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Gold bars.ILYA NAYMUSHIN/Reuters

Say hello to the bear market in gold. In early trading on Friday, bullion tumbled some $55 (U.S.) an ounce, to $1,510. That puts it 20.8 per cent below its high in 2011, when it briefly touched $1,900 an ounce.

It means that for all the concerns about the euro zone debt crisis, the U.S. economic growth and aggressive stimulus programs by central banks that were supposed to stoke inflation, gold is off the simmer. It also means that the bull market in gold, lasting more than a decade, has ended.

Now, the question is how painful the ride down is going to be. Those with an unshakable faith in gold as a long-term holding might be pleased to see buying opportunities open up. But speculators might not be so keen.

You also have to wonder about investors who have been using gold as a hedge against economic and financial calamity. In some ways, the hedge has worked: The economy seems to be doing okay and the financial crisis of 2008 hasn't flared up again, at least in North America. But hedges don't look as attractive when they're heading down.