Platinum, in many regards an extraordinary precious metal, was given its name by Spanish conquistadors in about 1580: “platina,” which means as much as “small silver.” Today platinum enjoys a popularity that is anything but small; it is valued and worked into unusual jewelry creations throughout the world.
The value placed on platinum in the most varied areas is evident from the example of desirable awards. A “platinum record” is valued much more highly than a gold record, and like the “Platinum Award” marks the greatest degree of success in the entertainment industry. In sports as well, platinum is the symbol of absolute top performance; in advertising and in the case of platinum credit cards, the costly metal stands as a symbol of fine taste and a luxurious lifestyle. And in the jewelry industry this exceptionally rare, costly, heavy, white, and pure precious metal is steadily gaining in significance.
The fascinating history of this precious metal and its use in jewelry is nearly 3000 years long. The first verifiable accounts of platinum come from about 1500 B.C., when people in North Africa and South America alike began working with platinum. It is still a mystery how the precious metal went on to lapse into obscurity for a period of nearly two thousand years. Since the middle of the 18th century czarinas, Kaisers, and kings commissioned splendid rings and costly crowns made of the expensive material. The first platinum jewelry in Europe comes from the court of Ludwig XVI, from about 1780, but it was the legendary jewelry designer Louis Cartier who first began, in 1850, to bring platinum and gemstones together to form luxury jewelry creations. Platinum jewelry flourished during the art deco period at the turn of the century.
The production of the purest and heaviest of the precious metals is marked by a laborious path from raw ore to pure jewelry material. Alongside the fact that platinum occurs only rarely in nature, the difficulties in mining it also contribute a good deal to its value. In 1924, the German geologist Dr. Hans Merensky discovered, west of Johannesburg, the largest platinum vein in the world to date. Platinum continues to be extremely rare and is found only in a few places on Earth. For each individual ounce of platinum, totaling 31.1 grams, approximately ten tons of ore must be harvested. The amount of yearly worldwide platinum production also demonstrates the rarity of the material: annually, only about 160 tons of platinum are available – while in the same time period, production of gold is nearly 14 times as high, at about 2600 tons.
Platinum has several individual characteristics that no other metal used for jewelry shares, and that distinguish it unmistakably from gold and silver. Grayish-white color with a slightly blue tinge is characteristic of platinum. Of all the precious metals, platinum has the lowest degree of conductivity of heat and electricity, as well as the least expansion with heat. Compared to all other metals, the density of platinum is nearest to that of gold, and is only exceeded by iridium and osmium. It is harder than gold or silver, and its melting point is a very high 1772°C (3222°F). Pure platinum can be rolled into a whisper-thin foil of 0.0025 mm thickness, or stretched into a wire 0.001 mm in diameter. The totality of all these characteristics does not, however, mean that a goldsmith working with platinum must possess a considerable measure of technical knowledge and experience with materials in order to attain pleasing results. Because of platinum’s extraordinary characteristics, the jewelry designer is presented with entirely new processing techniques that may then be integrated into the design. The high melting point, for instance, makes possible a special intarsia or inlay technique that is only possible with platinum and thus has become something of a hallmark of platinum jewelry. When platinum is made into jewelry, it is usually at a fineness of 950/000. This enormous purity also contributes to platinum’s particular gentleness to the skin and to the fact that it does not lose its luster or change in color. Its pearly white gleam is characteristic of the precious metal. Platinum is also heavier, harder, and more resistant than other metals used in jewelry. And although no individual precious metal can be called entirely scratchproof, platinum is distinguished by a particular robustness. Even after an item has been worn for a long time, very little metal is lost to wear, instead being molded slightly outwards. The traces of a pieces long life also demonstrate its constancy.
Platinum jewelry design
Platinum Guild International is an international marketing organization to promote the knowledge and the use of the most precious of all precious metals. From its headquarters in London, the activities of the six operational offices in Japan, China, India, Germany, Italy, and the United States, which function as a worldwide umbrella organization for jewelry manufacturers working in platinum, are coordinated. The Platinum Guild also supplies interested clients with information surrounding the topic of platinum – from the characteristics of the metal to addresses of jewelry makers.
