Platinum is a very heavy, silver-white metal that is very ductile. Although it is a soft metal, platinum is not easily scratched and is very strong and durable. It is the strongest precious metal used in jewelry, and 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 rarer.
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. Yellow gold settings, for example, can sometimes add a yellow tint to a colorless or near colorless diamond, making it appear to be a lower color grade. Because of its purity, platinum is actually hypoallergenic, a plus for people with sensitive skin or allergies to certain metals, like those found in gold jewelry.
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.
Platinum was first discovered in the alluvial (riverside) deposits of the Ro 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. As a matter of fact, France's Louis XVI proclaimed it the only metal fit for royalty. Legendary jewelers such as Cartier, Faberge and Tiffany 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 much more valuable than gold. Although it is used in many industrial applications, including the automotive industry, platinum jewelry consistently commands higher prices than even pure gold 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.