Travels & Traditions: Going Platinum - #803

BURT WOLF: Platinum is a naturally white metal that’s been around for a long time but its only found in a few places including a few meteorites that crashed to earth 2 billion years ago.

But despite its age, platinum has an excellent memory and it knows how to keep and maintain its shape and weight. Once it’s set into a shape, it keeps it. In fact, platinum is so good at keeping its shape and weight that our standard measure for weight is the International Prototype of the Kilogram which is made of Platinum.

Platinum is ductile, which means it can be pulled out into a long string.

A single gram of the metal can be drawn out to a fine wire over a mile in length. And that has allowed jewelry designers to create some amazing pieces in platinum mesh. 

This would be difficult with any other precious metal.

Its melting point is extraordinarily high --- approximately 3,220 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,786 degrees Center grade. That melting point gives it some unique physical properties.

And platinum doesn’t oxidize, which means that it is not affected by air---no tarnishing. That makes it a noble metal.

What you see is what you get and you get it for ever.

Platinum is our most extraordinary metal---thirty times rarer than gold. And it is virtually impossible to corrode. Most of the Crown Jewels of England are set in platinum.

Platinum is extremely dense which allows it to safely and firmly grasp the precious stones that are part of the setting. The world’s most valuable diamond, the Hope Diamond, is set in platinum.

The highest honor in the music business is the award of a platinum record. You must sell a million copies to go platinum. Elvis Presley holds the record for a solo artist with 33 singles certified platinum and multi-platinum status.  In fact, he liked platinum so much that when he married Priscilla, he used platinum wedding bands. During the last century the word platinum has come to stand for importance and success.

It’s the ultimate.

BURT WOLF: The purest blonde is a platinum blonde.

And the highest level of respect many credit card companies offer is the platinum card. 


BURT WOLF: Platinum was basically unknown until the early 1500s when Spanish conquistadors came across it in the gold and silver mines that they were digging between Panama and Mexico. It was a new and mysterious naturally white metal and they couldn’t figure out how to melt it. Platinum’s melting point was just too high for them.

Platinum’s big breakthrough came in 1751, when a Swedish metal expert learned how to melt it. 

During the 1780s, King Louis XVI of France declared platinum the only metal fit for a King. His Jeweler made several platinum pieces for him, including an ornate sugar bowl. And by the end of the 1780s, French scientists had figured out how to refine it into a pure metal and shape it.

In 1788, Francisco Alonso, a famous Spanish artist of the period, sculpted a platinum chalice for Pope Pius VI.

And before you knew it, everyone who was anyone wanted things made of Platinum.

The Kings and Queens of Europe.

The Tsar and the Tsarina of Russia. Even their son, the Tzardin, demanded things in platinum.

King Carlos IV of Spain had an entire room made of platinum.   

In the late 1800’s, Cornelius Vanderbilt II coated an entire room of his home in Rhode Island with platinum. 

And it wasn’t only the West that loved platinum. 

The Maharajas of India not only wanted objects in platinum but insisted that it be used to make the thread in their clothing.

In 1910, the pearl designer, Mikimoto, introduced a Platinum necklace that launched a boom in the metal.

Everyone who could afford it was going platinum.


BURT WOLF: Today, China is the world’s biggest consumer of platinum and their demand for its use in jewelry is booming. Jewelry is now the third most popular consumer purchase in China after property and cars. Platinum jewelry is considered more modern and the most precious white jewelry. A natural choice with high purity.

In China it exemplifies womens inner strength, beauty and confidence.

Platinum jewelry has long been a favorite of Japanese women. They love the metal’s subtle sheen, that it lends itself to fine workmanship, its durability, the way it complements their skin tones and the prestige that comes with wearing the world’s most precious jewelry metal.

In Japan it represents the self-assured woman who will buy herself Platinum jewelry as a reward for an achievement or simply for happily being herself. They feel that it can be worn everyday with great style.

In Japan, it’s becoming customary for the generation of baby boomers reaching retirement age to mark their retirement with Platinum jewelry. Many husbands in Japan give it to their wives in appreciation of her support and their enduring relationship. These are called “Thank Days”. 


BURT WOLF: Throughout the years, platinum’s purity, rarity and enduring nature made it the preferred metal of great jewelry designers and sophisticated buyers.

