A Platinum Primer
By Ashley Bailey , Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The world's rarest precious metal was until relatively recently the world's most despised. Indeed, the word platinum comes from a Spanish pejorative word, "platina," meaning 'bastard silver.' The Spanish and Portuguese prospectors who first found it in South America hated it because it was impossible to refine. [It has a melting point of 1768º C that no furnace could reach until 1789.]
But once the metal could be worked with, it became the more prized than gold by those with wealth. And why not? It dulls very little and is tarnish-proof. That's why some refiners are putting small amounts of it into silver alloy to help it keep its shine.
Platinum and silver share very high purity standards. Unless the metal is 950 parts or more per thousand (95%) pure platinum, you can't stamp an article with this word in any stand-alone fashion. In fact, if you see the word "Platinum" marked on a piece of platinum diamond jewelry, it means that it's made of metal that's 95% or more platinum. Or it better be. That's the international standard.
If the article is between 850 to 950 parts per thousand (85% to 95%) pure, the platinum content percentage has got to be stamped before either one of two abbreviations for the metal: "Plat.'" or "Pt." So, for example, an item that is made of 90% pure platinum would be marked "900 Plat."
The only way you can stamp an item that is less than 85% pure platinum is if you add other platinum group metals to the alloy so that the total is 95% platinum group metals (rhodium, palladium, ruthenium and iridium). However, at least 50% of the alloy must be platinum. Such a piece might be marked: "500 Plat. 350 Irid."
In the last few years, platinum has been selling at over $800 per ounce, reaching $940 in April 2004. Given the fact that it's 35 times rarer than gold, the price seems at least understandable. Nevertheless, demand in China, the world's Number One market for the metal, dropped 30% between 2002 and 2003.
Not surprisingly, some refiners have pleaded to be allowed to make lower-purity platinum alloys to offset the price. But, so far, the trade has stuck to traditional purity standards. If the metal tops $1,000 per ounce, however, principles may give way to pragmatism.
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