Of the three "noble" metals, platinum is the most valuable because of its rarity and purity. It also has many other desirable qualities for jewelry making, notably enduring elegance. Platinum is soft, ductile and easily worked, yet strong and durable, making it an excellent metal for gem settings. Platinum prongs show little wear, providing great protection for precious stones. Furthermore, platinum's rich white luster beautifully sets off diamonds, and its neutral color enhances any gemstone's brilliance and depth.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to recognize the beauty and endurance of platinum. In fact, one high priestess commissioned an artisan to carve hieroglyphics in platinum on her casket - designs that are perfectly intact today, 2500 years later! King Louis XVI of France favored platinum jewelry during his reign in the late 1700s. Some of the world's most famous diamonds have been set in platinum, including the Hope Diamond.
Platinum use peaked in the U.S. in the early part of the century, but after 1940, during World War II, the government banned its use for all non-military purposes, including jewelry. To accommodate consumers' preference for its white luster, white gold took its place during the embargo. However, once restrictions on platinum ended, it did not regain its previous popularity, until recently. Today, platinum is once again in style as the modern millennium metal, particularly in bridal and high-end fashion jewelry.
Supplies of platinum remain scarce, which contributes to its higher cost. In terms of rarity, consider that 10 tons of ore must be mined to produce a single ounce of platinum. In contrast, it takes three tons of ore to extract one ounce of gold. The main suppliers today are Russia and South Africa, with Canada, Columbia and the U.S. producing smaller amounts.
In the U.S., platinum is used in near pure form for jewelry because of its strength. Strict laws maintain a very high level of quality for platinum and platinum alloys. It is alloyed only with "sister" metals such as iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium and ruthenium, and by law, unsoldered platinum articles may contain no more than 1.5% base metal content. Platinum jewelry stamped "IRIDPLAT" contains 90% platinum and 10% iridium. A piece marked "PLAT" must contain at least 95% pure platinum.