Summary. Patients with smoldering multiple myeloma (SMM) meet the diagnostic criteria of multiple myeloma (MM) but are asymptomatic. Between January 1978 and July 2001, 53 patients (median age 63 years) were diagnosed with SMM. The median serum M-protein and proportion of bone marrow plasma cells were 36 g/l and 27% respectively. Two subsets of SMM were identified: (i) evolving SMM (n = 22), characterized by a progressive increase in serum M-protein, a previously recognized monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and a significant higher proportion of IgA type and (ii) non-evolving SMM (n = 26) with stable M-protein that abruptly increases when symptomatic MM develops. Thirty-four patients developed symptomatic MM. The median time to progression in the overall series was 3·2 years and the only feature associated with a shorter time to progression was the evolving versus non-evolving type (1·3 vs. 3·9 years respectively, P = 0·007). The pattern of progression consisted of anaemia, lytic bone lesions or both, without renal failure, hypercalcaemia or extramedullary plasmacytomas. Fifty-seven per cent of patients that required chemotherapy showed no or minimal response. The median survival from diagnosis and from progression was 8·2 and 3·5 years respectively.