Detra Segar is the regional Vice President and General Manager of Tiffany’s Flagship store in New York City.

DETRA SEGAR ON CAMERA: We were started in 1837 by Charles Tiffany. We started in the fancy and stationery business and then in the mid 1800s moved into jewelry. In fact, at one point, Mr. Tiffany was referred to as the “King of Diamonds”. The more fashionable side of things was probably our introduction, in 1886, of our 6-prong setting diamond engagement ring. Before that diamonds were set in side metal and that was the first time that platinum, because if its inherent durability, was used to lift up and highlight the diamond, light came under it, it sparkled even more and it became a standard and very recognizable for Tiffany. In fact other jewelers will many times refer to the setting as the Tiffany setting. 

Tiffany’s relationship with platinum is pretty extensive. We go from very plain clean designs of Elsa Peretti, where you have a diamond set in a bezel with just the rim of platinum showing, to whimsical things as you will see in a charm bracelet that we recently introduced and you can also see it in our very wonderful and intricate designs as you see in the broach that I’m wearing, which is a reinterpretation of an archival design where platinum is used because of the pliableness of the metal; so you can set all these tiny diamonds in it quite nicely.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Tell me a little bit about what’s in the cases. What do you see here that you like.

DETRA SEGAR ON CAMERA: Well these items are some of the most coveted items in the world and probably some of the best examples of use of gemstones and platinum. So when you see platinum and diamonds set with everything from sapphire to tanzanite to rubies you’re going to see some rings that are absolutely amazing. This ring style is something called Legacy and it can be done in all kinds of sizes with all colored stones. A little bit of a throw back to tradition but very modern. Or perhaps this wonderful aquamarine pendant again set in platinum with diamonds.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And earrings.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You could make a set out of that.

DETRA SEGAR ON CAMERA: You could, you could have a whole wardrobe. What we’re looking at right now in the case line is all of our traditional engagement rings. And most of them, as you will see, are set in platinum. The setting that you are seeing right here is Lucida which is a very clean modern cut for a diamond… and men like it too. They can understand something that’s durable.

Cartier also has a long association with Platinum.

Frédéric De Narp is President and CEO of Cartier USA.

FRÉDÉRIC DE NARP ON CAMERA: Last century, platinum was really used in the industry and in scientific laboratories for its physical qualities. And it is really, Louis Cartier, this genius man, who did decide to combine platinum with diamonds and use platinum in the world of jewelry in the proper way. He did understand that platinum would allow him to express its full creativity. These are contemporary pieces that Cartier has realized with platinum base, with diamonds, you know, and it's absolutely amazing to see that the luminosity of the diamonds with platinum and this chandelier earrings, which are very, very fashionable as well. 

And here is an example of one-of-a-kind pieces; you have these amazing sapphires, emeralds and platinum necklace which is absolutely gorgeous. 

It does show you how much the use of platinum will allow us as a jeweler to express the maximum of creativity and this is very delicate designs but the hardness of this platinum metal would allow us to create this very, very delicate motifs.

RALPH ESMERIAN ON CAMERA: Platinum could, easily for a jeweler, do very intricate work, whether it was lattice work, cut out platinum and you could do designs that you couldn’t possibly do in silver. From the jewelers point of view in the west this was a sensational material because number one it didn’t tarnish, as silver tarnished and with the tarnish of silver going into the white diamond or into the emerald, suddenly the whole piece looked slightly dirty and would require constant polishing over the period of a year or two years. Platinum held its whiteness.


BURT WOLF: When the wife of King George was preparing for her coronation in 1937 she selected a crown made of platinum for her famous 105-carat diamond.

RALPH ESMERIAN ON CAMERA: Platinum is perfect for making diamond jewelry. It’s a neutral color, white. The best color for what they were off setting, which is the stone. It is the stone that is most important thing; so you don’t want a frame that is going to overwhelm the picture. And that’s the way you should look at the work of the metal smith. It could hold stones in a much more secure way than gold and certainly better than silver.

And it can sort of blend in much more with skin tones. It also allows for very intricate workmanship and it’s subtle. And of course, diamonds look much better in platinum. And as diamonds have gained in popularity, which has been a steady increase over the last hundred years, platinum is the metal that a diamond looks best against. 


