It can be argued that platinum is the world’s most versatile precious metal. It’s a symbol of wealth. It the music industry, it’s symbolic of peak success. It makes spectacular jewelry. It’s also used for products ranging from the critical to the mundane, from pacemakers to magnets. It’s become an increasingly popular form of precious metal investment, too. Regardless of what aspect platinum metal you find most intriguing, its staggering amount of diversity makes it a precious metal worth a closer look.
What is Platinum Metal?
Platinum is a silver-white metal that not only belongs in the precious metal category, but it also is a member of a group called transition metals. This subset also includes gold, silver, titanium, and copper. It’s dubbed a “noble metal” because it’s very resistant to corrosion and tarnishing. Like other precious metals, it’s extremely malleable, which makes it very easy to shape.
Platinum also is one of the densest elements on the planet. It’s roughly six times the density of a diamond, and it contains just a tick over 21 times the density of water. This, along with its other properties, enables platinum to be one of the most diverse substances around – one whose usage seems to have no boundaries.
A History of Platinum
Platinum’s history is about as malleable as the substance itself. Some say platinum can be traced to ancient times, where it was a substance mixed with gold. The first actual recording of platinum’s existence as a stand-alone metal wasn’t until 1557.
It wasn’t until 1741 when a British scientist named Charles Wood published a study that “introduced” the precious metal to the world. In the paper, Wood speculated on the element’s potential applications. Word got out, and eventually platinum picked up a new nickname – white gold.
Later on, it was discovered that platinum was a “mother metal” of sorts. A pair of British chemists discovered that remnants produced by dissolving platinum became precious metals on their own. These offshoots include palladium, rhodium, iridium, and osmium.
The Main Uses of Platinum
There are four major uses for platinum. These categories do a terrific job of demonstrating the precious metal’s diversity. The categories are:
Autocatalysts are an important component of automobile manufacturing. The item most associated with this category is the catalytic converter, a piece of equipment vital in reducing pollution. Considering that the device is found in nearly every care that rolls off of the assembly line worldwide, the demand for platinum in this regard isn’t going away anytime soon.
Platinum’s inherent properties make it an ideal metal for fine jewelry. It’s strong, tarnish-resistant, and can withstand concentrated heating and cooling without hardening. However, it’s not too common to see it as a stand-alone jewelry piece. It’s usually alloyed with cobalt, copper, or other platinum-group metals.
Platinum’s durability and conductivity make it ideal for various electronic medical devices, from medical instruments that measure blood gases to catheters and stents. The precious metal is also used in a somewhat surprising manner; as a cancer-fighting drug. The drugs it’s associated with are typically used to treat testicular, ovarian, breast, and lung cancer.
The industrial use of platinum is voluminous. Amongst the many uses for the precious metal in this milieu include temperature-measuring thermocouples, explosives, fertilizer, fuel cells, and hard computer disks.
A Word on Sheet Metal
One of the biggest reasons why platinum is such a popular and diverse material is due to its malleability. This property allows the precious metal to easily be converted into sheets that are strong, durable, and can withstand the elements. As such, it’s no surprise that the platinum sheet metal market is one that’s competitive.
When you go to a platinum sheet metal manufacturer’s website, you’ll notice that they will list several components. Some of the components are expected, such as thickness, width, and length. They’ll also list purity levels. As you may guess, these levels gauge the amount of platinum contained within the sheet metal.
Like most precious metals, the price for platinum sheet metal fluctuates from day to day. The platinum metal price resets daily, with some companies using spot pricing to adjust the rates based on the cost of the precious metal at fixed times throughout the day. If a manufacturer uses spot pricing, it’s common to see the price fluctuate several times.
Because of this, and because of the volatility that is part of any tradeable commodity, it may be a bit tricky if not intimidating to purchase platinum. However, a reputable manufacturer will provide detailed explanations on how they set their prices. Doing some research on this metric works well to take some of the sting out of this process.
The Importance of Purity
As mentioned earlier, platinum’s purity level gauges how much platinum is in a piece of platinum. This is typically expressed in a percentage, although they may be expressed in a round number.
For example, a platinum ring listed as 95% or 950 platinum will be a ring augmented by 5% alloy metals. These alloy metals typically consist of other precious metals that are made from residual platinum, such as rhodium, palladium, or iridium. In some cases, they can also be copper or cobalt.
This purity percentage is a huge deal in the jewelry market. There are strict guidelines within the field that defines a “pure” piece of platinum. A piece of platinum jewelry must be at 90% or 900 purity to be considered high-grade platinum. This threshold is used to mark whether a piece is considered high-grade platinum or not. Obviously, the higher this percentage, the purer the piece of jewelry.
This percentage or number is important because, while pieces below this threshold can still be classified as platinum jewelry, they won’t be as brilliant or as striking. They will also lack in longevity, as their composition will not be as sturdy as a piece of jewelry made of high-grade platinum.
Caring for Platinum
If you have a piece of platinum jewelry, it’s important to keep meticulous care of it to ensure it retains its brilliant properties. To do this, your best bet is to periodically clean it using the same methods you’d use to clean gold. Use a mild jewelry cleaner, then gingerly rub the piece’s surface with a soft, non-abrasive cloth.
It may also be a good idea to take your platinum piece to a professional jeweler every few months or so for a deeper cleaning. This advanced process may include extra steps like buffing the surface to remove scratches or polishing the surface to improve its shine.
Platinum as an Investment
While platinum is used for a host of practical or decorative purposes, it still maintains status as a symbol of wealth. As such, it’s no surprise that the precious metal is a traded commodity in investment circles.
Investors have turned to platinum along with other white metals because it serves as an anchor of stability with other aspects of their investment portfolio become too volatile. Platinum’s perpetual demand in diverse field means that the metal is never going to go out of style. Therefore, it’s not going to suddenly tank.
At the same time, its price fluctuation is going to be slow and steady, so it’s not something that has too much attraction to day-traders looking to make quick gains. However, its deliberate pace makes it an attractive commodity for long-term investors in the game for the long haul. During those times when the market takes a nosedive, platinum investments can provide safe harbor.
Investing in platinum can be a rather simple process. The easiest way to do so is to invest it as part of a commodity exchange-traded fund, or ETF. This investment typically doesn’t involve physically owning a hunk of platinum. Rather, it involves owning a set of contracts that are backed by the precious metal. These contracts tie to physical bullion that is secured.
Again, if you’re looking for platinum to make you serious financial gains in the short-term, you’re going to come away disappointed. White precious metals don’t operate on that plane. With that being said, platinum’s demand and steady pricing do make it an attractive option if you’re looking to add a touch of stability to your investment portfolio.
Platinum may be rare, but its combination of beauty, malleability, and durability makes it a virtually inescapable substance in your day-to-day life. It may not grab the attention as gold and silver in some respects, but it’s worthy to be in the same conversation as those two metals. After all, the precious metal is one valued by investors, doctors, car manufacturers, jewelers, and even farmers.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what avenue brings you into contact with platinum. As long as you familiarize with some of the peripherals surrounding the metal, such as purity level or investment price, you’re going to be pleased with whatever it brings to the table.