Platinum as a jewellery metal
In most of the countries in which platinum jewellery is manufactured, it is made in a purity of at least 85 per cent platinum. Other platinum group metals - palladium, ruthenium and iridium - and copper and cobalt are commonly alloyed with platinum to optimise its working characteristics and wear properties.
Among the main advantages of platinum for jewellery fabrication are its strength and resistance to tarnish. It can be repeatedly heated and cooled without hardening and oxidation effects, while even the most slender sections of platinum permanently retain their shape, providing a secure setting for diamonds and giving jewellery designers a freedom of invention not always possible with other materials. Perhaps the best example of platinum's technical virtuosity is the tension ring, in which a gemstone is held in place by the tensile strength of the platinum ring shank alone.
Platinum does make certain demands on the jeweller's skills. It requires high temperature melting and casting equipment (pure platinum melts at 1769oC) and a scrupulously clean working environment. Careful attention to polishing technique is needed to achieve the highly reflective finish which shows a diamond or other precious stone at its best.
More than 2,000 years ago the Indian civilisations of South America made rings and ornaments from platinum nuggets found in river beds. An even earlier example of platinum as a decorative material is found on an Egyptian casket from the 7th century BC.
The modern platinum jewellery tradition began with the European court jewellers of the 18th century and developed with the great jewellers of the Edwardian and Art Deco periods such as Cartier and Tiffany. A boom in platinum jewellery followed, with the USA accounting for the bulk of demand. With the economic depression of the 1930s and the advent of World War II, when platinum became a controlled material, its use for jewellery declined.
Growth in demand
Platinum demand growth restarted in Japan in the 1960s. Platinum gained a special status in Japan, combining high purity, prestige and value with an appeal, by virtue of its white colour, to traditional Japanese modesty and sobriety. Japan rapidly became the world's principal platinum jewellery market.
A European revival began in the 1970s in Germany, where jewellers gave platinum a distinct identity characterised by stark modern design and the prevalent use of a satin finish. Demand began to grow in Italy in the 1980s and in Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1990s.
Demand for platinum in China has surged since 1995, especially among young urban women seeking the modern style that platinum jewellery represents, so that China is now easily the largest single market for platinum jewellery. In the last decade, demand has begun to grow in India.
Jewellery demand for platinum since 1975 is estimated in our market data tables.