Author Suryatapa Bhattacharya Illustration Graham Roumieu
Driving down the palm-lined road leading to the $3 billion Emirates Palace— one of the most expensive hotels in the world—you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for an actual palace. The sprawling resort sparkles, with 114 domes of indigo and crimson, and golden flagpoles reaching high into the hot desert air.
In the lobby, where swirling amber arabesques on the floors and walls are lit by golden fixtures, a small crowd has formed by an ATM in a far corner. But just as the Emirates Palace isn’t any ordinary hotel, this is no ordinary cash machine. This one dispenses real gold.
The Gold To Go unit, which resembles a golden soda machine with a video screen, allows a customer, for a five-dollar fee, to purchase gold pieces in 10 varieties, ranging from South African Krugerrand coins weighing a 10th of an ounce to largish bars weighing an ounce.
According to Thomas Geissler, the chief executive of the German company Ex Oriente Lux, Gold To Go’s creator, the machine in the hotel lobby carries 300 gold bars, and it’s as simple to use as an ATM, except for one detail: Though it will eventually take credit cards, at present it accepts only cash.
“You put the bills in,” says Geissler, standing by the wall in the hotel lobby wearing a handmade suit and Turnbull & Asser necktie, “and then the gold comes out. And it’s always twenty-four karats.”
“It’s sort of like a candy dispenser,” says one American executive, contemplating making a withdrawal before heading back to the airport. “Except this weighs a little bit more.”
And, of course, candy typically isn’t this expensive. On the day of Gold To Go’s unveiling, the element was trading at $1,240 an ounce, or around $45 a gram. That evening, two young guests inserted $5,500 in bills into the machine and walked away with a gift box of gold coins.
“I know gold prices are climbing in Europe at the moment,” says Emile Franssen, 35, a lawyer from the Netherlands who’s just spent $200 on a handful of ingots. “It’s funny: I traveled all the way to the UAE to buy German gold.”