Platinum has been making its way into American culture as the use of it in jewelry has grown substantially in the past ten years. If you have priced jewelry recently you know this precious white metal is even more costly than gold. So what is platinum and how long has it been around?
Platinum is a member of the ‘platinum metals’ family, along with ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, and iridium. Platinum jewelry dates back to Egyptian tombs in 1200 BC where it was imported from Nubia. In 700 BC, the high priestess Shepenupet was buried in a sarcophagus decorated in gold and platinum hieroglyphics. Platinum was also found in South America, dating back to 100 BC; the Incas created ceremonial jewelry from both gold and platinum.
In 1751, Theophil Scheffer, a Swedish scientist, recognized its unique properties and rarity and declared it a precious metal.
The metal started to gain popularity in industrial use because of its strength and that it was chemically inert. Soon, the metal was being used in gun parts, sophisticated batteries and fuel cells, in neurosurgical and dental apparatus and most importantly as an auto catalyst, converting harmful emissions into carbon dioxide and water.
Because of the metal’s ability to help the environment with its emission in catalytic converters, it soon became dubbed the ‘environmental metal.’ And with the growing concern around the environment and emissions, the demand for the metal continues to grow.
Although there have been many uses for platinum, mining the needed amount to meet demand has been difficult. Statistics state that between 5 and 6 million ounces of new platinum are reaching the world market each year, which is less than 5% of gold production. Much of the platinum that is mined comes from South Africa and Russia.
In the late 1990s, when platinum traded at a price close to gold, the U.S. Mint added Platinum Eagles to complement its Gold Eagles and Silver Eagles. Canada also produced a Platinum Maple Leaf and Australia minted the Platinum Koalas. The launch of the Platinum Eagle brought a near doubling in investment demand and the coin quickly became the most popular platinum coin in the world. Proof Platinum American Eagles, when first released sold out.
In 1999, the Chinese platinum jewelry market was also booming. The metal also became the most requested in the Japanese bridal market and later skyrocketed in North America.
Currently, platinum is also being used in electronic devices like iPods and computer hard discs. Asian manufacturers are using the metal to create flat-panel glass in computer and television screens.
With the strong demand for platinum, investors and consumers alike have driven up the price to almost double that of gold. With supply low and demand high, it seems the value of platinum won’t end anytime soon.