Platinum, like gold, has a long and distinguished history. Its use began in antiquity and it has undergone a resurgence in popularity over the last 200 years. Platinum was held in high esteem during early Egyptian times. Native people in South and Central America worked it as early as 100 B.C.
Spanish conquistadors discovered platinum artifacts among the gold they were seeking when they came to the new world. They named the curious metal "platina," or "little silver." They also considered it worthless, and discarded it. Platinum didn't reach Europe until the 18th century, but then it caught on in a big way. King Louis XVI elevated it by terming it "the metal of kings."
For centuries, the only large amounts of platinum outside of South America were found in Russian mines. Nowadays, platinum is far more valuable than gold. Platinum's initial uses were probably limited by its hardness and its very high melting point. The early forging and casting techniques made it quite a difficult metal to work with.
During the latter part of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th, platinum was the premier metal for all-important jewelry. Platinum dominated the world of jewelry design during the Edwardian era, and the Art Deco period well into the 1930s. It all came to an abrupt end in World War II, when platinum was declared a strategic metal and its use banned for all non-military purposes.
The appeal of platinum is in its appearance. Its white luster is unique. It is also the strongest precious metal used in jewelry, and is almost twice as heavy as 14-karat gold. This weight is one of platinum's strongest selling points, because it gives "heft" to fine jewelry, which people naturally equate with value.
In recent years platinum has rapidly grown in popularity. It's become the new choice for many diamond engagement rings because its luster brings out the brilliance of diamonds far better than gold.
Many fashion consultants agree that platinum (and white gold) is more compatible with fairer skin tones. The Japanese seem to be listening — almost 85% of platinum jewelry produced every year is purchased by Japanese consumers
Despite its growing popularity, platinum remains one of the world's rare metals. The annual worldwide production of platinum amounts to some 160 tons, compared to about 1,500 tons of gold. It can be found in just a handful of regions of the world. The mining and refining processes are both arduous and time-consuming. For example, in order to extract a single ounce of platinum, about 10 tons of ore need to be mined. After that, the refining process takes a full five months.
Platinum in jewelry is actually an alloyed group of six heavy metals, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These other metals are so similar to platinum in weight and chemistry that most were not even distinguished from each other until early in the nineteenth century.
Today, it is often alloyed with copper and titanium. It's the only precious metal used in fine jewelry that is 90% to 95% pure, largely hypoallergenic, and tarnish-resistant. Look for platinum jewelry marked 900Pt, 950 Plat, or Plat.
One final word about precious metals: Like gold, platinum is durable, sturdy and dependable, making it an ideal setting for your precious diamond jewelry. However, to get a lifetime of enjoyment from your jewelry, be sure to keep it clean and safe.
Do not wear platinum jewelry during rough work or when handling harsh chemicals.
Store it in a fabric-lined box away from other pieces so it does not get scratched.
Finally, check any diamond settings periodically for possible damage to prongs or bezels. If you see a loose prong, or if the setting looks out of line, immediately bring it to a professional for repair.