More precious than gold

Sandile Hlomuka

Sandile Hlomuka

Platinum jewellery is fast becoming the in thing for discerning fashionistas internationally. Did you know that the world's famous Hope diamond and Jonker diamond are securely set in platinum?

So, clearly, not all that glitters is gold after all.

Earlier this year, A-list Hollywood stars - among them R&B sensation Jennifer Hudson, actress Hilary Duff, "Material Girl" Madonna and pop sensation J Lo - were seen at a prestigious showbiz event wearing platinum necklaces, rings and earrings.

And at home last year, soccer great Lucas Radebe and the man who spearheaded South Africa's 2010 bid, Danny Jordan, successfully endorsed the For Men Only collection, initiated by leading Johannesburg jeweller Veronica Anderson.

Not so long ago, Anderson commissioned and showcased jewellery designed by Ipuseng Kgositsile, the only black jewellery designer to win the yearly Plat Africa jewellery design competition.

This year the event will be held on November 3 in Midrand, Gauteng. Anglo Platinum, Johnson Matthey and Metal Concentrators are the sponsors.

Most of the gold jewellery sold in South Africa is either 9 carat, containing 37,5percent gold or 18 carat, containing 75percent gold. But platinum is 95percent purer and is 30 times rarer than gold. It is naturally white, always remains white and never tarnishes or corrodes.

Platinum's superior status began in the 18th century when platinum first arrived in Europe and craftsmen mastered it. These master craftsmen created new and exciting art objects and jewellery for European royal families. This resulted in the declaration that platinum was "the only metal fit for kings".

It was only towards the end of the 19th century, with the invention of the jewellers' torch, that it became possible to melt platinum with relative ease.

This, together with the discovery of commercial quantities of quality diamonds, encouraged craftsmen such as Louis Cartier to introduce a distinct jewellery design style known as the art nouveau technique.

This technique introduced jewellery that used fine platinum wire in which to set the diamonds. The material was so fine that it was possible to create a lattice of stunning designs by moulding and twisting it.

Rarity is yet another mark of value for platinum. The precious metal is 30 times rarer than glittering gold. It takes over 10 tons of ore to produce a single ounce of platinum and only five tons to produce the same amount of gold. No wonder connoisseurs believe that platinum is purer and rarer than gold.

Anglo Platinum jewellery manager Michael Joseph says that every year, roughly 50 tons of platinum are made into jewellery, compared to 2700 tons of gold.

"This confirms platinum's rarity and value. This distinctive and timeless metal is found in only a few places around the world, yet is still an accessible luxury for those who desire it.

"Platinum's purity endows it with a brilliant white sparkle that reflects the true radiance of diamonds and other precious stones."

The mining giant's strategy is to promote the local platinum jewellery design and manufacturing industries to maximise opportunities in local and international markets. This strategy adds value to South Africa's natural resource. In line with this, it also supports the Seta Platinum Incubator, a jewellery training facility based at the Orbit College in Rustenburg in North West.

More than 90percent of the world's platinum comes from only two countries - South Africa and Russia. The remainder is mined in Zimbabwe, Canada, Colombia, the US and China.

In the early 1990s, demand for quality jewellery and fashion's quest to renounce the flashiness of the 80s in favour of more subtle and elegant styles, gave rise to a renewed interest in platinum jewellery.

Today, the superior values of platinum have begun to make it a metal of choice for a new generation. In the UK too, interest in platinum jewellery is getting stronger in the youth market.

Rosebank-based jewellery retailer Anderson sees a bright future for platinum among people who value fine-quality jewellery.

"Platinum is a first-prize metal and is perfect for classy people who know quality, but don't want to be flashy," says Anderson.

"It's definitely not bling and truly for people with a discerning style sense. Its high melting point and corrosion resistance qualities make it refreshingly special," she says.

Next Friday, Anderson launches her Summertime Collection custom-made jewellery. It is designed to pay homage to the glories of the African summer - fresh early mornings, long sun-drenched days, velvety cool evenings and showers of refreshing rain.

"Each piece in the range has been passionately hand-made by some of South Africa's top jewellery designers, each working with the precious metals mined from the dusty depths of Africa."