A History of Swiss Gold Refining and Valcambi

Posted on November 22, 2021

Valcambi Refinery Swiss Gold History Hero Image

Since its founding in 1961, Valcambi has built a stellar reputation as one of the leading gold refineries in both Switzerland and Europe, as well as around the world. Their path to becoming one of the most influential gold refineries has ties to Switzerland’s role as the leading gold refiner in the world.

Today, Valcambi refines thousands of pounds of precious metals daily and are well-known for many reasons, including as the exclusive refiner for Credit Suisse (a global investment bank), an approved member of the London-based industrial group that oversees precious metals, and the top name in gold and silver bullion. Understanding how Valcambi came to be one of the most reputable gold refineries is vital to understanding its history.

What is Valcambi SA?

Valcambi Société Anonyme (that’s what the SA stands for, basically the same as Inc in a U.S. corporation) is the world’s top source of Swiss gold. Located in Balerna, Switzerland, Valcambi boasts the reputation of the world’s largest gold refinery and can produce roughly 2,000 tons of precious metals annually, including 6.6 tons of gold bars and coins each day of operation. To put that into a more comprehensible number, Valcambi can refine a staggering 105,700 troy ounces of gold every single day. Today, Valcambi precious metals are extremely sought after, representing a globally trusted brand and the gold standard of gold refining.

Switzerland’s role in gold production

While some know Switzerland better for watches than gold, they might be surprised to learn that precious metals and stones are Switzerland’s top import item and number two export. Though it’s among the smaller countries in the world by both population and land area, Switzerland reigns supreme as a refiner of gold. In fact, most of the world’s gold ends up in Switzerland for refining despite being mined elsewhere: China, Australia, Africa, Russia, and the U.S. About 70% of the world’s unrefined gold passes through Switzerland, making Swiss gold a roughly $70-90 billion per year business. Switzerland top ten imports and exports chart image One region, in particular, the canton of Ticino, which sits on the Southeastern Swiss-Italian border, is home to three of the largest and most highly-regarded gold refineries in the world, including Valcambi (the other two are PAMP and Argor-Heraeus). If we look back in history to the 1970s and 1980s, Ticino was a strategic location for gold refining, mainly because of its proximity to Italy. Back then, Italy was one of the world’s major producers of jewelry.

How did Switzerland become the world’s gold refining hub?

How did Switzerland become the gold refining capital of the world when the country didn’t mine any significant quantity of gold itself? Here are a few other reasons:
  1. Switzerland has the technological and logistical infrastructure to support high-volume gold refining operations. The Swiss have made the refining process extremely efficient and hold themselves and Swiss gold to an exceptionally high standard. Swiss gold refineries are synonymous with the purest, highest-quality gold bars and bullion money can buy.
  2. Demand for gold has remained high, paving the way for Valcambi to grow quickly. Gold’s uses, from jewelry and technology to investing, sent the price of the yellow metal up 10x between January 1970 and January 1980. While the price of gold is subject to volatility, gold continues to be a useful metal in manufacturing electronics and a safe haven for investors during uncertain times and through rocky financial markets.
  3. A long history of financial security and privacy lends itself well to an operation where a one-kilo bar of gold costs well over $50,000. For centuries the Swiss have been known for their reputation of financial security, stability, and secrecy. People worldwide have trusted the Swiss with their money and other valuables, and that trust extended to the Swiss’ ability to refine and export high-quality gold.
  4. Since Swiss banks often held large quantities of gold on behalf of their customers anyway, they decided to establish their own refineries to increase the profitability of their operations. Though the banks no longer own the refineries, it gives us a glimpse into Switzerland’s lengthy history of gold refining.

Valcambi’s road to dominance

Valcambi was initially founded by a group of five Swiss businessmen from Ticino under the name Valori & Cambi in 1961. In 1967, the company changed its name to Valcambi; during that same year, Credit Suisse purchased a 50% stake in Valcambi. In 1979 Credit Suisse started selling gold bars, which were manufactured exclusively at the Valcambi refinery. By 1980, Credit Suisse had bought the remaining 50%, giving them sole ownership of Valcambi. valcambi logo imageIn 2003, Credit Suisse sold Valcambi to European Gold Refineries (EGR), a company owned by Newmont Mining and a group of private investors. Nevertheless, Valcambi still refines the gold and mints bullion bars for Credit Suisse to this day. In 2015, Newmont sold its majority stake in Valcambi to Rajesh Exports. European Gold Refineries was later absorbed by Global Gold Refineries, a subsidiary of REL (Rajesh Exports Limited) Singapore PTE. Since completing the purchase of Valcambi for $400 million in 2017, Rajesh Exports Limited has held 100% ownership of the world’s largest gold refinery. As one of the world’s top producers of gold jewelry, Rajesh Exports is no stranger to the industry and continues to uphold Valcambi’s reputation as one of the premier gold refineries. After 60 years of unparalleled quality, Valcambi’s prestige has never been tarnished. An independent, London-based association that focuses on defining and upholding quality standards in the precious metals market recognizes Valcambi as an approved member and has granted the refiner Good Delivery List accreditation. Valcambi is also approved by COMEX (formerly Chicago Mercantile Exchange), one of the world’s largest marketplaces for trading precious metals options and futures.

Why Valcambi is the top name in gold today

Valcambi continues to hold its position as the top name in gold refining for many of the same reasons that allowed the company to grow as quickly as it did. With most of the world’s gold moving through Switzerland, Valcambi is ideally situated to serve as a processing hub, receiving unrefined gold and exporting refined products globally. Additionally, Switzerland is a technologically advanced first-world country with a strong background in finance. The nation has remained staunchly neutral for over 150 years, throughout two world wars. Based on its long-standing traditions of respect for privacy and political non-involvement, Switzerland has become one of the world’s financial centers. Valcambi has demonstrated its expertise at implementing cutting-edge technology, innovative business, and airtight security and privacy into its operations. Valcambi has also been very strategic about its partnerships and ownership throughout the years, first with Credit Suisse, then with Newmont Mining, European Gold Refineries, and Rajesh Exports today. Most of all, Valcambi can remain the world’s gold refining leader because of its pristine reputation for producing the finest, purest gold. Remember, in precious metals, reputation is everything. Valcambi’s history and brand name are worth exponentially more than a single year’s sales. Like gold buyers, gold refiners tend to have a long-term view and less focus on making a quick buck.

Valcambi Suisse gold products

Valcambi offers a broad range of gold products, including bars, cast products, numismatic coins and medals, and grain (tiny pieces of gold weighing around 0.065 g and used for casting). More recently, Valcambi now offers a unique product called the CombiBar, which consists of a specially engraved and formed 50g gold bar that can easily be broken into 1g pieces (like a KitKat bar). While Valcambi’s 60-year history may seem extensive, the company is relatively young compared to the region’s gold mining history, which dates back to the 1600s. i Valcambi’s rise to gold refining dominance is not a  miraculous achievement, rather the benefit of constant, relentless pursuit of perfection in every possible way. The gold bars bearing the Valcambi name and assay mark are, understandably, the most sought after in the world.