Platinum is a chemical element, a mineral and a group of elements. It is an extremely rare metal found in the Earth's crust. It occurs in the Ural Mountains of Russia, the USA, South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and Australia. Most of the world's platinum is mined from Russia and South Africa. Platinum is mostly used in the production of catalytic converters for car exhausts. It is also used in the medical industry. Additionally, platinum is used for fine jewelry because of its beautiful lustrous sheen, resistance to corrosion, malleability and durability.
Platinum is an element, so it has existed since the evolution of the Earth. However, it has not been as widely used as gold. Platinum has been found in small amounts in ancient Egyptian artifacts, such as the Casket of Thebes and platinum was used by Paleo-Indians in Pre-Columbia. The ear ornament in the image below is an artifact from the Tumaco people, who lived on the Pacific, in the area of the Colombia-Ecuador border. They were hunter-gatherers who found precious metals in the river sand between 700 BC and 350 AD. Their burial mounds contained precious relics, such as necklaces, ear ornaments, nose rings and diadems.
Platinum deposits were discovered by Europeans in the eighteenth century, namely, Antonio de Ulloa of Spain. Platinum thus gets its name from the Spanish word, platina, meaning "little silver". The name was due to its similar appearance to silver. The value of platinum was not realized at this time. The Spanish were panning for gold and found the platinum to be a nuisance, because it was difficult to separate from the gold. Later experimentation led to the conclusion that platinum was difficult to work with due to its high melting point and impurities that rendered it brittle. Near the end of the eighteenth century under the reign of Carlos III, French chemist, Pierre-Francois Chabaneau succeeded in producing pure platinum. This marked the beginning of the "Platinum Age" in Spain.
Platinum deposits were discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1823. However, platinum jewelry was rare until the development of the high-temperature jeweler's torch (oxyhydrogen torch) in around the mid 1800s. Following this, platinum became the must-have metal for monarchs all over the world. After the discovery of a deposit in Canada, the USA caught onto the trend. A large deposit of platinum was later discovered in South Africa.
In the 1920s, during the Art Deco period, and in the 1930s, platinum became a prominent material seen adorning Hollywood stars and royalty. But at the beginning of the Second World War, the American government deemed it a "strategic" metal and forbade its use for jewelry. Platinum jewelry emerged again after the war and gained in popularity in the 1960s in Japan, and elsewhere in the 1970s and 80s, when interest in platinum bullion investment increased. Since the 1990s, platinum jewelry has been more popular than ever, especially for engagement rings.
Platinum jewelry is usually made of an alloy, with iridium, cobalt or ruthenium. The fineness of platinum jewelry varies and can be indicated by a stamp, which says "850" for 85% platinum, "900" for 90%, "950" for 95% and "999" for 99.9% purity. It may be stamped with the image of an orb, which means that the platinum has a purity of 950 or 999. It may also indicate the other material in the alloy, such as "Ir" for iridium, "Ru" for ruthernium or "Co" for cobalt. These stamps are optional.
Platinum is not scratch-resistant, but when scratched, the material is displaced rather than worn away. Platinum jewelry develops a patina over time, but it can be polished over and over again without losing volume, unlike other precious metals which tend to wear down over the years. Platinum is more durable than white gold, which can have a yellowish hue. White gold can be plated to achieve the same look as platinum, but the plating may wear away.
Platinum jewelry tends to be approximately twice the price of gold jewelry. However, if chosen as a precious metal for jewelry, it will last more than two lifetimes.
- First Published: February-23-2015
- Last Updated: August-22-2017
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