What is Platinum?
Platinum is a chemical element with an atomic number of 78. It appears on the periodic table as Pt among a group of heavy metals known as the platinum group. This element is characteristic of a high density, superior malleability and ductility, a high melting point, a resilience to wear, oxidation, and tarnish, and an attractive grey-white appearance that makes it a popular choice for jewelry.
The word “platinum” is derived from the spanish term, “platina del Pinto”. This translates to “little silver of the Pinto River”. It was first identified as such in the fifteen hundreds when it was found in Colombia’s Rio Pinto. The Spanish explorers, not yet recognizing the great potential of the metal, deemed it to be an inferior form of silver.
Platinum is highly valuable, representing one of the more expensive of the precious metals. A big part of this is the metal’s great rarity. At only 0.003 ppm (parts per million) in the Earth’s crust, platinum is even harder to find than gold. In a given year, the mining industry’s platinum production came out to less than a tenth of its gold production.
Another big factor in platinum’s high value is the great demand for the metal. In addition to its popularity for jewelry, it also has many practical industrial applications. In fact, it is estimated that roughly a full fifth of everything we use requires platinum in its production, either as part of the product itself or as part of the manufacturing process. Some of the bigger applications of platinum include its use in automobile exhaust systems, oil refineries, computer components, glassmaking equipment, fuel cells, and even anti-cancer drugs.
The world’s most significant platinum deposits appear in South Africa and Russia, though other deposits are found in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, and Finland, Ireland, Borneo, Madagascar, and Whales.
Platinum is a very popular metal for jewelry. People love it for its natural beauty, its impressive durability, and the rarity of the metal.
This metal has a number of advantages when it comes to jewelry. First of all, its color never fades or tarnishes. While white gold will need to be given a new coat of rhodium every twelve to eighteen months in order to maintain its white appearance, platinum pieces can potentially be worn for a lifetime without maintenance.
Platinum is also a good choice for people with a nickel allergy. One in five people have a reaction to the nickel impurities that appear in many pieces of gold jewelry. Platinum is not generally alloyed with such metals, and is a naturally hypoallergenic alternative for people with sensitive skin.
Finally, diamonds go very well with a platinum setting. Not only is the superior strength of platinum a good way to keep your gemstone held securely, but the white color of the metal complements a colorless diamond very well. It enhances the brilliance of such diamonds, without reflecting foreign colors into the stone that mask its purity.
A big part of the value of platinum is its purity rating. The more platinum in an alloy, the stronger and more valuable the metal will be. On a piece of platinum jewelry, you can generally expect to find a marking identifying how much of the alloy consists of platinum, and which other metals have been alloyed with it.
Platinum is an exceptionally hard and durable metal. As such, it is most often alloyed with other metals in order to make it more malleable for the sake of making jewelry. You can find platinum jewelry with many different levels of purity on the market, but there are only two alloys that are considered high-grade platinum. These are the 950 platinum and the 900 platinum.
The purest platinum you can generally expect to find in your jewelry, 950 platinum gets its name from the fact that it consists of 95% platinum. The other five percent consists of various other metals, usually cobalt, copper, iridium, palladium, rhodium, or tungsten. Pieces with 950 platinum will usually be marked with “PT” or “PLAT”, indicating that the platinum is at least 95% pure.
When a platinum alloy is 90% pure, it is called 900 platinum. The other ten percent of this alloy is usually either iridium or palladium. You can identify a piece of 900 platinum by its marking, which should say “900PLAT”.
Any alloy that consists of less than 90% platinum will be labeled in much the same manner as 900 platinum, with a three-digit number followed by “PLT”, “PLAT”, or “PLATINUM”. The number indicates the number of platinum parts per thousand. For example, a piece marked “585PLAT” has 585 parts of platinum out of one thousand total parts, making for 58.5% platinum.
In the US, any jewelry made with a platinum alloy can be marked as platinum jewelry so long as the alloy is at least 50% platinum and at least 95% “platinum group metals”. The platinum group metals include platinum and the metals that are close to platinum on the periodic table, allowing them to blend well with the metal. These metals include iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, and osmium. On lower-grade platinum pieces, the ratio of all other metals in the alloy should also be disclosed.
There are many different options available when it comes to the gem settings in a piece of platinum jewelry. Each setting has its own advantages and drawbacks. When selecting a setting, consider your wants and needs in terms of aesthetic, gem size, and the security of the gem.
Types of Settings for Platinum Jewelry
So, you’ve committed to the metal and the gemstone that you want for your jewelry. The next most important part is the setting, where the metal and the gemstone meet. This is a big part of what makes your ring special, giving it personality and flair that can serve to complement a beautiful relationship between the platinum and your gem of choice.
