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Quick Facts About Precious Metals

A precious metal must be a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element or have a high economic value. The higher relative values are determined by:
  • Rarity
  • Uses as an investment commodity
  • Uses in industrial processes
Precious metals are less reactive than most elements and have higher melting points than other metals. They are also softer, more ductile and have a high lustre. Precious metals were commonly used as currency but today their uses include art, jewellery and industrial applications. The precious metals are: gold, silver, platinum, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, osmium, iridium, scandium, hafnium and beryllium.

GoldGold is a transitional metal with a metallic yellow appearance. It is soft, malleable and can be easily melted, chiselled, carved or hammered into any shape. Gold will not tarnish, corrode, rust, deteriorate, oxidize or decay. Gold is used in jewellery making, electrical conductors, glassmaking and many other applications. Gold is edible and is used in cake decorating. The largest gold nugget, the Hand of Faith, was found in 1980 in Wedderburn, Victoria, Australia and weighs 27.2 kilograms. South Africa was the world’s largest producer until China exceeded its production in 2009.

SilverSilver is a metallic chemical element and forms part of the transition metal group. It is a lustrous metal with a brilliant white metallic appearance. In ancient Egyptian records, silver was considered more precious than gold and it was used more for money than gold was. Silver has more industrial uses than gold. Research has shown that silver promotes the growth of new cells and regeneration of large, lost skin areas are now being treated with silver. Silver is fast becoming an energy saver on the home front with its use in windows as it reflects 95% of the sun’s rays.Peru and China are the largest producers of silver, Australia ranks fifth.

PlatinumPlatinum is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust and is found in some copper and nickel ores, or as native platinum, which is commonly found as grains and nuggets. Meteorites contain platinum and the earliest recorded meteorite impact on Earth happened 2 billion years ago. Platinum is viewed as the most precious metal. It is one of the strongest and most enduring metals. Platinum is well known for its jewellery uses but other uses includeelectroplating and being a catalytic converter for automobiles. South Africa is the largest producer of platinum and Australia’s production equates to about 0.2% of the global supply.

PalladiumPalladium is a silvery-white lustrous metal which is part of the platinum group of metals (PGMs). Palladium is the densest and has the lowest melting point of all the metals in the PGM group. Palladium’s frequent use is in catalytic converters. It is also used in jewellery making, dentistry, electronics and for fuel cells which produce heat, water and electricity. South Africa is the largest producer of palladium, Australia’s production equates to about 0.2% of global supply.

RutheniumRuthenium is a polyvalent hard white transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table. According to Wikipedia:

“Similar to the other metals of the platinum group, ruthenium is inert to most chemicals. Ruthenium usually occurs as a minor component of platinum ores and its annual production is only about 12 tonnes worldwide. Most ruthenium is used for wear-resistant electrical contacts and the production of thick-film resistors. A minor application of ruthenium is its use in some platinum alloys.”
South Africa is the largest producer of Ruthenium with Russia being the second largest producer.

Rhodium Rhodium is a silvery-white transition metal. It costs six times as much as gold by weight which makes it the world’s most expensive precious metal. Rhodium is found in nickel and platinum ores and is a member of the platinum group metals. It is used as a catalyst in automobile converters and to plate silver and white gold. South Africa produces 80% of the world’s rhodium supply.

OsmiumOsmium is a shiny silvery-blue gray metal of the platinum group metals. It is brittle and very dense. It has a lower compressibility than diamonds and because of its hardness and resistance to wear it is often used as an alloy with other metals. Its uses are quite limited due to the expense to produce it but an osmium compound is used in fingerprint detection. Turkey and Bulgaria are the largest producers of osmium.

Iridium Iridium is a whitish-yellow metallic element and is a member if the platinum group metals. It is hard, brittle and dense. Iridium is the most corrosion-resistant metal and is found abundantly in meteorites but is the least abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Iridium is obtained through copper and nickel mining. Iridium is used as an electrical contact in spark plugs, to create fountain pen nibs, as a catalyst to produce acetic acid, and as a source of gamma radiation in the treatment of cancer. It is produced in South Africa, Russia and Canada.

ScandiumScandium is a silvery-white metallic transition metal found in the deposits of rare earth and uranium compounds. It is a soft metal and is used as an alloy. It is usually combined with aluminium in the production of athletic equipment like baseball bats and lacrosse sticks. Scandium is only mined in Russia, the Ukraine and in China.

HafniumHafnium is a silvery-gray tetravalent transition metal with a high lustre appeal. It closely resembles zirconium and is retrieved as a by-product from zirconium ore minerals which makes it difficult to tell them apart. It is ductile and corrosion-resistant and is used in superalloys, control rods for nuclear reactors, in filaments and electrodes. Hafnium is produced in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United States.

BerylliumBeryllium is a divalent metallic element found combined with other elements in minerals and is an alkaline earth metal. It has a steel-gray appearance, is strong but lightweight and brittle. It is used with other metal alloys and has excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. It is used to create windows for X-ray tubes and as a moderator in nuclear reactors. The United States dominates the production of Beryllium.

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