If you're a shopper looking for something sparkly to put under the Christmas tree, you could skip the jewelry and just go for the gold.
A German company planned to install a vending machine that dispenses gold bars and coins Friday at an upscale mall in Boca Raton, a South Florida city of palm trees, pink buildings and wealthy retirees.
Thomas Geissler, CEO of Ex Oriente Lux and inventor of the Gold To Go machines, expects the majority of buyers will be walk-ups taken by the novelty. But he says the machines are also convenient for more serious investors looking to bypass the hassle of buying gold at pawn shops and over the Internet.
"Instead of buying flowers or chocolates, which is gone after two or three minutes, this will stay for the next few hundreds years," Geissler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The company installed its first machine at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace hotel in May and followed up with gold ATMs in Germany, Spain and Italy. Geissler said they plan to unroll a few hundred machines worldwide in 2011. He said the Abu Dhabi machine has been so popular it has to be restocked every two days.
The gold-leaf-covered machine at Boca Raton's Town Center Mall sits outside a gourmet chocolate store and works just like the two cash ATMs beside it. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards and use a computer touch-screen to choose the weight and style of gold. The machine spits out the gold in a classy black box with a tamper-proof seal.
Each machine, manufactured in Germany, carries about 320 pieces of different-size bars and coins. The machines are connected to the Internet and the company says prices are refigured automatically every 10 minutes to reflect market fluctuations. At one point earlier this week, a two-gram piece cost about $120, including packaging, certification and a 5% markup. An ounce cost about $1,470.
Buyer beware: A gram of the heavy metal is much smaller than you think, about the size of a fingernail. An ounce is a little larger than a quarter.
Owners say the machine, which will hold around $150,000 in cash and gold, will be flanked by an armed bodyguard for now. Several live security cameras are fixed inside and outside the machine.
The popularity of gold is cyclical, but it's riding high these days in part because of fears stoked by financial collapse.
Geissler, who plans to have a machine in Las Vegas by year's end, said the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment firm was the impetus for the flashy vending machines. His customers refused to buy bonds, stocks and other funds from the financial industry, so they focused on precious metals.
As investors continued to lose faith in the global finance market system, the company worked on the gold-leaf finished ATM, banking that the protection of purchasing power found in gold would lure market leery customers.
"Gold always comes back to its real value," Geissler said. "It's not diamonds, it's not silver, it's not real estate. It's just gold."
Dave Jones, who brokered the deal to bring the machines to the U.S., says there are plans to install about 40 more machines at upscale malls and hotels around the U.S.