The Jewelry Insider

June 10, 2010

Platinum: The Metal of Kings

Platinum is one of the world’s most prized possessions – from platinum jewelry, platinum fashion, platinum gadgets and beyond. Learn about platinum history and lore and discover why platinum has beguiled mankind for many generations. Man’s love affair with platinum, the most valuable of all precious metals, goes back thousands of years. The metal was first discovered by the Ancient Egyptians, who worshiped its rich white tone, adorning their royal caskets and other sacred items with the substance.

The pre-Columbian Indians in South and Central America were creating platinum jewelry objects as early as 100 B.C. In the late 1500s, Spanish conquistadors discovered Native artifacts made from platinum among the gold items they were seeking when they came to the New World. They also discovered the white metal in the rivers of Equador. Believing the metal to be “unripe” silver, the Spanish named it platina, which means “little silver.” Thinking the metal worthless, they discarded it.

When platinum finally did reach Europe in the 18th century, it caught on in a big way. In fact, a French goldsmith created platinum jewelry for King Louis XVI, who quickly elevated the status of platinum by declaring it “the only metal fit for kings.”

Substantial deposits of platinum were found in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the 1820s. In 1924, the largest platinum deposit ever found was discovered in South Africa.

For much of the latter half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, platinum was the jewelry metal of choice. Many of the most important diamonds in history were set in platinum because of its strength and durability, including the Hope, Jonker I and the Koh-i-noor. Platinum dominated jewelry design right through the 1930s.

When World War II broke out, platinum was declared a strategic metal and its usage was banned for all but military purposes. Although the ban was lifted after the war, it took some 50 years for platinum to regain its place in the jewelry market. Today, platinum and its sleek, modern, white looks are in great demand, particularly in bridal jewelry.

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