Platinum, like gold, has a long and
distinguished history. Its use began in antiquity and it has undergone a
resurgence in popularity over the last 200 years.
Platinum was held in high esteem during
early Egyptian times. Native people in South and Central America worked it as
early as 100 B.C.
Spanish conquistadors discovered platinum
artifacts among the gold they were seeking when they came to the new world. They
named the curious metal "platina," or "little silver." They
also considered it worthless, and discarded it.
Platinum didn't reach Europe until the 18th
century, but then it caught on in a big way. King Louis XVI elevated it by
terming it "the metal of kings."
For centuries, the only large amounts of
platinum outside of South America were 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, platinum is far more valuable
than gold. Platinum's initial uses were probably limited by its hardness and its
very high melting point. The early forging and casting techniques made it quite
a difficult metal to work with.
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, and the Art Deco period well into the 1930s.
It all came to an abrupt end in World War
II, when platinum was declared a strategic metal and its use banned for all
Uses of platinum
Platinum has many industrial applications,
which made it invaluable to the military during the war.
Platinum is vital to the automotive
industry as well as to electrical engineering, electronics and petrochemicals.
The medical and dental fields also use it to a great degree.
Every car in the United States has platinum
in its catalytic converter, which reduces 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.
An interesting note: There are no
stockpiles or "reserves" of platinum in any government or banking
Beauty of Platinum
The appeal of platinum is in its
appearance. Its white luster is unique.
It is also the strongest precious metal
used in jewelry, and is almost twice as heavy as 14-karat gold. This weight is
one of platinum's strongest selling points, because it gives "heft" to
fine jewelry, which people naturally equate with value.
In recent years platinum has rapidly grown
in popularity. It's become the new choice for many diamond engagement rings
because its luster brings out the brilliance of diamonds far better than gold.
Many fashion consultants agree that
platinum (and white gold) is 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 rare 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. The mining and refining processes are both arduous and
For example, in order to extract a single
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's 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: Like
gold, platinum is durable, sturdy and dependable, making it an ideal setting 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 platinum 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 any diamond settings
periodically for possible damage to prongs or bezels. If you see a loose prong,
or if the setting looks out of line, immediately bring it to a professional for