Anyone would think from the current fashion craze for platinum that this was a recently discovered metal. In fact, this is far from the truth.
The Spaniards discovered Platinum in 1590. But they disdained it because it looked like silver, rather than the yellow metal that they treasured. What the Spanish explorers failed to appreciate was that platinum is 34 times rarer than gold. Platinum only comes from meteorites. That’s one reason for its scarcity.
Platinum is increasingly used in jewelry because it is more ductile than gold. It can be drawn into fine wire, enabling the craftsman to create more intricate designs than is possible with gold. The silvery color of platinum also sets off diamonds more attractively than gold.
Platinum is totally unreactive chemically. So, it can never react with oxygen or hydrogen sulfide and tarnish. It will always stay shiny.
If you have an allergy to certain jewelry, consider switching to platinum, as if. Platinum jewelry contains no nickel. Nickel is the metal that is mixed with gold that causes an allergic reaction. Being totally unreactive, platinum can never cause a rash or other allergic reaction. Platinum is used to make pacemakers because it is so well-tolerated by the body.
Other Uses of Platinum
Platinum has a multitude of far more important uses than jewelry. It is a catalyst. This means that platinum allows other chemicals, like gases, to react easily on its surface without affecting the platinum itself in any way. The platinum is not affected by the reaction at all. It is still there after the reaction to carry on working. Very useful.
The most well-known example of platinum use in this way is in automobile exhaust catalysts. It is also used in making nitric oxide, which is essential to making nitric acid. Nitric oxide is one of the essential chemicals that our modern chemical industry depends on for making everything from drugs to explosives.
Beware: Platinum Quality Can Vary in Jewelry
Platinum has become a popular choice for jewelry due to its strength, durability. Also, the marketing efforts of the platinum industry in recent years plays a big role.
Platinum is three times more expensive than gold. Jewelers aggressively market it. And that is because they make three times the profit on every platinum item they sell compared to gold.
Platinum is a naturally white, lustrous metal that is long-lasting. Sometimes the claims of strength and scratch resistance are overstated. Like all precious metals, platinum will scratch. A platinum scratch is different from white gold. The reason being it simply plows the metal instead of removing it.
Traditionally, jewelry manufacturers used platinum alloyed with metals from the platinum group metals. These metals are iridium, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, and ruthenium.
With the proper mix of these platinum group alloys, platinum becomes one of the hardest metals. And it makes it a strong and durable jewelry metal. Platinum will not rust or corrode. Also, the platinum family metals make it hypoallergenic and ideal for persons with sensitive skin.
Platinum Metal Stamps
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has guidelines for platinum jewelry. These guidelines state that only items consisting of 950 parts per thousand of pure platinum can be stamped PLATINUM or PLAT without more alloy information.
From 750-950 Platinum, the platinum group metals must also be indicated. For example, PLAT900IRID for 10% Iridium alloy. Historically, the most common alloys in America were 95% Platinum with 5% Ruthenium or 5% Cobalt and 90% Platinum with 10% Iridium.
There is a misperception that the 950 platinum is better than the 900 platinum. But, pure platinum is very soft and the right alloy mix is what is important. Different alloys and different percentages produce better results for different jewelry purposes.
Some alloy mixes work better for casting and some are better for handcrafting like bending the prongs over fragile diamond corners. Many artisans feel that PLAT900IRID is the best general-purpose alloy for diamond rings.
While platinum is best known for its use in jewelry, more than 60% of platinum is used for other industrial purposes. It is used as catalytic converters in autos and pacemakers in the medical field.
Low-purity Platinum Alloys
Because of its rarity and the rapidly increasing demand for this versatile metal, the price has soared in recent years.
The high price of platinum has caused some jewelry manufacturers to start using lower percentages of platinum. And to use other alloy metals to lower the cost of the jewelry. Unfortunately, these new alloy mixes are reducing the very qualities that made platinum desirable. The new alloys produce more brittle platinum that is more susceptible to damage.
For example, metal that is stamped 585 Platinum is really only 58.5% pure platinum and 41.5% copper and cobalt. The result is that it is more likely to crack, crater, discolor or irritate sensitive skin.
How to know the Quality of Platinum
Less scrupulous jewelry vendors remove the 585 stamp and complicate the situation. It will lead consumers to believe the metal is the traditional high-quality platinum.
Historically the jewelry shopper did not worry about the purity of platinum. Since the alloy metals were in the platinum group the quality was uniform regardless of the particular alloy or percentage used.
Todays jewelry shopper is at potential risk. Because the lower quality platinum looks the same as the higher quality platinum.
While platinum looks similar regardless of the alloy, the weight of lower quality alloy mixes is lower. That is because there is so much less of the dense platinum.
Currently, there are no FTC guidelines for the new platinum alloys. So it is up to the jeweler or appraiser to help the consumer determine if the platinum is well suited for its intended use.
The consumer deserves a warning if sold lower quality platinum. Since it might not hold stones as well and is more susceptible to damage.
But, do not expect the jeweler selling low-quality platinum to point out this potential problem. As with any important purchases, it is up to the consumer to be knowledgeable. And ask the right questions before making a sale.
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