Can you name the four primary noble precious metals commonly used in the jewelry industry? The ones that are regularly traded on the international spot market? No fair Google-ing it… OK, I’m sure you know three of them – gold, silver and platinum. Hmmm, what’s the fourth one? It is a pure white metal in the platinum family. It was used briefly around WWII when platinum was restricted to military use. The western United States has large deposits of this metal.
Palladium is the answer. The first attempts to use palladium in jewelry were met with unreliable results due to poor quality control and were soon discontinued. The recent rise in popularity of palladium is due to advanced alloying techniques, the popularity of white metal jewelry and the increased price of all precious metals.
Gold remains the most popular metal for fine jewelry, as it responds extremely well to forming, fabrication, and polishing. Silver recently gained more popularity due to affordability and comparable workability to gold. However, silver lacks the strength and durability for most daily wear jewelry. Platinum is the most rare and valuable of the precious metals and has unique characteristics including outstanding durability and pure white color. If you drive a car made after 1975, you likely own a small amount of platinum or palladium as these metals are used in catalytic converters.
There are several reasons palladium has recently grown in popularity. First, the cost is comparable to 14 karat white gold. Alloyed at 90-95% pure, it is more hypoallergenic than 14 karat gold. Additionally, the pure white color will not change with time and does not need to be plated like white gold and sterling silver.
WHAT?!?! Plating over white gold? Yes, one of jewelry manufacturing’s dirty little secrets is that often times white metal jewelry is plated with rhodium (another metal in the platinum family) to help prevent tarnishing and keep your jewelry a shiny white color.
Have a sparkling week!
Send your gem and jewelry questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Kent Bagnall is the owner of Kent Jewelry in Downtown Rolla, Missouri.