Journey from the Centre of the Earth
From the Earth to Platinum Ring
Platinum is considered to be the most precious on metals on earth due to its relative scarcity, making it even more special to use in jewellery. Dubbed ‘Rich Man’s Gold’ Platinum boasts a range of jewellery friendly properties including high tensile strength and resistance to tarnishing and discolouration. Even the smallest piece of Platinum can permanently retain its shape as intended by the designer. The material provides a ‘secure setting’ for a range of gemstones including diamonds and can provide jewellers with ‘freedom of invention not always possible with other materials’. Therefore the Platinum Ring Company is able to provide intricate and breath-taking platinum rings for a host of occasions. However, where does the Platinum we love to wear originate and how does it reach your finger?
Platinum has had an extensive history which has paved its way to becoming exclusive in the jewellery industry. Having been found in Egyptian objects dating back to 700BC such as the world famous Casket of Thebes, which was lavishly decorated with native platinum on the surface of the box with inscribed hieroglyphics, the metal confused and baffled the Spanish Conquistadors of the 16th Century. It is thought that as the Spanish panned for Silver in New Granada they were puzzled by the discovery of small white metal nuggets which were difficult to separate; they named their discovery ‘Platina’ or ‘little silver’. They believed the metal nuggets were ‘unripe’ gold and therefore saw no value other than to use it for counterfeiting purposes!
It was only in 1751 that the true value of Platinum was uncovered. Henrik Scheffer, a Swedish Researcher, was the first to successfully melt the material by adding arsenic to the platinum alloy. He later described platinum as ‘white gold’ a nickname still widely used today. However it wasn’t until the mid-1800s before scientists developed techniques to separate and manipulate platinum alloys for commercial uses. During this time platinum was being used for lab equipment, ornaments and the decoration of porcelain. As smelting and refining technologies developed and greater numbers of Platinum reserves were unearthed the commercial use of platinum prospered. During the 1960s demand for platinum jewellery rocketed in Japan where consumers were attracted to its purity, colour and prestige. The demand doesn’t show any signs of slowing down today since 1992 worldwide demand has grown by 2% annually.
Platinum reserves are extremely rare and unevenly distributed worldwide – accounting for its high cost. The majority of reserves are found in South Africa, accounting for 95.3% of world platinum reserves, however estimates vary with some arguing a slightly more realistic 88%. Interestingly South Africa controls more platinum reserves than all the Arab nations control oil reserves! Around 80% of global production is attributed to these reserves in South Africa with 10% produced by CIS countries and the rest from around the world including North America and Zimbabwe. Any turmoil in these countries will significantly affect the price of the precious metal.
From the Ore to the Platinum Ring
The extensive route that platinum takes from the ground to the jewellery shop floor is dependent on the reserve it is extracted from.The Bushveld Complex in South Africa was formed around 2,000 million years ago and has been likened to ‘an enormous, irregularly-shaped saucer 370 kilometres across with its centre burred deep underground’. It contains the largest reserves of Platinum Metals (PMGs) in the world. Three of the mines layers contain economic reserves of Platinum Group Metals; these layers are typically less than a meter thick. Employee’s use hand drills to bore holes which are subsequently filled with explosives leaving the ore to be extracted and raised to the surface.
From here the ore is subsequently crushed and milled to expose the precious minerals within. This is then mixed with water and air is pumped through the substance to magically leave the surface. These prized nuggets find themselves smelted at temperatures of 1500ºC which are later refined by adding a variety of substances including hydrochloric acid and chlorine gas. It’s a dangerous process if not handled correctly! The refined Platinum, approximately 99.95% pure is then delivered to jewellers and merchants in a form that suits them often in small thin bars or wire which can be moulded, melted and manipulated accordingly to create stunning rings.
Creating beautiful pieces of Platinum Jewellery is an intricate and skilled task. Rings are frequently built from a mix of platinum wire strips, to hold the precious gem stone in place, attached to a thin circular ring-like strip of the precious metal. Before the ring is constructed the jeweller needs to polish the platinum to give the shiny appearance we all know and love, starting with the softest paper to the harshest to give the platinum the irresistible glisten and shine it is famous for. After intricate soldering and fusing, the two pieces are brought together as the final product. Obviously, designs will vary greatly, but this is a classic design replicated worldwide.
Platinum is also used in a variety of other markets including the motoring industry. Famously, platinum has been used for decades in catalytic converters as it oxidises carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. This allows converters to reduce levels of pollution emitted from vehicles and improve the environment. Platinum has also recently been used in electric fuel cells. Therefore not only is platinum a beautiful material to construct jewellery from it also keeps Britain a green and pleasant land! Platinum is also widely used in the construction industry.
Platinum Jewellery sales show no signs of slowing down. Since 1970 when Germany starting producing satin finished modernistic designed pieces the demand has grown across Europe including the UK. Interestingly, China is the largest single market for platinum jewellery.