Definitions used on the website are set out on this page. Definitions cover the three key elements used, which are also set out in the menu: world geography, mine ownership and mine infrastructure.

World Geography

World Size

To ensure that PMM data has identified the entirety of world geography (land area), the first comparison is between Precious Metals Mining (PMM) data and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) data. The following differences by continent are revealed:

Note, that the PMM land areas are typically larger, in all continents than UN land areas. The differences are explained by:

Large areas not included by the UN, but which are included by PMM are:

  • Antarctica – 14,200,000 km2
  • North America – Northeast Greenland National Park – 972,000 km2, and
  • Disputed territories – 778,000 km2 (approximately)

There are multiple small area differences, in each continent, produced by differing definitions of “surface area” i.e. based on whether certain bodies of water are included or excluded. These small differences, in total, sum to around 3,700,000 km2.


Precious Metals Mining groups countries and their related external territories (collectively “political units”) into continents. Most people intuitively know: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and Antarctica as continents, see (National Geographic).

Precious Metals Mining uses an amended definition of continent to show both Russia and China separately as continents. Although China is entirely contained within Asia, Russia stretches across both Europe and Asia. The main reasons for separating them out are: their geographic size, their geopolitical importance and their huge significance in precious metals mining.

Therefore, in the Precious Metals Mining world view Russia is separated from both Europe and Asia, and China is specifically separated from Asia. Finally, PMM uses the continent of Oceania instead of simply Australia. This is done by including all (non continental) Pacific Islands not grouped with Asia (Hawaii is included with North America). The border between Asia (excluding China) and Oceania splits the island of New Guinea at the border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The subcontinent of India is a major producer of silver, but not of gold. India is also a major consumer of gold. India is therefore included within the continent “Asia (excluding China)”.

For Precious Metals Mining it is important to provide consistent orientation when looking at the world. This means looking at the world from “left to right” (or West to East) and top to bottom (or North to South) starting from the International Date Line and finishing in Antarctica.

Number of Countries

Since the addition of South Sudan in 2011, the United Nations (UN) has 193 members and 2 non-members. For completeness, Precious Metals Mining includes an additional 55 external territories, and 9 disputed territories.

Antarctica, itself a continent, is not specifically identified by the UN, because it is governed separately by countries which are parties to the Antarctic Treaty System.

Precious Metals Mining identifies 259 entities, aka “political units or countries plus external territories and disputed territories), which cover over 99% of the world’s land area:

Political Units/Countries

The two UN non-members are: Palestine (West Bank and Gaza Strip) and the Holy See (Vatican City).

The additional fifty-five external territories are mostly a legacy of the European colonial era and can be grouped into categories based on their “controlling state(s)” and legal status. For example, Britain’s Overseas Territories are grouped separately to the Crown Dependencies. France’s territories are split across four groupings. Antarctica is shown as a single entity although there are numerous individual regions administered by different countries. This is because the treaty determines that there is no mining in Antarctica.

The nine disputed territories (excluding the current on-going Ukraine/Crimea conflict) are :

Disputed Territories

There are many more territories whose status is in current dispute (check Wikipedia for a full list) between many different countries. However, the nine disputed territories listed above are states that the UN determines are “not UN members or observers”.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development within the World Bank currently recognises 189 members. These are the 193 UN members, excluding Andorra, Cuba, Liechtenstein, Monaco and North Korea, but including Kosovo.

Administrative Divisions

Precious Metals Mining builds it’s view of the world from the bottom up, wherever practical, based on first level administrative regions within a country or dependency. Specific examples include: the states of the United States, the provinces of Brazil, the governates of Egypt, the counties of Sweden, the emirates of Saudi Arabia, the departments of Bolivia or Colombia, the municipalities of Greenland and even the regions of the Antarctic Treaty System (not shown in the map below).

world map showing first level administrative divisions
World Map showing 1st level administrative divisions (excluding Antarctica)

Exceptions to the rule of “building from the bottom up” are based on size and relevance. The following entities (totaling about a million square kilometres) have not been broken down into their first level administrative regions, because they are either relatively small in size (typically less than 100,000 km2) and/or have very little or no recorded precious metal deposits. These countries represent just over 100 of the 259 identified above.

