Platinum is the youngest precious metal, only appearing in jewelry in the late 18th century—when craftsman finally developed the means to refine it (it melts at 1769ºC). Until then, it was looked upon as a low-grade metal (platinum comes from "platina," a derogatory term meaning 'bastard silver' coined by the disappointed Spanish miners who discovered it).
By the late 19th century, platinum was the precious metal of choice in America which remained its main user until World War II when it was declared a s trategic metal. Jewelers were encouraged to use newly developed white gold alloys as a substitute. After the war when platinum was declassified, it was a largely forgotten metal.
A platinum revival began in Japan during the 1960s, slowly spread to Europe and, finally, by the late 1990s, reached America. But Japan was the leading user of platinum for jewelry - accounting for at times 80% of the market. No other country challenged its dominance.
Then China started making its way rapidly up the ranks, ultimately overtaking Japan. From $24 million in annual platinum jewelry sales in 1981, it soared to $9.7 billion in 2001 and sprinted far ahead of Japan.
When prices started rising for platinum to nearly $1,000 in 2002, sales dropped off, but China remained the world leader in sales of platinum jewelry.
It was ranked Number One again in 2003 and is expected to keep its standing for the indefinite future.
The big question now is whether China will also vie for leadership in gold jewelry. Last year, when it consumed 201.1 tons of gold, it became the world's third-largest gold-using nation - after India and the United States.
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