Little can match the Olympics when it comes to drama.
It's about world records falling. It's about razor-close finishes. And it's about seeing powerful athletes break down on the medal stand, tears streaming down their faces as they watch their nation's flag rise and hear their national anthem.
Mostly, however, it's about the ultimate symbol of athletic achievement -- obtaining the gold medal.
But as the gold medal was placed on the shoulders of Michael Phelps or Michael Johnson, did you wonder how much gold is in a gold medal?
Well, we wanted to know. And the answer is not what you would expect.
Even the history of gold medals has a surprise twist. When the modern Olympic games began in 1896, gold medals weren't even handed out. Winners received silver medals, not gold. It wasn't until 1904 that the now-traditional gold-silver-bronze medal order was established.
Back then, the gold medal was just that -- solid gold -- and it stayed that way until 1912. That's when the composition changed significantly, going from pure gold to mostly silver with gold plating.
Today, the medals have gotten heavier and bigger. They weigh about 14 ounces (400 grams) each and are slightly more than 3 inches (85 millimeters) in diameter -- the largest and heaviest Olympic medals ever. The composition of an Olympic gold medal breaks down this way:
- 92.5% silver
- 6.16% copper
- 1.34% gold (with a minimum of 6 grams of gold).
While the amount of gold in the medal is less than it was a century ago, gold and silver prices have climbed. According to kitco.com, you'd pay $312.11 for 6 grams of gold, $330.82 for 370 grams of silver and $2.61 for 24 grams of copper to total an Olympic gold medal that adds up to $645.54.
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A silver medal is 92.5% silver -- the same amount of silver as in the gold medal -- and 7.5% copper. The medal's metals are valued at about $334. Bronze is an alloy of mostly copper with a bit of tin, and a bronze medal is made of 97% copper, 2.5% zinc and 0.5% tin. The components of an Olympic bronze medal cost just more than $42.
Accounts of medal winners who have successfully sold their medal aren’t common, but some have tried.
Take Tommie Smith. He won the gold in the 1968 Olympics and then took his place in history by bowing his head on the medal stand and raising his black-gloved hand in the air in a symbol of "black power." In 2010, Smith attempted to sell his medal in an online auction, which featured a starting bid of $250,000. It is unclear whether the medal sold.
Smith's not alone, though. A few years ago, the hit television reality show "Pawn Stars" featured two bronze medals for sale.
For these Olympic awards from the 1990s, the seller wasasking $20,000 and $10,000 -- a much steeper price than you could get for just the medal's contents.
Whether sales at those prices can be maintained remains to be seen, but recent sales history proves that there is more to the asking price of a medal than its precious metals' value. Olympic medals hold a sentimental significance that can't be appraised at any typical.
The Investing Answer: If you're looking to invest in a rare find like an Olympic medal, the cost shouldn't be based on gold and silver prices alone. Owning a piece of world history has a value to many that a fluctuating can't dilute.