Land Areas not included

The 259 political units represent the vast majority the world’s land area, not entirely 100%, because there are some small islands, which are known to be not included, for example:

  • Scattered French Islands in the Indian Ocean, which include four coral atolls, not included in the external French territories set out above.
  • Clipperton Island, a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, off Mexico, which is an “overseas state private property” of France.

Mine Infrastructure

Mine infrastructure can be measured in terms of either annual production or mineral resources and ore reserves.

Annual Production

The output of mines is measured by annual production figures. By definition, projects have no production (although in reality they often have small amounts of production for testing and sampling).

A facility’s annual production (output) is volume (in fine weight) mined. It is usually measured in troy ounces or kilograms (1,000 kg or 32,151 troy oz of fine gold = 1 metric tonne).

Production reporting is based on calendar years, with most mining companies  adopting this reporting cycle. Companies in countries with alternative year ends (for example June, is typical in both South Africa and Australia, March for Japan) have been adjusted to calendar year reporting.

Annual production – simplifying assumptions:

  • Gold and silver can be produced while a deposit is still being developed as a project but typically not in volumes which will impact the numbers on a regional or global level
  • Where there are large amounts of mined material (stock) ready to be processed, these are assumed to be the same at the end of the year as at the beginning of the year.

Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves (MROR)

What is MROR?

MROR is a means of measuring the size of a mining deposit.

The focus of this site is annual production volumes of precious metals. However, successful production relies on the completion of a series of stages in a project from exploration to production.

The deposit size can never be fully known until the material is extracted, so the numbers are based on specified levels of confidence. Even after the material is extracted, it is not uncommon to find more Mineral Resource and Ore Reserves.

At the lowest level of confidence are Inferred Mineral Resources.

At the next level of confidence – Indicated Resources are where an estimate has been made.

Measured Resources are Indicated Resources which have been sampled and provide the highest level of confidence. This happens regularly when a mine is in production.

An Ore Reserve is the economically mine-able part of a Measured and/or Indicated Mineral Resource and allows for certain adjustments for expected losses etc.

Ore Reserves split into equivalent levels of confidence to Mineral Resources, with Probable being equivalent to Indicated and Proven being equivalent to Measured.

For a detailed explanation of MROR refer to one of the major standard setting authorities like

Project Stages

The chart below identifies the technical stage a project must go through in order to develop to production. These include “mineral resource”, “preliminary economic assessment” (pea) and “mineral reserve”, which represent increasing levels of confidence regarding the economic viability of the project.

Mine Ownership

Ownership Models

In the large scale mining (LSM) context, there are publicly quoted, private and state owned enterprises.

  • Publicly Owned Enterprises are listed on a Stock Exchange,
  • State Owned Enterprises can be either federal (national) or state based, and
  • Privately Owned Enterprises

ASM is a separate category to LSM. In the artisanal and small scale (ASM) space, the scope ranges from formal ASM (manual/artisanal and small scale mechanised) to illicit gold mining (working outside the law). ASM is illicit where it is explicitly prohibited by that country’s domestic legislation.

  • ASM is associated with the region in which the mine is located. No specific enterprise is identified. Cooperative mining and other community-based mining is included within ASM.
Ownership Matrix

Ownership Categories

A more detailed look at LSM allows us to split LSM into: Major, Intermediate and Junior categories. These categories largely speak for themselves, but typically, what they mean is:

  • Major are large organisations with a global reach, multiple mines and projects across multiple PU‘s/countries. Within this site, to be a major, a company must have gold production of >1moz or silver production >20moz in the last five years
  • Intermediate organisations with mines and projects in production but which are not majors, and
  • Junior companies are exclusively involved in exploration or development (i.e. no mines yet in production).

In addition companies can be broken down into either “primary” or “secondary” types:

  • Primary (mining companies whose primary objective is to explore, develop or mine gold and/or silver), and
  • Secondary (any companies whose secondary objective is to explore, develop or mine gold and/or silver). In other words, gold and silver are a by-product of their primary activity, be that mining or investment in mining.

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