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The Hobbit’s "One Ring": What is this “Precious” metal worth?

December 14, 2012 -- Entertainment media is abuzz about Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, confident that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will be box office gold. This got everyone here at the USGB thinking, “Just how much gold would actually be in the ‘one ring that ruled them all’? And how much would Gollum's most ‘precious’ of metals be worth on today's market?”

So, given our experience putting together our “Gold on the Silver Screen” infographic, we set about to answer the challenge.  However, there were two pieces to the puzzle that made this particularly challenging:

1) The ring changed sizes to fit the individual who wears it.

In the stories, it was a perfect fit for not only the massive Dark Lord Sauron (estimated to be between seven and eight feet tall at the time he forged the ring), but also for the diminutive hobbits and Gollum himself (all clocking in around three feet tall or less).

Our solution was to focus on J.R.R. Tolkien’s heroes, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, the ring bearers throughout most of the author’s tales. Though, you'll note that we succumbed to temptation and priced out Sauron's giant ring below as well. 

2) Much like a rare coin, the powerful ring forged from gold would be worth more than the precious metal itself.

Clearly, in both Tolkien's The Hobbit and his follow-up with the Lord of the Rings cycle, the One Ring was much more valuable than the pure gold it was made from. It was imbued with the power of the Sauron, which granted invisibility, prevented its own harm, and destruction and gave it charge over all others in the Middle Earth… priceless stuff indeed.

Our solution was to focus only on the spot value of the gold itself. At the USGB, we are keenly aware that value that can be infused into a precious metal when it is pressed, minted, or (in this case) forged into a unique and prized object. For example, in the real world, rare and collectible coins from the U.S. and other countries are typically more valuable than the equivalent amount of precious metal bullion. Since it is hard to place a price tag on mythical dark magic, we just focused on the gold itself.

Sizing Up The Ring

Tolkien wrote that the ring was forged from pure gold, combined with Sauron’s power, making it almost indestructible. Although naturally soft gold must typically be combined with other metals to make a piece of jewelry firm, we’ve accepted that the only metal in Tolkien’s ring was pure 24k gold. No impurities here.

Considering the stature of the three-foot Hobbits, we assumed the smallest ring size (.05 in the U.S. or A in the U.K.), giving us a circumference of 36.25 millimeters. Using approximate specifications for the ring design featured in the films, with a ring that is 2 millimeters thick and 6.3 millimeters tall, we were able to determine the fluid ounce size of the ring (0.01544454 fluid ounces). Converting that to troy ounces brought us the size of the hobbit- and Gollum-friendly ring (0.2830985 troy ounces). After that, it’s just a simple multiplication with the spot price.

Most recently, that spot price has been moving around $1,700 for a single troy ounce of gold, so the hobbit sized ring seen throughout most of the films would be worth a little more than $482, based on the gold bullion within it. 

Just to get some scope, we also priced the ring at its largest size, which might be big enough to fit on Sauron’s finger (at least before he became a giant fiery eye atop a tower). With a 68.77-millimeter circumference, and accompanying adjustments in height and thickness, this ring would be considerably larger than the ring on a hobbit's hand. If Sauron reclaimed his ring, and his original form, the ring would suddenly enlarge itself to almost .87 troy ounces with a spot price just above $1472 at the time of this writing.

Clearly, such a ring would be much more valuable than the pure gold it contained. It's certainly been much more lucrative than that for Peter Jackson, Sir Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Tolkien's estate, New Line Cinema and many others associated with the films and stories.  

Similarly, back in our world of gold investment, we understand the hidden wealth in rare coins minted from precious metals. Although they don’t have a dark magic that controls all other coins beneath them, rare coins often do represent a larger and greater value on the open market than their gold bullion or precious metal content alone would suggest.

And happily, if you should acquire any rare gold coins or coins made from other precious metals, you’ll have neither Gollum nor Sauron chasing you to get them back.