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Precious Metals: PLATINUM

The King of Metals
Platinum, like gold, has a long and distinguished history, Platinum beginning in ancient times, up to and including its marked resurgence in popularity today. Platinum was held in high esteem during early Egyptian times and was worked by native people in South and Central America as early as 100 B.C. Spanish conquistadors that discovered platinum artifacts among the gold they were seeking named the curious metal "platina," or "little silver." They considered it worthless and discarded it. It didn't reach Europe until the 18th century, but then it caught on in a big way, and was eventually elevated by Louis XVI to "the metal of kings."

For centuries the only large amounts of platinum outside of South America were all found in Russian mines. Russia used platinum coins in the 19th century. In Spain, some gold coins were faked by gold-plating platinum coins. Nowadays, of course, platinum is much more valuable than gold. Platinum's initial uses were probably limited by its hardness and very high melting point. It wasn't easy to work with using early forging or casting techniques.

During the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, platinum was the premier metal for all important jewelry. Platinum dominated the world of jewelry design during the Edwardian era, the Art Deco period and well into the 1930s. It all came to an abrupt end in World War II, however, when platinum was declared a strategic metal and its use for all non-military purposes was banned.


The reason for the ban on platinum had to do with the metal's many industrial applications. What people don't know is that platinum is vital to the automotive industry, electrical engineering, electronics and petrochemicals, as well as in the medical and dental fields. Every car in the United States has platinum in its catalytic converter, which reduced emissions. Only about one-third of the platinum mined today is used in jewelry, where it consistently commands higher prices than the purest gold. Because of its many uses, almost all platinum mined and refined is immediately committed to use. There are no stockpiles, or "reserves" of platinum in any government or banking storage.

The appeal of platinum is its appearance. The white luster of platinum is unique. It is also the strongest precious metal used in jewelry, and is almost twice as heavy as 14k gold. This weight is one of platinum's strongest selling points, because it gives "heft" to fine jewelry, which people naturally equate with value. Platinum has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years, becoming the new choice for many diamond engagement rings because the luster of platinum is said to bring out the brilliance of diamonds better than gold. Whether this is true or not is a matter of opinion, but many fashion consultants agree that platinum (and white gold) are more compatible with fairer skin tones. The Japanese seem to be listening--almost 85% of platinum jewelry produced every year is purchased by Japanese consumers!
Despite its growing popularity, platinum remains one of the world's rarest metals. The annual worldwide production of platinum amounts to some 160 tons, compared to about 1,500 tons of gold. It can be found in just a handful of regions of the world and the mining and refining processes are arduous and time-consuming. For example, in order to extract a single of ounce of platinum, about 10 tons of ore need to be mined. After that, the refining process takes a full five months.

Platinum in jewelry is actually an alloyed group of six heavy metals, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These other metals are so similar to platinum in weight and chemistry that most were not even distinguished from each other until early in the nineteenth century. Today it is often alloyed with copper and titanium. It is the only precious metal used in fine jewelry that is 90% to 95% pure, largely hypoallergenic and tarnish-resistant. Look for platinum jewelry marked 900Pt, 950 Plat, or Plat.

One final word about precious metals. Gold and platinum are durable, sturdy and dependable, and make ideal settings for your precious diamond jewelry. However, to get a lifetime of enjoyment from your jewelry, be sure to keep it clean and safe.

Do not wear jewelry during rough work or when handling harsh chemicals. Store it in a fabric-lined box away from other pieces so it does not get scratched. Finally, check the diamond settings periodically for any damage to prongs or bezels. If you see a loose prong or the setting looks out of line, bring it to a professional for repair at once.




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