General Jewellery Learning Metals

What is the history of platinum? 

model wearing platinum ring

What is the history of platinum? 

Platinum is a popular choice for jewellery, due to its cool, white appearance, that works beautifully with diamonds. But while you may know what it looks like, do you know much about what it is, or its history? Take a look at our guide to platinum, that covers what platinum is, where it comes from and how it’s been used across history. 

What is platinum? 

Remember your chemistry lessons? Platinum is a chemical element, with the symbol Pt and atomic number 78. But in real-life terms, platinum is a shiny white-silver metal, that is very durable and non-reactive. And while it is very durable, it is also very malleable – making it easy to bend and twist into different shapes. All these properties are reasons why it is favoured so much as a setting for jewellery. However, due to being so durable (and pretty rare), it does also make it one of the most expensive metals to utilise when it comes to jewellery.  

Where does platinum come from? 

  • Platinum comes from the Earth’s crust. However, it is not plentifully found, therefore mining of the metal is quite scarce; only a few hundred tonnes of ‘new’ platinum is produced every year. Because it is so rare to find ‘new’ platinum, and because of its amazing properties, it makes the metal quite expensive.  
  • Platinum, when found naturally, is found in nuggets and grains in streams. 
  • Some platinum is created as a by-product of refining copper and nickel. 

Where was platinum discovered? 

  • Platinum was discovered in South Africa, in the Merensky Reef – which still contains around 75% of the worlds known platinum. Most platinum is still found in South Africa, with Russia taking the second place. 
  • Platinum has also been found in many other places, such as Colombia, the USA, Zimbabwe, Canada and India. 
  • Interestingly, platinum exists in larger quantities in meteorites, and on the Moon! 

What was platinum used for? 

  • Uses for platinum have always remained fairly consistent. In the past, platinum was used for industrial machinery, and in the glass industry. 
  • Platinum nowadays has a wide range of uses – and, like many precious metals – is used in things that might not instantly spring to mind. Of course, as mentioned above, platinum is a very popular metal for jewellery, due to the way it doesn’t tarnish or break easily.  
  • Platinum is also used in catalytic converters, in dentistry equipment, in electrics (such as hard disc drives) and even – as mentioned above – in machinery and in the glass industry. Interestingly, it is also used in the healthcare world, particularly in chemotherapy, which helps fight different types of cancers. 

What are some fun facts about platinum? 

  • Platinum does not ‘wear down’ and get thinner with use, as some metals do. Instead, it develops a ‘patina’ (an aged look) over time, which is actually very desirable in the jewellery world. 
  • In the 18th Century, King Louis XV of France declared that platinum was so rare, it was only the only metal fit for a king; meaning only royals could wear it. 
  • Platinum has been given the ultimate status symbol when it comes to marketing – you may have noticed when you apply for different levels of credit cards – for example – there are different levels of service for silver, gold and platinum members, with platinum always being the highest tier to reach. 
  • Like gold, platinum is also seen as an investment. 
  • The Egyptians used platinum in a similar way we do now. Ancient caskets had been adorned with platinum and other precious metals, showing that it was used in a decorative way due to its beauty and status. 

How do you clean platinum? 

If you’d like to find out more about how to clean your platinum jewellery, take a look at our platinum jewellery cleaning guide. Alternatively, find out more about the history of gold, and the history of silver.