The first thing to consider when choosing your setting is whether you want a large, central stone or a selection of smaller stones. This has a big impact on what options you have for a setting.
Central Stone Settings
- Prong: Also called the “claw” setting, this is the most popular choice of all the settings. The prong setting holds your stone in a set of three or more prongs, leaving your stone visible from all sides to maximize the brilliance and sparkle of the stone. A good choice for people who really want to show off a large and high-quality gem.
- Cathedral: Sometimes called the “contour” setting, this setting places your gemstone securely within a set of arches while a set of prongs hold it in place. This setting gives added protection to a stone, making it a good choice for some of the softer gems. It can also create the illusion of size for a somewhat lower-carat stone.
- Bezel: A gem set in a bezel setting is held securely in a collar of metal which may completely or partially encircle the circumference of the gem. Though this may not showcase your gem as much as the prong or cathedral, it keeps your stone safe and prevents snags. A good option for people with an active lifestyle.
- Tension: The tension setting gets its name from the fact that the gemstone is held in place by exacting pressure from two sides. Tension settings are a good way to securely hold your stone while simultaneously giving your stone maximum exposure.
Settings for Smaller Stones
- Bar: This setting holds your gem in place with two bars, set perpendicular to the band of the ring. This exposes your gem to a maximum of light from the front and rear, while simultaneously protecting it fairly securely.
- Channel: A channel setting lines up a row of gemstones in a metal channel such that each gem is held in place along the edges but there is no metal between gems. A good choice for when you have a large number of small stones.
- Flush: In a flush setting, a small gemstone is held securely inside a tiny hole in the metal of the jewelry.
- Pavé: In a pavé piece, multiple small gemstones are mounted close together in their own individual settings. This creates the appearance of the jewelry being “paved” with gems, giving the setting its name. It’s not the most secure setting, but it represents a great way to get an exceptional display out of an assortment of tiny gems.
When selecting a platinum ring, there are various factors to consider when selecting a band. How big should the band be? How should it be shaped? What should its surface texture look like? These affect not only the aesthetic of the ring, but also your comfort when wearing the ring.
Platinum Band Designs
For many people, a ring may very well be the most important piece of jewelry they own. This is an item that they are most likely to wear every day, possibly for decades at a time. This is why, when it comes time to select your ring, you want to take the time to look through all the options that are available so as to find a band that best suits you. When making this decision, you want to look at the band’s profile, width, finish, and details.
The profile of your ring band is the shape of the band. Most jewelers will offer you eight basic options, including the following:
- D-Shaped: Rings with this profile are rounded on the outside and flat on the inside, giving the cross-section that resembles the letter D.
- Traditional Court: This profile represents rings that are rounded on both the outside and the inside.
- Flat: A flat ring has a rectangular cross-section.
- Flat-Court: This profile features a rounded inside and a flat outside, with rounded edges.
- Double Comfort: A double comfort ring is similar to a flat ring, but with rounded edges for additional comfort.
- Halo: The halo profile gets its name for its circular cross-section, which gives it a halo-like appearance.
- Flat-Sided Court: This profile is similar to the traditional court, with a rounded inside and a rounded outside, but has somewhat flatter edges.
- Concave: This profile has a rounded inside and a groove along the outside.
The width of a ring band represents a measurement from the top to the bottom, when the ring is sitting flat on a level surface. Most rings you find will be between 2mm and 8mm. However, some rings will be made with a greater width, particularly men’s rings.
Platinum bands can come with a variety of finishes on the outer surface, with some of the more popular varieties including the following:
- Polished: This is the most common finish found on jewelry, representing the most polished surface available. This finish is characteristic of a superior shine and a mirror-like appearance that you can see your face in. The downside is that scratches show the most readily in the pristine surface.
- Satin: These rings are smooth to the touch, much like a polished ring. However, they lack the same shine and do not reflect your image on their surface.
- Matte: Also called a brushed finish, this finish is similar to a satin finish in that it lacks the sine of a polished surface. However, a matte finish has a texture to it, giving the appearance of having been rubbed in with a wire brush. Popular for men’s rings.
- Hammered: A ring with a hammered finish has an irregular, dimpled surface, resembling a surface that was pounded with a hammer. Another popular choice for men’s rings.
Platinum is a strong and ductile material, which allows it to be fashioned into many engaging styles.
- Milgrain: Alternatively spelled “millgrain”, these rings are characteristic of a beaded line along the surface of the band.
- Beveled Edge: A ring with a beveled edge has an angled surface along the edge, often covered with a finish that either complements or contrasts with the main surface of the ring.
- Weave/Braid: A ring with a weave or a braid has a surface that creates the appearance of metal being woven together.
- Filigree: Platinum is great for creating fine, fancy filigree designs, like spirals, rosettes, and more.