What are Precious Metals?

Published by Thomas Herold in Investments

'Precious Metals' is explained in detail and with examples in the Investments edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.

Precious metals are greatly prized elemental metals. For thousands of years they have been highly valued. These four metals are gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. Most of them have been heavily utilized in jewelry for their resistance to corrosion. Several of these have been used as currency over the centuries.

Today all of them are available as an investment in bullion form. They are widely esteemed as a tangible way to protect the purchasing power of individuals against central banks’ unscrupulous money printing activities that debase national currencies. All of the precious metals are rare.

Gold has always been the most readily recognizable of the precious metals. This is because it has a yellow color that is almost unique. The yellow metal has long been beloved for its luster, malleability, and ductile nature. A single ounce of gold can be hammered into sheets that cover 108 square feet (10.03 square meters) and drawn into a thread or wire that stretches 50 miles (80 kilometers). China has become the world’s largest gold producer in recent years. Other major producers of it include South Africa, the U.S., and Australia.

For much of the past, only royalty and the very rich could afford to possess gold. From the 1700’s until the 1970’s, the world’s paper money supplies were backed up by gold according to a gold standard that maintained a stable value of money internationally. There has been talk begun by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan of reviving a gold standard in a new international agreement.

Silver is the other ancient member of the precious metals family. It is not only used in coins and jewelry. The grey metal has many uses in industry. This is because it possesses the greatest thermal and electrical conductivity of all elements along with the lowest contact resistance and high reflectivity. This makes it a popular choice in a wide range of electronics, wiring, batteries, antimicrobial demands, dentistry, solar cell panels, RFID devices, and much more. Silver is actually in much higher demand than gold relative to its available supply. Today silver is most heavily produced by Peru, Mexico, China, and Chile.

Silver mining began around 5,000 years ago in modern day Turkey in Anatolia. The Spanish revived its popularity after finding it in the New World. Their mining operations from 1500 to 1800 in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia amounted to 85% of all global production. It has also served as a standard for paper currencies as the British Empire issued Pound Sterling notes based on the ability to exchange to silver.

Platinum is the rarest of the precious metals on earth. Despite its many industrial uses, it is almost 15 times rarer than gold. Platinum finds use in catalytic converters, weapons, electronics, dentistry, jewelry, and other areas. It has often been more highly priced than gold because of its unique merger of functionality, rarity, and beauty. Platinum is only found in significant quantities in South Africa, Russia, and Canada.

The first people known to mine and work platinum were the South American Indians. They used a smelting process kept secret to the end of the 18th century to produce jewelry and nose rings. Today platinum is sought after in both coin and bullion form by investors and collectors.

Palladium is the least well known of the precious metals group. It is a part of the platinum metals complex. Palladium shares many of platinum’s characteristics and properties. It is stable at extreme temperatures, malleable, and rare. Industry uses it for catalytic converters, electronics electrode plating, and to make white gold jewelry. Palladium is produced mostly by Russia, South Africa, Canada, and the U.S. It has become a growing choice as an investible bullion metal as well.

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The term 'Precious Metals' is included in the Investments edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.