2008/07/11

Platinum, from trash to treasure



Platinum has not always been considered to be the most precious metal to make jewelry from. Although there are some nice examples of platinum jewelry, people's attitude towards platinum has been different....

The word "platinum" is derived from the Spanish "platina", which means "small silver". The first traces of platinum date from the Thebes epoch (about 7th century before JC), from when a small box was retrieved, adorned with a platinum ribbon.

During the 15th century, the Spaniards didn't like the little white granules that soiled their South American gold and used to throw them away. A platinum sample finally reached Europe in 1741, and was analyzed by sir Charles Wood, who didn't manage to melt it down. It was only when oxygen could be isolated (after its discovery in 1774), that people were finally able to increase the temperature of flames enough so as to melt platinum and really start to discover its particular properties: malleable, eternal brilliance, hardness superior to that of gold, inoxydability...

It was after the Napoleanic wars that the English managed to separate platinum from the other metals that were extracted from the platinum mines (palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, ruthenium). Around 1820, the Russians discovered huge ores in the Oural. Only from the beginning of the 20th century, platinum was being used in jewelry. Its use started to increase when scientists discovered its catalytic properties (its ability to speed up chemical reactions).

From then on platinum became a strategic industrial metal until the end of WWII. Today, the use of platinum is returning to the jewelry industry, but platinum has also a very wide range of industrial uses, including use in the treatment of some cancers.

A cute urban legend does its round:
As platinum has not always been considered to be a precious metal, in Russia in the beginning of the 19th century, counterfeiters used platinum as the core for their "golden roubels", this because of platinum's high gravity. When, around 1870, platinum started to be recognized as a precious metal the price of it rose accordingly, it is told that roubels were then cut in half in the hope of finding platinum inside.... Even if it is not true, it still makes a cute story.

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