From gold exchange traded funds (ETFs) to gold stocks to buying physical gold, investors now have several different options when it comes to investing in the royal metal.

But what exactly is the purpose of gold? And why should investors even bother investing in the gold market? Indeed, these two questions have divided gold investors for the last several decades. One school of thought argues that gold is simply a barbaric relic that no longer holds the monitory qualities of the past. In a modern economic environment, where paper currency is the money of choice, gold's only benefit is the fact that it is a material that is used in jewelry.

On the other end of the spectrum is a school of thought that asserts gold is an asset with various intrinsic qualities that make it unique and necessary for investors to hold in their portfolios. In this article, we will focus on the purpose of gold in the modern era, why it still belongs in investors' portfolios and the different ways that a person can invest in the gold market.

In order to fully understand the purpose of gold, one must look back at the start of the gold market. While gold's history began in 3000 B.C, when the ancient Egyptians started forming jewelry, it wasn't until 560 B.C. that gold started to act as a currency. At that time, merchants wanted to create a standardized and easily transferable form of money that would simplify trade. Because gold jewelry was already widely accepted and recognized throughout various corners of the earth, the creation of a gold coin stamped with a seal seemed to be the answer.

Following the advent of gold as money, gold's importance continued to grow. History has examples of gold's influence in various empires, like the Greek and Roman empires. Great Britain developed its own metals based currency in 1066. The British pound (symbolizing a pound of sterling silver), shillings and pence were all based on the amount of gold (or silver) that it represented. Eventually, gold symbolized wealth throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The United States government continued on with this gold tradition by establishing a bimetallic standard in 1792. The bimetallic standard simply stated that every monetary unit in the United States had to be backed by either gold or silver. For example, one U.S. dollar was the equivalent of 24.75 grains of gold. In other words, the coins that were used as money simply represented the gold (or silver) that was presently deposited at the bank. (For more on this, read The Gold Standard Revisited.)

But this gold standard did not last forever. During the 1900s, there were several key events that eventually led to the transition of gold out of the monetary system. In 1913, the Federal Reserve was created and started issuing promissory notes (the present day version of our paper money) that guaranteed the notes could be redeemed in gold on demand. The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 gave the U.S. government title to all the gold coins in circulation and put an end to the minting of any new gold coins. In short, this act began establishing the idea that gold or gold coins were no longer necessary in serving as money. The United States abandoned the gold standard in 1971 when the U.S. currency ceased to be backed by gold.

The Importance of Gold In the Modern Economy

Given the fact that gold no longer backs the U.S. dollar (or other worldwide currencies for that matter) why is it still important today? The simple answer is that while gold is no longer in the forefront of everyday transactions, it is still important in the global economy. To validate this point, one need only to look as far as the reserve balance sheets of central banks and other financial organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund. Presently, these organizations are responsible for holding approximately one fifth of the world's supply of above ground gold. In addition, several central banks have focused their efforts on adding to their present gold reserves.

Gold Preserves Wealth

The reasons for gold's importance in the modern economy centers on the fact that it has successfully preserved wealth throughout thousands of generations. The same, however, cannot be said about paper denominated currencies.