Gold, Silver, Platinum – Precious Metals Facts And Information

by: Alexis Lynn Quets

Precious metals have been used in jewelry for thousands of years, because of their luster, intrinsic value, and ease of working with.  The three precious metals that have been around the longest and are still among the most popular are gold, silver, and platinum. 

silver-gold-platinum

Facts About Gold

Of the three gold has always been the long-time favorite of jewelers because of its qualities and ease of working with.  One of the best qualities of gold is that it does not oxidize, corrode, or tarnish.  The only things that can corrode gold are a handful or rare acids and also hot chlorine bleach.  The reason that gold is so easy to work with is because it is soft, which is also gold’s weakness.  Pure gold is soft and can be dented and scratched fairly easily, therefore pure gold is not quite as common in jewelry nor is it wore as often as owners don’t want to damage their pieces. 

gold jewelery

Metallurgists and jewelers make gold more practical for jewelry by mixing it with other metals to make it and stronger and harder metal, these mixtures are called gold alloys.  Some of the metals used in making gold alloys include, copper, nickel, zinc, titanium, and cadmium to name a few.  Some gold alloys however, can cause yellowing of the skin and other allergic reactions in wearers, this is from the other metal(s) in the alloy and not from the gold itself. 

Gold is rated in karats (k) which should not be confused with carats.  Karat is the measurement of the gold’s purity, while carat measures the size/weight of gemstones.  The most common types of gold alloys are 24 karat while is 100% pure gold (24/24 parts gold), 18 karat gold (18/24), 14 karat gold (14/24), 12 karat (12/24) and 10 karat (10/24).  Colored gold alloys have also being created by mixing the gold with other metals such as copper, tin, platinum, nickel, and iron. 

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More Interesting Facts About Gold

  • The largest gold bar is about 250 kg (551 lbs) which is half the weight of the average polar bear
  • Gold is edible
  • You can find traces of gold in our blood
  • Earthquakes have the ability to turn water into gold
  • There are only about 1.34% of gold in Olympic gold metals
  • Gold is one of the components that make up the sun
  • About 20 million tons of gold can be found in the ocean
  • The higher the number of carat weight, the greater the purity
  • Nearly half of the gold ever mined has come from Witwatersrand, South Africa

Facts About Silver

Silver is a very versatile metal and has not only been used in jewelry but also was used for many years as currency, and in recent years silver has become very popular in electronics because it is an outstanding conductor of heat and electricity.  Silver is very popular in jewelry because it is known for its luster and it is also more common and less expensive than gold or platinum.  Silver however, has a couple drawbacks as jewelry. 

silver jewelry

Unlike gold, silver tarnishes and is also tougher to work with because it conducts heat better than gold.  Tarnish is the layer of oxidization that forms on metals when they experience chemical reactions.  Silver tarnishes simply from prolonged exposure in our atmosphere, therefore more maintenance must be done with silver.  Proper storage such as in containers or bags that reduce exposure when not in use is the easiest way to prevent tarnish.  However, cleaning tarnish is also fairly easy to do with household items and there are silver cleaning kits available.

Pure silver, like pure gold, is also very soft and easy to damage.  Therefore silver alloys are mainly used when making jewelry.  By far the most well-known and popular silver alloy is Sterling Silver.  Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of one or more of the many alloying metals used.  There are a few other silver alloys used in jewelry that were discovered by the Ancient Egyptians, these alloys are electrum and niello. Electrum is a naturally occurring silver alloy, whereas niello is a man-made mixture of silver, copper, and lead.  It is primarily used for an inlay in engraving or etching of jewelry.

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More Interesting Facts About Silver

  • Pure silver is the best conductor of heat and electricity
  • Silver has antimicrobial properties, so it can help with preventing build up of bacteria on your clothes
  • The first evidence of silver mining dates back to 3000 B.C.
  • 85% of the silver produced worldwide came from Peru and Mexico
  • Drinking silver can cause your skin to turn blue
  • The finest forks and knives are most likely made from a combination of silver and copper due to pure silver being too soft to be used solely

Facts About Platinum

Platinum is the third precious metal used in jewelry.  Contrary to popular belief however, platinum is not just one single metal.  Platinum is actually a family of metals all with similar properties.  The metals in the platinum family are, platinum (its namesake), iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, and osmium.  Of this group, platinum is the most commonly found.  Nearly all of the platinum metals are used in jewelry except for osmium.  Most of the metals are used in alloying to aid in strengthening or tarnish resistance. 

platinum jewelry facts

Platinum is the most rare and expensive of the precious metals, and is also the youngest in terms of jewelry use.  Platinum did see some use by the Ancient Egyptians as far back as 700BC.  However, platinum did not appear in Europe until the Spanish discovered it in Colombia, giving it the name Platina or Little Silver. 

Platinum has a very high melting temperature and the main reason it never gained much popularity until the 1800s was because the refining process, melting it with arsenic, was dangerous.  The advent of the oxyhydrogen torch made refining the metal much safer.  As technology evolved, it made refining platinum easier and allowed expanded uses of the metal.  Platinum is used as a weight by the U.S. Bureau of Standards because it remains the same weight forever as it never oxidizes.  Platinum is also a component in catalytic converters in automobiles because of its ability to cause chemical reactions. 

In jewelry, it became popular in the 1900s among the wealthy and Hollywood celebrities. Platinum is also a highly sought after setting for gemstones, and is actually the setting for the 530 carat diamond called the “Star of Africa” that sits atop the British royal scepter.   

More Interesting Facts About Platinum

  • Platinum was once known as ‘white gold’
  • Platinum is extremely resistant to tarnishing and corrosion
  • Common acids do not affect platinum and it does not oxidize
  • The basis of the international standard for measuring a kilogram is a hunk of silver and silver alloy
  • Platinum is used in some anti-cancer drugs due to its low reactivity levels
  • The majority of platinum is mined in South Africa
  • 30% of mined platinum is used in jewelry

Conclusion

Knowing how these metals were mined from the earth we walk on and how it can have so many uses is truly spectacular. One can tend to easily overlook how the most valuable metals in the world can be found in unusual (and even common) places around us. Hopefully, this article has enlightened you on the different locations/materials to spot or locate these metals. It is also important to note that each one has its own unique quality that it brings and not one is necessarily more special than the other. Sure, their rarity may vary, but due to how distinct they are from one another, they are special in their own way.

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