BERLIN: Apart from the gold-plated exterior - and the fact that they are bulletproof - they seem much like any other vending machine. But instead of chocolate bars, a network of ''gold-to-go'' machines dispenses 24-carat bullion.
Originally designed as a marketing device for an online gold trading business, the machines have become such a success that their inventor plans to build a global network, installing them everywhere from fitness centres to cruise ships.
The German businessman behind the machines, Thomas Geissler, said their success was the result of a rush on gold, the price of which has risen from $US250 an ounce in 1999 to about $US1330 an ounce.
''Ordinary people are starting to see its real value,'' he said.
Since the first machine was installed in May, in the lobby of Dubai's Burj Khalifa hotel, 20 gold-to-go machines have been installed across Europe. Next month the first machines will open in the US.
Mr Geissler is also meeting representatives of Harrods department store in London to discuss launching the first British machine. He plans to have launched 45 worldwide by the end of the year.
''We notice the sales peak whenever there are signs that the markets are wobbling. When the Greek crisis was revealed in its entirety, our sales went up tenfold. With the current troubles in currency markets, gold becomes even more attractive.''
It was no accident that the machines had taken off so well in Germany. ''Germans are still traumatised by the hyperinflation [of the 1920s], when people walked around with wheelbarrows full of notes, while Americans are still traumatised about the Depression.''
Mr Geissler said most customers of the vending machines were women, who tended to buy in smaller amounts. The larger pieces - it is possible to buy up to 250 grams for about €8,000 ($11,350) - are bought by ''well-off men, of on average 55 years of age''. The bullion are sold in smart presentation boxes.
The machines are monitored from Geissler's company headquarters in Reutlingen, Germany, and the price of the gold is updated every 10 minutes, according to the market price.
The company says its gold is cheaper than that available from the banks because its overheads are lower and the machine gold is available immediately, unlike at banks where customers have to wait for days.
Guardian News & Media