Platinum as an Element
Chemically, platinum is an element with the symbol Pt and atomic number 78. It belongs to noble metals, being one of the rarer elements in Earth's crust. Platinum is also a member of the family of platinum group metals (PGMs) which also includes palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium, and ruthenium. It is the least reactive metal and, as other precious metals, it resists corrosion. Due to its malleability and ductility (and resistance to wear and tarnish), platinum is also widely used in the jewelry industry as a substitute for gold. Platinum is silver to dark steel-grey in color, which probably explains why it is often mistaken for silver. Actually, its name derives from the Spanish platina, literally meaning “little silver”.
Unlike silver and gold, platinum did not serve as money, because it was discovered and described not earlier than in the 18th century. Moreover, it has a higher melting point than other metals, which is useful in the industry, but made the minting of coinage much more difficult. Platinum is also not diversified geographically, as about 73 percent of its production comes from South Africa. As of 2014, only about 2.8 million ounces existed above ground, while the annual mining production amounted to 5.1 million ounces, a tiny fraction of the gold mining production. Therefore, the stock-to-flow ratio is lower than in the case of gold or silver, implying that platinum is mainly an industrial metal.
Indeed, about two thirds of the annual demand for platinum comes from the production of autocatalysts and other industrial applications (mainly electronics). Because of its unique catalytic properties, platinum is widely used in automobile exhaust anti-pollution devices, known as catalytic converters. The industrial use of platinum implies that it is consumed to a much greater extent than gold.
Because of its extreme rarity, platinum is a symbol of prestige and wealth, seemingly greater than gold, as platinum is often described as rich man’s gold.
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