BURT WOLF: These days Platinum is the favored metal for celebrities who want the best and love displaying it at red carpet events. 

RALPH ESMERIAN ON CAMERA: Celebrities have always loved jewelry because in the thirties and forties the Joan Crawfords, the Rita Hayworths then again later Elizabeth Taylor…they used actual jewelry not costume jewelry. And it was usually their own jewelry that they had bought or had been given. And then they also began to borrow from jewelers.

BURT WOLF: One famous piece of jewelry that didn’t need to be borrowed was the Taylor-Burton diamond. 

DAVID FROST ON CAMERA: What does 69.4 carats really mean?!

RICHARD BURTON ON CAMERA: What it means is the most expensive diamond in the world that’s what it means.

BURT WOLF: For Elizabeth Taylor’s 40th birthday Richard Burton purchased this 69-carat pear-shaped diamond.

This diamond is so rare that only platinum could be trusted to hold it. Platinum is a diamond’s best friend. It’s the most secure setting.

DAVID FROST ON CAMERA: Well, thank you for being with us…(crowd laughs)…


BURT WOLF: The most romantic use of platinum in jewelry is in engagement and wedding rings.

Historians have theorized that the first rings may have been made of leather, plants, or other degradable material that served not only to symbolize a union between two people, but also their connection with the land that sustained them. As time passed, metal rings became more traditional and eventually gemstones were incorporated to add a measure of distinction and beauty.

OSNAT GAD ON CAMERA: The first time we know that the ring was given as a pledge of love was actually in the Roman times, and it was a ring that was called earnest money. And it was a ring that was given as a pledge of love between a man and woman. And it was to show that the man can afford to support his wife to be. That ring binded them together. And that was the most beautiful thing for me, that, it had such a significance in world history.

People still want to have the most precious metal in the world. They want it because it is durable, it is solid, it's strong, it's a ring that you're gonna' wear for the rest of your life. You don't want it to change color; you don't want it to bend. I find that platinum is the most beautiful metal to enhance the color of the stones. It's pure white. The stone, once it's set in it, it sparkles, it shows the color. It doesn't change on you. It's secure.

BURT WOLF: According to Conde Nast, publishers of Bride’s, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Vogue magazines, the wedding industry generates more than $161 billion dollars each year and 81 percent of American brides desire platinum. There are more than two million weddings per year and the average cost is $30,000.

And China has over 8 million weddings per year.

MAX KOVINS ON CAMERA: The difference between platinum and gold is often very misunderstood. Now to the naked eye they look almost the same don’t they?

The most important thing to know about buying an engagement ring is to find the ring that's going to symbolize the perfect union of the couple.

The engagement ring symbolizes the circle of life, the circle of love. I recommend platinum for the setting for the engagement rings because it's pure, rare, eternal. It's 100 percent hypoallergenic. It gets a beautiful patina over time. 

Another nice thing about platinum is that it's 65 percent more dense than gold, so it has a great heft to it. And you don’t loose any metal. With platinum, it's sort of like chalk versus clay. With clay, if you take your finger and run it through it, you don't loose the clay, it simply displaces and you could mold it back into place. Whereas gold is more like chalk, where if you scratch it with your finger, you lose the chalk forever.

Platinum lasts forever because it literally is an eternal metal. What platinum does for a diamond does what no other metal on the face of the planet can do. Since it's a pure white metal, it truly makes the diamond shine brightly. So if you want to have a diamond that's going to look the best. You set it in platinum. Platinum, set for life.

BURT WOLF: While the engagement ring symbolizes the promise, wedding bands symbolize the commitment. So it only makes sense that this commitment needs to be signified with a metal that is pure and rare like true love. 

The interest in platinum is worldwide. Ninety-five percent of all engagement rings sold in Japan are made of platinum. And China is the largest market for the metal. 


BURT WOLF: In a small office tucked away on jeweler’s row in Manhattan, designer Michael Bondanza turns out unique works in platinum.

MICHAEL BONDANZA ON CAMERA: I started working in platinum because basically I wanted something that was a challenge. You’ve really got to be good at what you do to make something in platinum, especially on a large complicated scale. There's a bracelet that we're making that we've been making actually for a long time. It's one of the original platinum and gold bracelets. It's platinum top. It's made out of plate of platinum. And it's 18-carat yellow gold carriage 'cause I like to combine the metals also. The qualities of platinum let me engrave it beautifully. You can make it extremely thin and it’s still strong and it’s still something that shows well as metal.

