Though a widely used metal, the history of platinum dates back just a few centuries as opposed to gold which has a long history. Reports indicate that the discovery of the shiny metal was done by South American Indians a 1000 year ago, but it wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the news of the discovery spread to Europe. The report coincided with the conquest of the New World by the Spanish but even then it was considered to be a nuisance since its mining interfered with gold production. The only significant thing that interested European scientists is that the new metal “wouldn’t melt by fire or any chemicals that were developed by the Spanish”. The metal was way heavier than gold and was virtually impossible to be contaminated/corroded using chemicals and other gases. It was in 1751 that platinum got the status of a new element.
Early usage of platinum
In the latter half of the 18th century, platinum found several industrial uses. In 1784, it was used to manufacture durable laboratory equipments. The shine of the metal also did attract goldsmiths and jewelers and leading metal manufacturers like Pierre Chabaneu (Spain) and Marc Janety, the royal goldsmith to the King Louis XVI used it to make watch chains, coat buttons and cutlery.
With the 19th century, refined production techniques increased the mining of platinum. It was soon to be used in sophisticated batteries, fuel cells, gun parts, purification of hydrogen and production of caustic chemicals like sulphuric acid.Though platinum became increasingly used in many industries, the metal was largely limited in supply. Even in the 1820s, Columbia was the only bulk supplier but it too ceased production. Two years later, platinum was found in the gold fields of the Ural Mountains. This is also the period when the Russian Government introduced platinum into Roubles. In the next 18 years, Russia minted more than 500,000 ounces of platinum and this is also the time when platinum acquired a similar status to gold.
However, most natural deposits of Platinum were already running out and it was soon declared to be a strategic metal. During the World War II, the use of platinum in non-military productions was prohibited. The demand was mostly met by the mining activities in The Bushveld Complex (north of Pretoria) and The Noril’sk-Talnakh (extreme north of Siberia).
When Arab Oil Embargo increased the pricing of precious metals, small platinum bars were introduced in Japan for individual investors. The drastic changes in prices of the metal in the 1980s raised interest in United States and Europe. This is also when platinum production was taken up by Engelhard Corporation and Johnson Matthey & Co. Ltd.
It was in the November of 1983 that The Isle of Man issues the first platinum bullion coin. In the latter half of 1988, Canada and Australia introduced legal tenders in platinum. Both the introductions were extremely successful and investment in the metal rose to new levels. For 10 years, the Canadian Maple and the Australian Kuala were leading in coin sales. It was in 1977 that the American Eagle was released in platinum by the United States of America.
Today, platinum is recognized as one the rarest and most precious metals across the globe. Its worth is even more than gold which once dominated the metallurgy industry.