More Precious Metals: Beyond the Big Four

In an earlier post, we discussed other precious metals besides “the big four” (gold, silver, platinum, palladium), including osmium and ruthenium. Here, we continue the discussion with two more precious metals, along with an incredibly common one that is precious no more.

Rhodium: If you are a jeweler, you’re probably more familiar with rhodium than most people. Actually, rhodium is far too rare and valuable (worth slightly more than platinum) to be the principle element in any piece of jewelry. However, it is quite durable and uncannily shiny – which makes it an excellent coating material. Quality white-gold jewelry is often rhodium plated to increase its durability and luster. Sterling silver is also rhodium plated to increase its resistance to tarnish. Additionally, rhodium is also an important part of catalytic convertors (similar to palladium). Because rhodium is so rare, it has a high recycling rate – the bulk of which comes from old catalytic convertors.

Iridium: Osmium narrowly beats iridium for the title of densest metal. However, iridium takes the crown for the most corrosion resistant metal. Although there are ways to break it down (as a mater of fact, iridium is extremely brittle), it is totally resistant to all kinds of acid. Any industrial application that needs heavy-duty corrosion resistance will use a little bit of iridium alloy. Famously, iridium is used to explain the extinction of the dinosaurs. While rare on earth, iridium is found in abundance in asteroids. However, there is a stratum of clay throughout the entire earth’s crust that scientists use to mark the border between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods of geological time. This clay is rich in iridium dust. In theory, this layer of iridium occurred when the impact of a massive asteroid or comet collided with the earth creating a massive dust cloud containing iridium. The cloud would have spread across the world, depositing the iridium and blotting out the sun, killing the dinosaurs.

Aluminum: That’s right – prior to the 20th century, aluminum was a precious metal worth more than gold. Although aluminum is one the most commonly occurring elements in the earth’s crust, it never appears in its pure form. Refining pure aluminum used to be very difficult and very costly. These factors elevated it to the status of “precious metal.” In the late 19th century, the Hall-Héroult process was invented and gave the world a cheap and easy way to refine pure aluminum. This combined with aluminum’s commonality reduced its value and eliminated its precious metal status.

Knowing that there are other precious metals out there and seeing what happened with aluminum all those years ago begs the question: what will we be refining tomorrow? Right now, it looks like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are here to stay for a long while. But, as science continues to advance, who knows what the distant future holds.

Precious Metals: Beyond the Big Four

At Manhattan Gold & Silver, we like to think there are only four precious metals that make the world go round: gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. After all, those are the only ones that we accept for refining. However, these are not the only precious metals in the world.

Precious metals may come in different colors and densities, but they do share a lot of properties. Compared to other metals, precious metals usually have higher melting points, are soft and malleable, and are less reactive (in fact, gold is completely inert to all body chemistry). When we think of precious metals, we think about ones that are rare and have high demand and/or market value. Yet, there are other precious metals that just haven’t reached the popularity of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium:

Osmium: In another post, we touched on how precious metals often have amazing physical properties. Well, osmium is no exception: it’s the densest natural element on earth. Twice as dense as lead, the blue-gray colored osmium can be found alloyed into industrial applications where exceptional density and hardness are required. Like the more popular precious metals, it is very rare (in fact, the rarest stable element mined from the earth’s crust) and quite valuable – able to fetch around $400 or so per troy ounce.

Ruthenium: This metal is closely related to platinum and is often found with platinum deposits, making it almost as rare. Unlike platinum, however, it is not worth very much – only about $120 per troy ounce. You might say ruthenium plays well with its precious metal brethren because its most common use is to enhance the properties of other precious metals. Ruthenium can harden platinum and palladium to make wear-resistant components. Similarly, ruthenium can be added to gold jewelry to increase its durability.

Look forward to a future blog post where we’ll discuss two more precious metals, and another one which used to be precious, but is now one of the most common natural elements the world over!

Avoiding Gold Investment Scams

For some time now, gold has maintained wild popularity among investors around the world. Due to circumstances in the economic climate, more and more people continue to invest in gold. Unfortunately, we’ve also heard of a number of scammers taking advantage of the popularity of gold buying. Sometimes, it’s as small as some fake jewelry floating around. Other times, it’s as large as a phony investment firm.

Luckily, there are some general tips you can remember when dealing with someone trying to get your backing in a gold investment:

Don’t do business with cold callers: Most scam investments come from a cold call. When dealing with such significant investments, you should be meeting people in person and inspecting their place of business. If you don’t know the location of the person you are dealing with, you won’t know the location of the money you invest.

Don’t be intimidated: Gold investment scammers don’t make any money by allowing you to think things over, research the market, or wait for industry news. They will try to push you into giving them money as fast as possible with phrases like, “you can’t afford to wait,” or “time is of the essence.” They will also make promises of investments with little or no risk, which aren’t realistic. When in doubt, don’t invest.

Do your research: No matter who you invest with, you should know everything about the company. Check with the FTC, National Futures Association, or the Better Business Bureau.
Investing in a mine: You are mostly likely wasting your time.  Do not send money off to some foreign country.  Chances are you will never see it again.  Even if they show you gold a few times, that is a trick to lure you in!
Whether dealing with gold ETFs or selling your own gold, just remember to be careful and be aware.