Rand Refinery – world’s largest gold refinery

Although less than 100 years old, Rand Refinery has already refined nearly 50,000 tons of fine gold, almost one third of all the gold ever mined worldwide, providing a regular supply of prime quality investment bars. It has also become famous for the Krugerrand – the world’s premium bullion coins. Discover Rand Refinery – the largest producer of gold in the world.

The word „rand” has a broad meaning the South Africa. Investors associate it mainly with the name Krugerrand coins. However, in Afrikaans – the language of the Boers – “rand” means a “mountain” or a “mountain range”. The Witwatersrand mountains near Johannesburg is a famous gold mining region, accounting for almost 40% of the South Africa’s gold ore. It is also the name of South Africa's unit of currency – the rand – which replaced the South African pound in 1961, the same year that the country gained its independence. However, the history of Rand Refinery is much longer than that of the currency of Africa’s southernmost country.

The Chamber of Mines of South Africa

Is all started in 1920, when the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, a body comprising the county’s largest gold mining companies, decided to launch its own refinery to process the precious ore into commercial gold units. The construction of the Germiston site started the same year, about 16 km south of the capital city of Johannesburg. Only one year later, Rand Refinery launched the production of gold.

Rand Refinery still operates in its original location as one of the largest single-site gold refining complexes in the world. With few exceptions, all of the Rand Refinery gold has been refined at the Germiston site.

Since the very beginning, the refinery logo on Rand Refinery bars has featured a Springbok antelope, one of South Africa's most recognized national symbols, which still features on the reverse side of the Krugerrand coins.

In 1920s, South Africa had the status of a British Dominion. No wonder then that the establishment of the Rand Refinery resonated so strongly throughout the entire British Empire. Since the very beginning of the production, its 400 oz. gold bars (about 12.5 kg) have been accredited as “good delivery” by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) – a prestigious London-based market for the exclusive trading of gold without contracts and other gold-based securities. Rand Refinery is still a recognized and trusted LBMA member – one of only five members of the LBMA’s Good Delivery referee panel, which monitors refining standards of other suppliers.

Gold Bars for India

Before World War 2, the Refinery remained a valuable supplier for the London market and India was viewed as the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. By 1940, Rand Refinery was manufacturing 10 oz. bars for issue under the name of the Bank of India. It also proved its versatility by supplying 10 tola bars under the name of the Bombay Mint (tola is a weight unit unusual for the western markets, traditionally used in South Asia, with 1 tola equal to 3/8 troy ounce).

The Krugerrand

As already mentioned, in the early 1960s South Africa severed its dependence on the United Kingdom. Major changes also took place in the refinery at that time, with the launching of new production lines for the recovery of other metals that were by-products of the gold refining process. 1967 marked a landmark event which revolutionized the bullion market: the Krugerrand coin was added to the refinery’s product portfolio. After half a century, they still remain the most popular bullion coin in the world.

Since the launch date, Rand Refinery has remained solely responsible for the manufacture of the raw material and sale of the coins abroad. However, it should be mentioned here that the exclusive right to manufacture the rand – South Africa’s official currency – is held by the South African Mint, while Rand Refinery is the supplier of the intermediate product, i.e. coin blanks of appropriate size, composition and weight, which are later stamped by the state Mint and distributed worldwide by Rand Refinery.

Following the collapse of the British Empire, the 1980s and 1990s marked a search for new outlets. In 1974, the refinery received “Good Delivery” accreditation for its 100 oz. gold bars (ca. 1.84 kg) traded on the NYSE. Also in 1980s, the refinery started or resumed production of gold bars in grams, tola and tael (a Far Eastern measure of weight introduced in 1959, equal to 50 g).

The turn of the century saw historical changes in South Africa and the Rand Refinery itself, which launched an extensive modernization of the production process and was the first in the world to have completely automated the production of 400 oz. bars (1989).

In 1993, Rand Refinery withdrew from the Chamber of Mines and became an independent company, although the majority of its shares are still held by South Africa’s major mining companies.

Changes in the ownership structure were also reflected in the market strategy. The newly established company absorbed the sales and marketing department of Chamber of Mines (including the section responsible for Krugerrands), launching an intensive sales campaign on international markets. At O.R. Tambo International Airport, approximately 20 km of the main site, the company opened a new plant manufacturing low-weight gold bars as well as a high-security storage facility for safe international transport of gold. In 1999 it also commenced the supply of semi-finished gold products for the jewellery industry.

The two decades between 1990 and 2010 also saw the award of further Good Delivery accreditations, initially by the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1993 and later by the Dubai Stock Exchange in 2005 and 2006 for gold and silver bars, respectively. In the meantime, the production lines had been further upgraded and new ISO certificates had been issued. Furthermore, a new copper recovery plant was constructed between 2008–2009 for recovery of the copper commonly found in gold and silver deposits.

Rand Refinery Today

In 2011, Rand Refinery revitalized its brand logo by replacing the longstanding Springbok logo (which had represented the brand since 1921) with an emblem representing a crucible pouring molten ore.

Today Rand Refinery is a powerful holding offering precious metals, bullion coins, semi-finished jewellery, refining services for external clients as well as logistics and storage of precious metals. However, what has not changed at all over the past 90 years is the supreme quality of its products. With a Springbok or crucible, Rand Refinery gold bars are still highly respected and desired around the globe.

fot. Matteo Bertini, flickr.comCC BY-SA 2.0

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