Called the “King of Metals”, platinum is a very heavy (nearly twice the weight of gold), silver-white metal that is very ductile. Although it is a soft metal, platinum is not easily scratched and is very strong and durable. In fact, as the strongest precious metal used in jewelry, platinum also has a high melting point and good resistance to corrosion and chemical attack. Small amounts of iridium and ruthenium are commonly added to it, to give it a harder, stronger alloy that retains the advantages of pure platinum. The platinum family actually comprises six metals: platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium, rhodium and ruthenium. The six metals are generally found together in nature, with platinum and palladium being the most abundant, and the other four being more rare.
Platinum is also the only precious metal used in fine jewelry that is up to 95 percent pure. Platinum’s subtle beauty and its tendency to not add color of its own, enhances a diamond’s natural brilliance and fire, making it an excellent metal for diamond jewelry settings. Because of its purity, platinum is hypoallergenic, a plus for people with sensitive skin or allergies to certain metals.
History of Platinum
Platinum was first discovered in the alluvial (riverside) deposits of the Rio Pinto, Colombia. The Spaniards called the new metal Platina del Pinto for its resemblance to silver. The world’s most important deposits occur in the Transvaal of South Africa. Other deposits are found in Russia, Finland, Ireland, Borneo, New South Wales, New Zealand, Brazil, Peru and Madagascar.
The Ancient Egyptians and South American Incas prized platinum. France’s Louis XVI proclaimed it the only metal fit for royalty. Legendary jewelers such as Cartier and Faberge created their timeless designs in platinum. The world’s famous diamonds, including the Hope and Koh-l-Noor, are secured permanently in platinum.
Platinum reached its peak of popularity in the early 1900s, when it was the preferred metal for all fine jewelry in America. It dominated the world of jewelry design during the Edwardian era, the Art Deco period and well into the 1930s. At the onset of World War II, however, the U.S. government declared platinum a ‘strategic’ metal and its use in non-military applications, including jewelry, was banned.
Today, platinum is more valuable than gold. Although it is used in many industrial applications, including the automotive industry, platinum jewelry consistently commands higher prices because of its rarity. Also, no reserves of platinum are maintained, as in the case of the federal gold reserve in Fort Knox, KY. The annual worldwide production of platinum amounts to some 160 tons, compared to about 1,500 tons of gold. In fact, in order to produce just one ounce of platinum, about ten tons of ore must be mined.
When judging the value of platinum jewelry, always ensure that the material is indeed platinum (and not another metal, such as white gold) by checking for the amount of platinum content on the back of the piece. Platinum content is usually marked as “950Pt”, “950 Plat”, or “Plat”. In the United States, in order to be marked “Platinum” or “Plat”, a piece of jewelry must contain at least 95% platinum.