By Llyn L. Strelau
Platinum has been known for centuries, but until recently, it was a mysterious novelty that frustrated the Spanish conquistadors who found it when panning for gold. They were baffled by the white metal bits mixed with gold nuggets that were difficult to separate and could not be melted. In Spanish, platinum was called ‘platina,’ the diminutive of the word for silver, ‘plata.’
Platinum’s use in fine jewellery only began in the 19th century, when technology was first developed to allow jewellers and others to work it. In its pure state, this white metal is very soft, malleable, and ductile. Just as with gold and silver, pure platinum is too soft for most jewellery applications; however, by mixing it with other metals, the resultant alloy is hard enough to be functional.