The Pure Gold Company

Gold has a long and venerable history as a serious investment asset, but its allure has inspired some very unusual ‘use cases’. Like the gold toilet, the gold pills that shine up the deposit that goes into the toilet, and even a roll of gold toilet paper to use when you’re done. You can wear it, be buried in it, clean your house with it or even eat a real Wispa gold bar or a gold-covered steak. Find out the strange ways gold has infiltrated modern life.

How to steal a golden toilet

In 2016, Italian artist Maurizio Cattalan created an 18-carat gold sculpture of a fully functioning toilet. The art piece, called America, was created for the Guggenheim Museum in New York and was loaned to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England in 2019. There it was stolen, despite being plumbed in and fully operational, and has never been recovered. The thieves got away with 227lb of gold which in 2019 was around £1210 per ounce. Art value aside, this would make the toilet worth around £4.4 million if it was made of bullion-purity gold which is close to 24 carats. However, if the thieves melted it down and sold it for scrap as the police believe may have happened, they would only have got around three-quarters of that price for the 75% purity 18k gold it was made of.  The gold price has subsequently surged to over £1800 so if they had waited, their initial ‘investment’ would be worth 33% more.

Whether or not the thieves held out for a higher gold price, their luck finally ran out last year as four men were charged over the theft in November 2023. Cattalan said he made three gold toilets, so there are still another two if you’re ever caught short.

Cattalan is not the only gold toilet maker though. Almost two decades earlier, Hong Kong jeweller Lam Sai-wing built a washroom at his jewellery store made entirely of gold. The toilet bowl, basins, toilet-roll holder, mirror frame and wall tiles were all made of 24 carat gold, which at the time (2002) was a very reasonable £200 per ounce. The motivation behind the gold washroom was a comment from former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin who said in 1921 “When we are victorious on a world scale I think we shall use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities of the world.”

The other end

In 2005, Canadian artist Tobias Wong and New York artist Ken Courtney of Just Another Rich Kid designed a line of luxury objects to address the creation of and demand for the unnecessary. Alongside gold-dipped Nike Air Jordan shoes, the collaboration produced 24K gold leaf capsules that, when ingested, “turn your innermost parts into chambers of wealth. Consume and digest.” A set of three ‘poop pills’ will set you back $425 and are the perfect accompaniment for anyone with a gold toilet.

Triple ply

Australian toilet paper supplier the Toilet Paper Man developed and produced a single roll of 24K toilet paper. The company claims the toilet paper is triple ply and entirely safe and usable. Priced at $1.3 million, the roll originally went on sale in 2013, has since been sold according to the website. The sales blurb explains “As you use the toilet paper 24 carat gold flakes will fall onto the floor and your behind taking you to another level of sophistication.” It is literally the easiest way to flush money down your (gold) toilet.

How to wear your heart of gold on your sleeve

In 2013 Indian businessman Datta Phuge bought and wore a shirt made entirely of gold, earning himself the nickname ‘gold man’. The shirt was made of more than 3kg of gold and worth $250,000 at the time. Phuge commissioned the shirt, which took two weeks to make using an Italian weave to make the cloth and lined with velvet to stop it scratching. Gold is a particularly important status and wealth symbol in India where it is often given as gifts for weddings and celebrations.

According to a World Gold Council report in June 2023, Indian households hold an estimated 25,000 tonnes of gold. Tragically, Phuge was beaten to death in 2016 following a dispute over money matters, according to the police. 

A last golden goodbye

There are several famous people who have reportedly been buried in gold coffins, including Michael Jackson, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. The model is the Promethean casket made by the Batesville Casket company in Indiana and is in fact made of 48oz polished bronze and plated in 14 karat gold. It takes around 150 hours to make the coffin and costs up to $50,000 – worth if for a ‘gold standard’ send-off.

Cleaning up

Take the drudgery out of domestic chores with a 24k gold plated vacuum cleaner. The one-off design made by GoVacuum went on sale in 2012 for $1 million and was billed as commercial grade, so suitable for most cleaning tasks. The company is no longer trading so the fate of the gold vacuum cleaner is unknown, but anyone who can afford a gold vacuum cleaner probably isn’t going to use it themselves anyway.

Whisper sweet nothings

Chocolate giant Cadbury used the relaunch of its Wispa gold bar to produce and sell a gold-plated chocolate bar. Compared to the 55p price tag of a regular Wispa gold bar, the 2009 plated edition cost £961.48 and was covered in edible gold leaf and sheathed in a gold-plated wrapper. All proceeds of the sale went to the Lowe Syndrome Trust whose patron, Tony Hadley (singer with Spandau Ballet whose biggest hit was Gold) was enlisted to deliver the special edition Wispa Gold to Selfridges in London where it was on display for a week.

Golden tomahawk

The golden Wispa bar may be long gone, but discerning consumers can still savour the precious metal at celebrity chef Salt Bae’s restaurants in London, New York, Dubai and Istanbul because the Turkish chef’s menu includes a selection of prime meats covered in gold leaf. At Nusr-Et in New York, diners can enjoy a 24k gold coated wagyu tomahawk steak ($950), a golden rack of lamb ($800), a gold burger ($180) or golden baklava for dessert for a more modest $60. London diners can currently only sample the golden desert as the shiny meat feast is off the menu for now.

Ultimate status

The list of unusual gold products, artworks or objects is long and very varied. Gold contact lenses, a gold dummy, gold lemonade, a gold beer mug and a life size gold statue of a horse are just a few that have made headlines, but many more are in affluent homes around the world. Artists and designers often use gold to push boundaries and challenge traditional concepts of art and utility. Some owners want publicity and fame, others want to showcase the luxury and exclusivity of gold to show off their wealth.

Gold’s durability and intrinsic value ensure these unconventional objects remain valuable and intriguing, combining tradition with creativity and modernity. And so long as you don’t eat it (digested gold has little resale value), your gold trinkets or appliances will retain their value over the long-term, just like more conventional gold bullion.

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