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A grand unified model (GUM) is developed to achieve fundamental understanding of rich structures of all 71 liganded gold clusters reported to date. Inspired by the quark model by which composite particles (for example, protons and neutrons) are formed by combining three quarks (or flavours), here gold atoms are assigned three ‘flavours’ (namely, bottom, middle and top) to represent three possible valence states. The ‘composite particles’ in GUM are categorized into two groups: variants of triangular elementary block Au3(2e) and tetrahedral elementary block Au4(2e), all satisfying the duet rule (2e) of the valence shell, akin to the octet rule in general chemistry. The elementary blocks, when packed together, form the cores of liganded gold clusters. With the GUM, structures of 71 liganded gold clusters and their growth mechanism can be deciphered altogether. Although GUM is a predictive heuristic and may not be necessarily reflective of the actual electronic structure, several highly stable liganded gold clusters are predicted, thereby offering GUM-guided synthesis of liganded gold clusters by design.