As the price of gold reaches new record highs, recreational prospecting for gold has turned into an ever more popular pastime. Not just in the US or Australia, but also across parts of the Alps in Switzerland.
The so-called Napfgebiet, an hour south of Zurich, is a picturesque area that's home to cows, farms, and creeks carrying tiny splinters of the shiny metal. Toni Obertuefer is the organizer of gold washing tours. He has been in the business for 20 years and says he's having one of the busiest summers of his career: “Compared to last year, we are definitely seeing a pick up in tour bookings, and that is linked to the higher gold price”.
School groups, companies and families, equipped with boots, pans and shovels, flock to the creeks of the area to try their luck panning for tiny gold splinters, hoping to make that once-in-a lifetime discovery of a big golden nugget. On peak days, Obertuefer shows up to 120 people how to use pans and sieves for finding traces of gold in the creek. Other organizers say they have seen a 20 percent increase in tour bookings this summer alone.
Gold washing is unlikely to make any of the panner rich. It would most likely take years—and a great portion of luck—to turn the hobby into a personal fortune. To find one kilogram (or 35 ounces) of gold in Switzerland, experts say it may take five years of continuous panning. But visitors come for other reasons: They say it’s “simply fun” to spend time in the creek with friends, colleagues and family. Obertuefer has a more scientific explanation: “Gold continues to fascinate people, young and old, across all social classes. It always keeps its color and its special shine”.
But for how long will the precious metal continue its climb? Eliane Tanner, commodities analyst at Sarasin, believes the price of gold could rise to $1,900 /oz by year-end. It could have even more upside potential in 2012 as the price per ounce could reach $2,000. She says there may be some setbacks in the price along the way, but the upward trend is still intact. It's supported by three factors:
1) Central Bank policies and the possibility of QE3
2) Central bank buying, especially in the emerging markets and
3)European and US debt concerns.
As long as the price of gold remains at record levels, people will continue to flock here and dream on about the "big find". In this little creek in the mountains of Switzerland, everything that glitters may actually be gold, but there's just not enough of it.