Bullion refers to refined precious metals, particularly gold and silver but also those in the platinum group such as palladium, osmium and platinum itself. Employed by mankind for thousands of years as an exchange of value (coinage), bullion is now more important as a store of value and an investment—a hedge against economic turbulence and inflation. For these purposes, it most commonly takes the form of a bar or ingot. Precious metals, with their brilliant luster, of course continue to be popular as a show of value (jewelry).
Bullion is cast into bars and ingots or minted into coins. Whatever its physical form, it remains bullion by definition because its value is determined by its mass and purity rather than by any monetary designation on its face. In the frequent times when the face value of paper currencies fluctuated wildly due to the financial and political uncertainties of the past century, the value of gold increased and it can always be expected to maintain this value over the long term.
Precious metals are so named because they are (1) rare and difficult to find, and (2) naturally metallic in chemical content. They are discovered and extracted from the earth by miners in the form of ore, the mixture with the rock in which they are embedded. Refiners then use chemicals and/or extreme heat to separate the metal(s) from the rock to create bullion. When more than one metal is present after this process, it is called “unparted bullion.” Pure, single-metal bullion is known as “parted bullion.”
The prices of precious metals are determined on the commodity markets and represented by the spot price which denotes current value. To this is added a premium that accounts for the costs of transforming the bullion to a chosen form and weight. Larger bars have smaller premiums than coins because of the amount of processing relative to their precious metal content, but smaller bars and coins offer greater liquidity. Coins also fetch a higher premium for their “collectible” worth.
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