Platinum, like gold, has a long and distinguished history. Its use began in antiquity and it has undergone a resurgence in popularity over the last 200 years. Platinum was held in high esteem during early Egyptian times. Native people in South and Central America worked it as early as 100 B.C. But it was not possible to melt platinum until the early 20th century with the advent of acetylene and hydrogen torches.
Spanish conquistadors discovered platinum artifacts among the gold they were seeking when they came to the new world. They named the curious metal "platina," or "little silver." They also considered it worthless, and discarded it. Platinum didn't reach Europe until the 18th century, but then it caught on in a big way. King Louis XVI elevated it by terming it "the metal of kings."
For centuries, the only large amounts of platinum outside of South America were found in Russian mines. Nowadays, platinum is more valuable than gold, a function of the fact that it is almost twice as dense. Platinum's initial uses were probably limited by its hardness and its very high melting point. The early forging and casting techniques limited its use in decorative objects.
From 1900 to the first half of the 20th, platinum was the premier metal for all-important jewellery. Platinum dominated the world of jewellery design during the Edwardian era, and the Art Deco period well into the 1930s. It all came to an abrupt end in World War II, when platinum was declared a strategic metal and its use banned for all non-military purposes.
Despite its growing popularity, platinum remains one of the world's rare metals. The annual worldwide production of platinum amounts to some 160 tons, compared to about 1,500 tons of gold. It can be found in just a handful of regions of the world. The mining and refining processes are both arduous and time-consuming. For example, in order to extract a single ounce of platinum, about 10 tons of ore need to be mined. After that, the refining process takes a full five months.
Platinum in jewelry is actually an alloyed group of six heavy metals, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. These other metals are so similar to platinum in weight and chemistry that most were not even distinguished from each other until early in the nineteenth century.
Today, it is often alloyed with copper, cobalt and titanium. It's the only precious metal used in fine jewelry that is 90% to 95% pure, largely hypoallergenic, and tarnish-resistant. Look for platinum jewelry marked 900Pt, 950 Plat, or Plat.
The price of platinum jewelry is dependent upon the purity of the platinum used as well as the design and construction of the piece of jewelry.