A Look at the Precious Metal Platinum

By: Ian Maher

The beautiful silver-white platinum is a valuable precious metal that is sought all over the world. Its brilliance as well as its malleability, ductility and resistance to corrosion make platinum a highly popular choice for use in jewelry such as engagement rings and eternity rings. Most people are familiar with the use of platinum for jewelry, but platinum has unique properties that have made it valuable for many purposes throughout history and still today.

Platinum is a member of the Platinum Group of Metals (PGM), which also includes Palladium, Rhodium, Ruthenium, Osmium and Iridium. The scarcity of platinum coupled with high demand makes it a highly valuable precious metal. Though all precious metals are rare, platinum is mined from the earth in lesser quantities than are gold and silver.

The use of platinum has confronted several obstacles throughout history. Platinum often exists in nature in dispersed particles combined with other metals and impurities, making platinum mining a difficult and capital intensive endeavor. Its high melting point, nearly double that of gold, made working with platinum practically impossible until a chemist named Schaffer developed a way to melt the precious metal. Scarcity has presented a continual challenge throughout history, though rarity is a contributor to platinum's high value.

Though the history of platinum use is not nearly as lengthy as that of gold, this precious metal's unique properties have made it a valuable commodity over the years. Being one of the heaviest, densest metals and exhibiting a distinctive resistance to oxidation and corrosion, people have found numerous uses for platinum throughout history. Jewelers and goldsmiths of the 1700s began to use platinum in jewelry, watch chains and cutlery. Though platinum has always faced the obstacle of scarcity, the 1800s saw a rise in platinum use as new techniques evolved for mining the metal. It was not until later when high temperature torches were available that jewelers could fully utilize platinum in jewelry making.

Today, the uses for platinum are ever increasing. Platinum's effectiveness as a conductor of electricity has made it a highly useful material for electrical contacts and numerous industrial purposes. It is also a potent catalyzing agent used in the production of sulfuric acid and in petroleum refining. The medical and dental fields have also found many uses for platinum in specialized equipment. Platinum's stability under conditions of high heat has also led to its use in components of jet engines and missiles. The applications for which platinum is becoming a mainstay is widespread and on the rise.

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