Platinum has become a popular choice for jewelry due to its strength, durability, and marketing efforts of the platinum industry in recent years. Platinum is three times more expensive than gold. Jewelers aggressively market it because they make three times the profit on every platinum item they sell compared to gold. Platinum is a naturally white, lustrous metal that is long lasting. Sometimes the claims of strength and scratch resistance are overstated. Like all precious metals, platinum will scratch. A platinum scratch is different from white gold because it simply “plows” the metal instead of removing it.
Traditionally, jewelry manufacturers used platinum alloyed with metals from the platinum group metals (iridium, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, and ruthenium). With the proper mix of these platinum group alloys, platinum becomes one of the hardest metals making it a strong and durable jewelry metal. Platinum will not rust or corrode and the platinum family metals make it hypoallergenic and ideal for persons with sensitive skin.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for platinum jewelry state that only items consisting of 950 part per thousand of pure platinum can be marked stamped “PLATINUM” or “PLAT” without more alloy information. From 750-950 Platinum, the platinum group metals must also be indicated. For example, PLAT900IRID for 10% Iridium alloy. Historically, the most common alloys in America were 95% Platinum with 5% Ruthenium or 5% Cobalt and 90% Platinum with 10% Iridium.
There is a misperception that the 950 platinum is better than the 900 platinum. However, pure platinum is very soft and the right alloy mix is what is important. Different alloys and different percentages produce better results for different jewelry purposes. Some alloy mixes work better for casting and some are better for handcrafting like bending the prongs over fragile diamond corners. Many artisans feel that PLAT900IRID is the best general-purpose alloy for diamond rings.
While platinum is best known for its use in jewelry, more than 60% of platinum is used for other industrial purposes such as catalytic converters in autos and pacemakers in the medical field. Because of its rarity and the rapidly increasing demand for this versatile metal, the price has soared in recent years.
The high price of platinum has caused some jewelry manufacturers to start using lower percentages of platinum and to use other alloy metals to lower the cost of the jewelry. Unfortunately, these new alloy mixes are reducing the very qualities that made platinum desirable. The new alloys produce more brittle platinum that is more susceptible to damage.
For example, metal that is stamped 585 Platinum is really only 58.5% pure platinum and 41.5% copper and cobalt with the result that it is more likely to crack, crater, discolor or irritate sensitive skin. Less scrupulous jewelry vendors remove the 585 stamp and complicate the situation, leading consumers to believe the metal is the traditional high quality platinum.
Historically the jewelry shopper did not have to be concerned about the purity of platinum because the alloy metals were in the platinum group the quality was uniform regardless of the particular alloy or percentage used.
Today’s jewelry shopper is at potential risk because the lower quality platinum looks the same as the higher quality platinum. While platinum looks similar regardless of the alloy, the weight of lower quality alloy mixes is lower because there is so much less of the dense platinum.
Currently there are no FTC guidelines for the new platinum alloys so it is up to the jeweler or appraiser to help the consumer determine if the platinum is well suited for its intended use. The consumer deserves a warning if sold lower quality platinum since it might not hold stones as well and is more susceptible to damage. However, do not expect the jeweler selling low quality platinum to point out this potential problem. As with any important purchases, it is up to the consumer to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions before making a purchase.