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A shocking development: Gold card made of real gold

Jay MacDonald

What becomes a Eurasian oil oligarch most? Why, the first-ever, diamond-studded Exclusive credit card from Sberbank in Kazakhstan, made from real gold, of course!

Only 100 of Sberbank’s estimated 400,000 Visa Infinite cardholders in the former Soviet republic will be invited to pony up $100,000 — $65,000 for the card itself and $35,000 in mad money — to rock the world’s newest status symbol. Although it lacks a magnetic stripe, the Infinite Exclusive packs a chip for chip-based transactions at retail terminals and ATMs.

That thin slice of wallet bullion comes with plenty of perks, including no late fees, 24/7 concierge service, access to a personal manager, a free iPhone5 and a $250,000 health and life insurance policy. Oh, and the issuer is waiving the initial $2,000 annual fee for those few frugal fence-sitters out there. Sadly, there are no immediate plans to offer the card on these shores.

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When I first got wind of this card, which features the image of an archer who strangely seems to be making an obscene gesture toward persons or wildlife unknown, my first reaction was to request a press copy from Visa.

But when I didn’t hear back from Visa, my second reaction was to contact my buddy Brad Paulson, owner of Thor Engineering up in Northfield, Minn., and a card technician of the first order. Brad is well versed in the pros and cons of fashioning cards from all manner of material, from wood to platinum, so he wasn’t surprised that a gold card had finally surfaced.

“It was just a question of time,” he says. “I remember working on metal cards three or four years ago and that was one of the goals, to come up with a prestige gold card.”

Unfortunately, Infinite Exclusive cardholders could be in for a shock — literally.

“There are going to be problems with gold,” Paulson explains. “The reason it was used in dental work for so long is that it doesn’t corrode; things don’t stick to gold. Even in electronics, they have to do several steps in order to get the gold to ‘plate out’ on top of copper; you have to put ‘tie coats’ (veneers) in to get it to work.”

“Some of the other metal blanks, you could put a varnish on them or you could expect them to effectively rust and leave an oxide layer to insulate it. Gold isn’t going to do any of those things. It will never oxidize so it’s not going to form an inherent insulating layer. I don’t know of any good way to insulate gold,” Paulson admits.

What could go wrong using an uninsulated card o’ gold? Zzzzzzzzzzap!

“If it’s not insulated, that means your risk runs higher in sticking metal into a piece of electronics. That’s one of the strategies of the platinum and titanium cards; they put a varnish on the edges or faces so they can reduce that risk. With gold, you’ll never be able to do that.”

What will happen if you insert a gold card in a standard card reader?

“(Extended laugh) Well, what happens in cold places in the middle of winter where you start to have static charges build up? If you walk across the floor and you reach for the doorknob, you get a spark,” Paulson says. “So if they go north to cold, dry places like Minnesota or Norway or Finland, that increases the risk of having a static discharge into the machine.”

While it’s not likely to shock the cardholder in a fork-in-the-toaster way, inserting a solid gold card into a reader could cause the reader to reject the initial request, or worse, reset itself. Such snafus were reported with some chip cards at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary and with some foil-laminated cards issued by Target a decade ago, Paulson says.

Paulson and I agreed that in the interest of all concerned, Visa should pursue the prudent course before distributing the Infinite Exclusive card.

“I think we should test it,” he suggested. “And they should be willing to fill our account so that we can run it through a good test.”

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