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

But humans began to smelt metals more than 8,000 years ago. Why? Because gold was, and is, the only metal found in its pure form in nature. But gold is a very soft metal. Tools and weapons require harder metals, which forced humans to invent ways to extract copper, iron, tin and other metals from minerals.

In fact, the Bronze Age never would have happened unless our ancestors had figured out how to smelt copper and tin from mineral ores and mix them together.

Modern Gold Refining Began in 1556

Anyone involved in mining, smelting, refining is following in the footsteps of Georgius Agricola, the “father of metallurgy.” In his book De Re Metallica (“On the Nature of Metals”) he described techniques of mining and smelting in such a practical way that the book remained a standard handbook for nearly 200 years.

His book, published in 1556 - a year after his death - explains how to:

 17th Century engraving showing the process of smelting and refining gold. We’ve come a long way since then at Specialty Metals!

17th Century engraving showing the process of smelting and refining gold. We’ve come a long way since then at Specialty Metals!

  • Smelt ores to extract the metals they contain.
  • Find veins of precious metals like gold and silver in rock and underground.
  • Separate gold from silver, lead from gold or silver, and silver from copper.
  • Survey mine sites and safely dig mine shafts.
  • Select the right tools and machines to extract ore from mines.
  • Extracting, crushing and washing ores from mining concentrates.

Some Facts about Refining Gold?

  • According to estimates, only 152,000 metric tons of gold has ever been mined – only enough to fill 60 tractor trailers.
  • For comparison, 907 million metric tons of iron are mined every year – 6,000 times the total amount of all the gold produced in history.
  • More than 90% of the world’s refined gold has been mined since the Gold Rush of 1848.
  • The vast majority of all gold mined becomes jewelry: 78% jewelry. 12% is used in medical applications, dental work and electronics. Only 10% is used in finance.
  • One ounce of gold can be beaten into a 100 square foot sheet.