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By Paul Vanguard, for BullionMax.com
As long as a gold bar is LBMA Good Delivery certified and has a 0.999 fine purity, you might not expect gold bullion buyers to be picky about their purchases. Choosiness is primarily reserved for numismatics and coin collectors, for proof and uncirculated coin enthusiasts who care about things like total mintage, year of issue and of course mint marks. Right?
Turns out, bullion buyers are a discriminating bunch. To date, the 1 oz Valcambi gold bar has been our top seller by a considerable margin. Even in general terms, our customers prefer Valcambi Suisse over other world-famous, first-class bullion refiners like Perth Mint and Royal Canadian Mint.
What's making Valcambi gold stand out among the rest, then?
There are quite a few factors at play. Let's start with the obvious. Clichés aren’t always something to scoff at. And just as one might want to say they have an account in a Swiss bank, so too are they probably keen on saying they hold real Swiss gold. Fancy types can refer to their bullion as Valcambi lingot d'or, “gold bars” in French. Switzerland just has this aura of mystery and secrecy (we’ve written before about why the Swiss buy gold). We’ll probably never have the chance to sit outside at La Jetée smoking a Gauloises and sipping espresso while watching the sun rise over Lac Léman because that’s what James Bond does. We’ll probably never be on a first-name basis with a Swiss bank manager who wears pince-nez glasses unironically, either. Somehow, Switzerland’s capital Geneva has this pervasive aura of unattainable, cosmopolitan intrigue. The nation, the culture seems so unapproachable. Valcambi gold bars, though, they symbolize the most interesting and exotic parts of the nation. To us, at least.
Make no mistake, though, Valcambi has a lot more going for it than just its headquarters location. They've been in business for 60 years. They’ve seen some considerable technological innovations, and political changes, too. (Remember, when Valcambi started refining precious metals, gold was still money). Despite all of this, their bullion quality has never declined, never been compromised. They've been certified by both LBMA and COMEX for good delivery for decades.
It would be easy to think of Valcambi, a six-decade veteran of an old-school industrial manufacturing industry like gold refining, as stodgy and traditionalist. Refining and minting gold is just about as traditional an industry as you can get, right up there with blacksmithing and farming.
Valcambi, though, has brought the world some intriguing innovations. Exhibit A: The Valcambi CombiBar.
You know that saying about how truly great ideas are so simple that anyone could have them? That’s pretty much what a CombiBar is. Take a standard gold bullion bar, engrave it with deep scoring (like a Hershey bar) so individual pieces are detachable. Stamp each square with its own identifying details (weight, purity and manufacturer). This makes a single CombiBar exceptionally liquid even for gold's already-liquid standards.
Say you have a 1 oz gold CombiBar, and the spot gold price is $1,800. You can easily detach one of the 28 pieces and sell it for roughly $64. (Who knows, you might even get a bit more for it.) How's that for sound money? It's almost a throwback to a time when gold was actually used for day-to-day payments. If you’ve ever had the thought, What if I’m actually forced to barter my gold for food or other necessities – how am I supposed to pay for a tank of gas with a 1 oz gold coin? Well, now you can. Valcambi solved the problem of “making change” when you’re bartering with precious metals.
Valcambi gold CombiBars have been in production for more than a decade, in 50 x 1 gram, 10 x 1/10 oz, 20 x 1 gram and even 5 x 1 gram weights. There are silver, platinum and palladium CombiBars, too, for diversification enthusiasts.
Okay, look, we think CombiBars are super cool. And, with it being Swiss gold, we don't need to mention that the bars have multiple assays and sport some of the finest craftsmanship available. Do they put Valcambi ahead of the other primary competitor for #1 Swiss gold refiner?
Produits Artistiques Metaux Precieux, or PAMP, became one of the best-known Swiss refiners when they pretty much invented the minted gold bar. “Minted gold bar” may sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, a “mint” usually makes coins, right? Well, PAMP used the same minting techniques (refined designs and polishing) to produce beautiful gold bars, specifically their Lady Fortuna design. Now there are many other PAMP designs available.
So how does Valcambi stack up? Most Valcambi gold bars emphasize utility and practicality over beauty. Valcambi gold bars aren’t unattractive, but neither are they objets d’art. Valcambi’s gold bars are simple and, especially in the case of CombiBars, functional.
We don’t doubt that PAMP’s elaborately designed gold bars have more collector appeal. Here at BullionMax, most of our business comes from bullion investors rather than collectors. That’s probably why Valcambi gold bars sell so much better than the rest.
Paul Vanguard is a lifelong precious metals enthusiast and a proud member of the BullionMax team.