BURT WOLF: Japanese jewelers are known for their intricate detail in jewelry making techniques and their topnotch creative skills.

In China, this platinum necklace masterpiece “Jiang” was inspired by the visual beauty and rich history of the Yangtze River.

In India, this Iraja necklace by Arunima Bhaumik of Ganjam Jewellers was inspired by the life-giving power of water, and evokes the designer’s native India, where many cultures are bound together by rivers. Hollow beads and diamonds are linked with Platinum.

The metal is also showing up in fine watches. Most of the time pieces are being made in Switzerland but they are being sold all over the world.

Usually the most limited edition of branded watches, the ultimate collection pieces, are in platinum cases. 


BURT WOLF: In 1974, the United States government passed a series of laws that attempted to regulate and improve the quality of the air we breathe. Suddenly the demand for platinum became even greater because platinum has the ability to remove dangerous gases from the atmosphere.

KATHRIN SCHOENKE ON CAMERA: One of the major uses of platinum is in auto catalyst. That means that the active component, of an catalytic converter, has ingredients in it that are made of platinum, which help to reduce pollution. Platinum is the active ingredient that promotes the chemical reaction in emission control without being used in the process. So, platinum is really prevalent in a lot of places where you don't assume it is.

BURT WOLF: Worldwide use of platinum group metals has been responsible for preventing over 12 billion tons of pollutants from entering the earth’s atmosphere. These days platinum is being called “the environmental metal”.

But platinum is not only used to keep our atmosphere clean, it’s actually integrated in to one out of every five consumer goods, including iPods, flat screen TVs, and laptops. 

Platinum is also used in cancer fighting drugs, hard disk drives, fiber-optic cables, eyeglasses, and pacemakers.

The glue in the little post-it notes that have become part of my life are made using a platinum catalyst.

JURGEN MAERZ ON CAMERA: Glass manufacturing is using platinum. Fiberglass uses platinum. The automobile industry uses platinum. Petrochemical uses platinum. There is platinum used in medicine. 

KATHRIN SCHOENKE ON CAMERA: If you think of retinal implants, of oral implants, of angioplasty, you know, the stents for treating blocked arteries. Or, you know people who have arrhythmic heartbeat, they have these little devices implanted, they’re called ACD’s, that in essence help them to regulate their heartbeat.

JURGEN MAERZ ON CAMERA: Platinum overall has many, many features that are beneficial to us.

Platinum is hypoallergenic. Nothing attacks platinum in your body. Platinum doesn't oxidize. So platinum, from a sparkplug all the way up to heart surgery, it's very, very important.

BURT WOLF: Almost every month, someone comes up with a new use for platinum, but no one is coming up with a new source. And even when you’re lucky enough to find some Platinum, the refining process could test the patience of a saint.

JURGEN MAERZ ON CAMERA: It takes about ten tons of ore to make one ounce of platinum. The ore is, mined from way underground. It's brought to the top. Goes into a crusher. It is turned into a powder. It is then smelted, and is then divided, and the things that are in this particular ore are taken out, including platinum.

If you take all the platinum that's ever been mined and put it in an Olympic swimming pool, it would barely cover your ankles. It's that rare.


BURT WOLF: During the last ten years there has been an extraordinary increase in the value of precious metals. One result is the production of a variety of platinum coins and bars that are both collectables and a physical investment in the metal.

Platinum has considerable value over the long term.

It’s relatively scarce and has performed well as an investment. Investors can buy it as futures and options, bars, ingots and coins like the American eagle, the Australian Koala and the Canadian Maple Leaf.

KATHRIN SHOENKE ON CAMERA: The platinum supply is finite. There’s more and more industries depending on it. So it's a commodity that's regulated by supply and demand. It's just a no-brainer to see that the price of the platinum will go up, particularly with emerging countries demanding more and more of it. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Precious metals have a long history of going up in value when other investments, like stocks and bonds go down. Of course you can never be sure of stocks, bonds or precious metals. You can’t wear a stock certificate out to dinner. On the hand, a nice platinum ring is a different story. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.