From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97
(continued from page 1)
As increased industrial uses were found for platinum, they more than took up the slack as its demand in jewelry-making diminished. Platinum is now used as a catalyst to produce high-octane fuels. It also plays a crucial role in computer technology, as well as being a component in the glass screen of the monitor. The electrical and electronics industries account for half of the palladium and ruthenium (both members of the six-metal platinum group) consumed each year. The wires used by Thomas Edison in the first lightbulbs were made of platinum. The crucibles that are used to grow crystals of electronic materials consist of yet another platinum group metal: iridium.
The main source for platinum, indeed the producer of nearly three quarters of all the platinum mined in the world, is the Merensky Reef in South Africa. This huge reserve (some 50,000 tons of ore are believed to be in the ground) was formed about two billion years ago. It supplies all of the metals in the platinum group, which range from rare to very rare to extremely rare and include rhodium, osmium and platinum. For each ounce of platinum wrested from the ground, 10 tons of pulverized rock are left behind. Only 150 to 155 tons of platinum are mined annually, compared with more than 2,000 tons of gold.
Only 40 percent of newly mined platinum is used in jewelry, of which only about 3 percent is used in the United States. While the United States is considered the fastest-growing market for platinum jewelry, based on a consumption increase from a level of 20,000 ounces in 1991 to 90,000 ounces in 1996, the Japanese have long been the champion consumers of platinum jewelry. They annually consume 85 percent of all the platinum used in jewelry, while the rest of the world divides the rest. The Japanese thirst for platinum is a practical response to their own government's prohibition during the Second World War; they were not permitted to own gold, so platinum became the metal of choice by necessity. Once the ban was lifted--it remained in place for years after the war--the Japanese increasingly turned to gold jewelry. Perhaps for this reason, the Platinum Guild International in Japan promotes the metal incessantly, with programs dedicated to each sector of the consumer market.
Today in the United States, a small renaissance of platinum jewelry is underway, thanks to the vigorous efforts of the Platinum Guild International USA. PGI supports individual jewelry designers with technical information that enables them to work with the metal successfully. This new movement uses platinum as a design element, rather than as a support for diamonds. But well before the guild was up and running, there were young metalsmiths working in platinum. One of the finest and most innovative of these jewelers is Michael Bondanza of New York City, whose well-designed and beautifully constructed bracelets have taken platinum in a new direction and are the signature pieces of his design collection.
Platinum also adds a purity to jewelry that is unequaled, because it is used in a virtually unadulterated state. Even when alloyed, it is usually combined with a member of the platinum group, making the metal far more precious than the average gold alloy. And because the platinum group metals are inert, they cannot cause allergic reactions. Platinum cannot leave a black mark on the skin or clothing the way silver often does.
In an age in which image is everything, it is fitting that platinum is still the supreme material in the processing of photographic prints. Although widely superseded by much less expensive silver, platinum is preferred for exhibition prints because of its great beauty. For archival use, nothing comes close to platinum; 100-year-old prints retain their vitality and are expected to do so for up to 500 years. Palladium is combined with platinum to give the prints a warmer tone. But that beauty and longevity are achieved at a very high price, a difference in cost of more than 15 to 1. An 8-inch-by-10-inch platinum print costs $380, while a silver gelatin print is only $25.
Only a handful of printers work in the platinum process today. Duggal Color Projects, a custom photo lab in New York City's Soho district, is one of the few labs with a craftsman (in this case, Arkady Lvov) who can produce a platinum print. According to manager Jules Labat, the platinum print offers "a three dimensionality of image, much deeper than silver- or resin-coated print. It has a tactile quality. It's the only material where the emulsion is laid down on paper with a brush. It offers an amazing range of tone and grades. There's a sense of looking through a window."
Another testimonial, another role for the noble metal. It's gone through many incarnations in the past 400 years, but one thing's for sure: no one is likely to use it in place of lead again. *
Ettagale Blauer writes frequently on jewelry and precious objects for Cigar Aficionado.
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jean-jacques richard — rochefort du gard, gard, france, — June 26, 2011 12:28pm ET
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