When the 16th century Spanish conquistadors encountered platinum in the New World, they dismissed it as platina or “little silver.” But by the 18th century, King Louis XV of France announced that it was the only metal fit for a king. Today, platinum is more expensive than gold and is synonymous with luxury and quality. Platinum’s inherent characteristics, its history, its mining and refining processes, and its use in industry have all contributed in some way to platinum’s high value.
Platinum (chemical symbol Pt) is a silvery-gray metal, one of six that comprise the so-called platinum group metals. The other platinum group metals, or PGMs, are iridium (Ir), osmium (Os), palladium (Pd), rhodium (Rh), and ruthenium (Ru). Although it is rare, platinum is also the most abundant of the PGMs.
Platinum is often alloyed with other PGMs, especially in the jewelry industry. Platinum alloys usually weigh less but are harder than pure platinum.
When measured in parts per billion of the Earth’s crust, platinum is more abundant than gold, but because it is more dispersed and more difficult to refine, it commands a higher price. Platinum is also found in asteroids and meteors along with other metals such as nickel, titanium, and cobalt.
Given the limited terrestrial quantities of platinum and other platinum group metals, researchers are now giving serious thought to the potential for asteroid mining.
Platinum is one of the heaviest materials on Earth. A six-inch (15 cm) cube of platinum weighs 165 pounds (75 kg), the weight of an average adult male. Platinum is also highly malleable and ductile, although less so than gold. Of the “big three” precious metals, platinum has the least metal memory . This is a good characteristic for jewelrysmithing.
It means that once platinum is bent into a new shape, it tends to retain that shape. Platinum is also very dense which lends strength to delicate jewelry designs. The lacy styles of the Edwardian Period were created when platinum became a popular metal in the jewelry industry.
Platinum is exceptionally durable . All metals scratch, and platinum is no exception. However, when platinum is scratched, the metal is merely displaced; it does not tend to chip or break off. As a result, scratched platinum jewelry can be re-polished with little loss of weight. It is also highly resistant to corrosion and will not react with air, water, heat or most chemicals.
The only substance known to dissolve platinum is aqua regia, a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acid used to refine platinum from mineral ores.Platinum jewelry will look slightly different after it has been worn. It is said to develop a telltale “patina.” While the Japanese prize the “frosted” look of worn platinum, some Westerners prefer to have their platinum rhodium plated to make it whiter and shiner. Buffing, steaming, or professional re-polishing will remove the patina.
Consumers may also choose a matte, satin, or other type of surface finish, which will minimize platinum’s patina. Although platinum is a staple in the fine jewelry industry, it is also prized for its industrial applications. Increased industrial demand has played a role in the spiraling value of platinum over the last several decades.
Thomas Edison used thin platinum wire to make filaments for his prototype light bulbs. Today, about one-fourth of all the goods made in factories around the globe either contains platinum or utilizes platinum in some way.
Now that you have an overview of the platinum, learn about the Silver Characteristics | Silver Facts and Features next.