Around the world, platinum is made into valuable jewelry pieces, and in recent years also into superb watches that are steadily gaining in popularity for their varied forms and design. Through its particular characteristics, the precious material offers designers diverse design possibilities. Whether prominent or filigreed, avant-garde, fanciful or classic, highly polished or beautifully matte, hardly any boundaries are set for creative design. Depending on a country’s typical customs and cultural rules, the valuable metal not only has been worked differently throughout the different countries and continents, but there is also great variation in the occasions on which it is given or worn. To represent worldwide platinum jewelry design, the following summarizes the particular trends and styles in which platinum is used in certain countries.
In Germany, platinum jewelry has often been created in avant-garde designs, because it should be recognizably different from the style used for white gold. Matte, silky-smooth surfaces, severe forms, and pure, clear optical appeal were the philosophy of the first creations in platinum. Since the early 1990s, the range of design has been rounded out by classic collections of elegant, feminine designs with diamonds, colored gemstones, and pearls. The term classical elegance, which had carried with it a hint of underlying coolness, is now interpreted in ways that are significantly softer, more feminine, and more organic.
The formerly angular lines that for years were characteristic of modern jewelry are now giving way to organically formed surfaces and soft forms hemmed with lines of brilliant-cut diamonds or large, colored gemstones.
China, as in years past, is a leader in demand for platinum. Thanks to its unique luminosity, the precious metal has become the most popular metal for jewelry in the land of diversity and tradition. Simple, noble designs for necklaces, rings, and pendants are preferred. The classical elegance of the metal is central to the designs here, and is maintained despite cheerful lines and impressive contrasts between light and dark. Young people from Chinas metropolitan centers prefer platinum for their jewelry and the interest in platinum engagement and wedding jewelry is continually growing.
In India, the emphasis is currently on wearable jewelry and combination designs. White metals in general, and platinum in particular, make it possible to unite these two desires into jewelry and are therefore particularly popular in India. Unusual or painstakingly applied surface structures such as granulation, matte silk finish, brushed or diamond polished surfaces, and filigree work arouse particular interest. Additionally, two different trends in design can be identified: for weddings or other traditional occasions, heavy and laboriously produced jewelry items are preferred, while simple, elegant, wearable design dominates the look of younger, professional, and trend-oriented people. Opposites have a particular value in Italy: there is demand for both the colorful accents that colored gemstones and semiprecious stones lend to the shining gleam of platinum and enduring classics made of platinum and diamonds, as are found in Italy mainly as engagement, wedding, and anniversary rings. Italian platinum Jewelry also celebrates the contrast between decorative volume and minimalism. Volume and movable designs are in such high demand that platinum designers are even developing new production techniques to create splendid jewelry pieces from pure platinum. But easy-to-wear jewelry and jewelry in classically simple forms such as hoop earrings and heart-shaped pendants also have their fans.
Jewelry – and particularly platinum jewelry – has its own history in Japan and for a long period was not directly influenced by fashion trends. It is only since the rise in popularity of brand-name products from overseas, and the rise in the number of jewelry publications in Japanese fashion and lifestyle magazines, that jewelry has advanced from being purely an accessory to being a fashion item in its own right. While earlier the maxim was that the superfluous should be avoided as much as possible, jewelry is now worn in luxurious amounts, mixed and combined in great variety. The topic of symbolic or thematic jewelry is popular in Japan as in no other place. Talismans and symbols of luck, such as shamrocks or horseshoes, as well as the still-popular platinum crosses executed in every way imaginable, are – in contrast to fashion items – worn for many years because of their quality and value. In Japan, accessories in the Gothic or antique style are also an absolute must for trend-oriented people. Masterfully created or later modified jewelry in this vintage style draws attention to itself.
In the US, platinum continues to be strongly preferred for engagement and wedding rings and jewelry. Bridal jewelry incorporates soft designs and romantic details to create popular trends. Wedding rings made of the costly and heavy precious metal are individually produced and personal details such as engraved initials and symbols, pavé-set stones, or weaving imagery make them even more valuable. Top designers offer an extravagant selection of platinum accessories for him and her, in order to complete the wedding ensemble in style with armlets, earrings, diadems, or cufflinks. Engagement rings with colored diamonds and other stones set in platinum top the list of items in demand. The combination of platinum and pearls is also gaining ground in the US.
Platinum for men
Men’s fashion is also awake to the elegance of platinum. The accessories that manufacturers and designers develop for modern men’s jewelry are discreet, masculine, and luxurious. The saying “the more valuable the better” applies to classic signet rings and avant-garde design as well as to cufflinks, money and tie clips, along with valuable casings on modern watches.