Thursday, August 18, 2011

Glory

As the market statistics (note, not 'markets) fall across the boards and bourses, I feel happy. I feel happy whenever these funny things happen because they amuse me and I am fortunate not to be directly involved, thus fulfilling at least two meanings of the word 'happy'.

What has always bemused me from a rational perspective is the way people sink huge funds into gold and diamonds. Gold is not particularly rare; there are 200,000,000 kilos of it lying around in the world today. Diamonds are not particularly rare; there are so many of them (and so many kinds and varieties and ways of making them) that it seems odd to think of them as stable investments.

What distinguishes these two elemental resources is chemical stability (for gold) and physical stability (for diamonds), you might think. But the most important quality they have is attractiveness. Gold is golden; diamonds scintillate when cut aright. They have wonderful optical behaviours under the right conditions. Beauty, for them, is not just skin deep; they are beauty crystallized, whether as metallic crystals or covalent crystals.

And yet, their elevation causes anomalies in value for other worthy substances. Take ruthenium, a harder and more durable cousin of gold. It is tough and chemically resistant, beautiful in a cold silvery way, more silver than silver and more valuable in chemistry. It is selling for USD170 per ounce right now, a tenth of gold's current price. But there are only 5,000,000 kilos of it lying around. The same kind of problem exists for tanzanite; it's a more beautiful and much rarer stone than diamond, and once it's been mined out of the three mines in Tanzania, there will be none left. But diamond, that simple structure every high-school chemistry student must know, is made in ton-loads by geological activity.

So what is the weight of glory? The glory of the world passes, and yet we invest in it. The glory of man is like the flower of grass; the grass fades and the flowers fall, and the wind blows them all away. What is seen is only what there is to be seen; what is unseen abides forever.

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