Many couples celebrate their silver and golden wedding anniversaries. Fewer manage what the British monarch achieved last November – 70 years of marriage, which is marked by a platinum anniversary.
It’s a mark of the value typically associated with platinum – dubbed ‘rich man’s gold’ and noted for its durability and resistance to corrosion– that the precious metal is used for gifts to mark a particularly lengthy union.
The National Association of Jewellers says of platinum: “This extraordinary metal is far rarer than gold. In fact, it’s said that, if all the platinum ever mined were poured into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, it would barely cover your ankles!
“Naturally extremely white, platinum alloys usually contain 95% platinum. Because of its denseness and rarity, platinum jewellery is more expensive than gold. Platinum does not tarnish and is naturally hypoallergenic.”
Platinum vs palladium
Less well known than platinum, palladium is another naturally white metal which for many years has been a less expensive alternative – often substantially cheaper – than its cousin. Platinum is nearly twice as dense as palladium, so platinum jewellery requires more grams of the metal than a similar piece made of palladium and items are correspondingly heavier.
The National Association of Jewellers describes palladium as “a dream material for jewellery designers who enjoy creating larger, more dramatic designs.
“Very slightly darker and much lower in density than platinum, it is a member of the platinum family and popular as an affordable and much lighter alternative. Like platinum, it is also hypoallergenic and tarnish resistant.”
A long history
While both platinum and palladium have a long history, their status as recognised precious metals is more recent.
“During the 17th century, traces of platinum lined the gold mines in South America, and the Spanish miners considered the metal a nuisance,” reports the gold and silver online retailer JM Bullion. However, when introduced to Europe in the 18th century the metal’s special properties attracted the attention of scientists.
Post-World War II, platinum’s dual status as an industrial and jewellery metal became established and South Africa took over as the major producer of platinum group metals
In more recent times platinum has had a chequered production history and prices have fluctuated. In the late 1990s, it was briefly out of fashion as mints and refineries exited the market. Prices began rising again in the early 21st century, as producers returned to the marketplace and new coins and bars were promoted to investors.
Demand for platinum and palladium has grown in line with realisation that the metals are more ubiquitous than gold and silver. Since the mid-1970s they have been used, together with rhodium – another corrosion-resistant member of the platinum group – by car manufacturers in producing catalytic converters and by medical equipment producers for electrodes.
Platinum is an essential ingredient of the surgical instruments used in dentistry, as well as for production of strong permanent magnets. Palladium is an essential part of white gold, also used in producing dental equipment and provides some of the finer workings in designer watches.