Platinum has proved itself to be a highly valued metal in jewelry making, and with good reason. The fineness, purity, rarity, and beauty contribute not just to its allure but also the high cost.
Owning platinum jewelry is a coveted status symbol that the rich and the average person willing to put a brief dent into their bank account.
Interestingly, despite being around for millenniums, the modern world only started using it in jewelry making in about the past 100+ years. Why is that? Well, read on to find out.
The brief story of platinum jewelry
The first evidence of platinum use was in Ancient Egypt between 1200 and 700BC. It was typically used for decorative items but tended to be mixed with gold. The other instance of platinum used was in the border between Ecuador and Colombia, which was rich in platinum deposits. The natives, La Tolita Indians, would use the metal to make jewelry, with evidence of nose rings, earrings, and mask left behind by the people. Even with these findings, it would take thousands of more years for their popularity to pick, and with good reason.
Platinum has an incredibly high melting point of 3221.6 °F. To make anything out of it, you’ll have first to soften the metal, and not everyone has the resources to create furnaces that can handle that much heat. It took until the 19th century for there to be a modern technique, since knowledge on how the Egyptians and La Tolita Indians did it didn’t survive. It’s worth noting that Spanish Conquistadors had rediscovered platinum in 1600, only for them to do away with it when they couldn’t forge anything from it.
It took platinum to reach European scientists in 1741 for there to be headway. The first known person to work with the metal was William Brownrigg, an English man after he received a piece of it from his brother in law in Colombia. Since then, scientists and chemists in the region worked together to try and figure out to melt the stubborn metal.
In the 1800s, there was more progress on how to work platinum. It was discovered that arsenic and platinum powders could fuse. Antoine Lavoisier was further able to melt platinum using hydrogen and oxygen. Robert Hare and Daniel took this breakthrough and created a blowpipe using the same gases. Since getting the right balance required wasn’t possible for seasoned scientists and chemists, the same wasn’t possible for the common man.
The rise, fall, and gradual rise of platinum
It took until 1895 for Charles Picard and Edmond Fouche to develop a safer torch that could melt the metal. That allowed jewelers to take up the means, and from there, they could cast and fuse the platinum itself, allowing them to make platinum jewelry. This approach became widespread but came to a halt after WW1 broke out. During times of war, luxury items were not a priority, so platinum pieces dwindled. Those that existed at the time were stored away to avoid looting, and what was left was used in various military equipment.
Once the world recovered, people now had the means to indulge in fine jewelry, including diamonds, gold, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and of course, platinum, which was shiny white in nature. Just as things were booming in the 1930s, the availability of platinum in the world dwindled. It became scares that the US government ruled that platinum ought only to make weapons and nothing more.
Post-WWII, many moved away from platinum; the craze was now white gold, that is, yellow gold with, typically, a rhodium plating. It took the Japanese to bring back platinum into the world’s consciousness. They loved the metal for its purity, and over the next 30 years, the uptake rose rapidly from Europe and finally to across the ocean. That was in the 1990s. Today, platinum is held in the same regard as gold.
When was platinum first used in jewelry?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact year or even month that platinum got used in jewelry making.
However, based on the history we’ve explored, the metal making its way into jewelers’ hands was in 18895 and well into the early 1900s, only to decline after the war.
After its decline post-war, we have to thanks the Japanese for bringing it back in the 1970s and finally making it popular and world-renowned in the 1990s.
Why is platinum used in jewelry making?
There is plenty to love about platinum. While the high melting point might seem a nuisance, what makes platinum ideal in jewelry making is its value and properties.
For one, platinum is rare and only mined in specific parts of the world. What’s more, it takes 10 tons of ore to produce a single ton of ore. With gold, three tons of ore give you an ounce of the metal. That automatically drives its value up.
It’s not only about how rare it is; platinum is the purest, most refined, and rarest precious metal on the planet and carries itself with elegance like no other.
Platinum is also quite strong, and thus can last decades and even serve as an heirloom. The prolonged wear is thanks to its density; it is 60 percent heavier than gold.
Even with its weight, the purity of platinum sold, mainly in the US, stands at between 90 and 95 percent. 18k yellow gold only compares at 75 percent purity, with 24k gold being too soft for jewelry making.
The high level of platinum within pieces made in jewelry and medical-grade objects makes it hypoallergenic and tarnish-resistant too, which increases their value and appeal.
Understanding the origins and development of platinum in jewelry making and industrial purposes helps you understand why you have to dish out a few hundred dollars to get your hands on one.
That way, you don’t have to blink several times when you see the price tag on a diamond-encrusted platinum ring. It’s worth the price.