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Precious Metals in Jewelry Making Part 4: Platinum Group Metals (PGMs)

So far, the MGS blog has covered the details behind gold and silver usage in the craft of jewelry making. Now, we’ll move on to platinum and palladium – two members of the same class of chemical elements known as platinum group metals (PGMs), which also includes the precious metals rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium.

In appearance, platinum and palladium jewelry look similar to white-gold and silver jewelry. In fact, Spanish miners during the 18th century often found platinum alongside coveted silver deposits. Platina – Spanish for “little silver” – is where platinum derives its namesake. Ironically, those Spanish miners tossed the “platina” aside in favor of silver – which is worth about 50 times less in modern times.

It’s not just value and rarity that sets platinum apart from silver – platinum jewelry functions quite differently too. Silver is almost always plated with another metal to protect it from tarnishing. Also, silver is more commonly alloyed with another metal to strengthen it. Platinum jewelry usually has neither – it will only corrode or oxidize under laboratory circumstances and jewelry made with platinum is always pure or near-pure. Platinum is now most commonly alloyed with ruthenium.

Platinum jewelry is known for its brilliant white luster that never dulls. However, because it is not as malleable as gold and silver, it can be more challenging for a jeweler to work with. Over time, platinum will build up a patina of minor scratches that many find to be desirable because of the character it adds to the piece.

For the next post, we’ll wrap up our coverage of jewelry and precious metals by discussing the other PGM – palladium.

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