New Metals Use Old Favorites to Reduce Cost of Gemstone Settings

Published: 20th March 2012
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In an era where the price of the metal in the setting of a piece of jewelry can meet or exceed the price of the gemstone, some members of the trade are experimenting with new alloys to bring down the cost of the metal.

One such alloy is called Platinaire, developed by manufacturer A.G. Weindling. (By the way, I am not affiliated at all with this manufacturer.)

The company’s website says Platinaire is a patented alloy combining sterling silver and platinum. The alloy is a blend of 92.5% silver and 5% platinum and 2.5% being the undisclosed elements that make up the patent. The new metal is being touted as a cost effective alternative to gold and the company claims its products are on sale in 3,000 stores nationwide.

Sterling silver is composed of 92.5% pure silver alloyed with copper or another metal. The alloy is necessary because sterling silver is too soft for functional objects, including jewelry. The major problem with sterling silver, though, for jewelry is that it tarnishes. (This is the reason we’ve seen new sterling silver alloys on the market in recent years, including Argentium, which was formulated to prevent tarnishing and firescale, a condition that occurs when the jeweler’s torch remains on the metal just a fraction too long.)

Despite the well-known problems with sterling silver, it remains a popular alternative to platinum and gold because it is the least expensive of the precious metals.

Platinum is a luxury material. It’s at least 35 times rarer than gold but has so many valuable properties it’s a highly coveted material. Platinum will not corrode or tarnish. It’s very strong, yet it can be drawn into a very fine wire easily.

Ironically, when platinum was first discovered in South American by the Spanish – in 1535 or 1548 depending on your source – it was considered inferior to gold. Its name, in fact, reflects the contempt in which it was held – “platina” means little silver and the practice of the early conquistadors was to throw the metal back to let it “ripen.”

It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later, in 1751 when Swedish scientist Theophil Scheffer categorized platinum as a precious metal that it begins to find favor with royalty. In the 1780s, King Louis XVI of France declares it is the only metal fit for kings.

In 1866 diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, South Africa and their compatibility with platinum was readily apparent. But it wasn’t until the invention of the high temperature torch enabling jewelers to shape and fuse platinum that it began to be used with the gemstones. This occurred in the late nineteenth century.

The manufacturer of Platinaire makes some of the same claims about its new metal that we associate with platinum. That is, Platinaire is strong and nearly impervious to tarnish. The manufacturer also says it’s completely hypoallergenic, a property it shares with platinum. The manufacturer also says that Platinaire is environmentally responsible, that 97.5 percent of the metal is created from recycled materials. One claim it doesn’t appear to make is about its weight.
Platinum is one of the heaviest metals. A piece of diamond jewelry containing 90 percent pure platinum weights 60 percent more than a 14-karat gold piece of similar size.

It remains to be seen whether Platinaire will enjoy the success its manufacturers obviously hope for it. However, its development is another example of the way the jewelry trade, including manufacturers, have moved to provide consumers who may be priced out of luxury metals in today’s market with alternative materials.

Fleury Sommers is a goldsmith, pearl and bead stringer and has studied gemology for more than 25 years. She operated a gallery in Houston, Texas for more than ten years and is the creator of the comprehensive series of Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing DVDs available on her website and Amazon.

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