A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metal of a higher economic value than industrial metals. They also have properties that make them very useful in jewelry-making: they are not as reactive which makes them resistant to the elements durable, they are malleable - making it easier to form into any shape without getting brittle, and have a high luster - which equals beautiful reflections of light (SHINY!). Here’s a selection of various precious metals in their raw state:
The demand for precious metals is driven not just from being great to work with, but also by it's role as investments and a store of value. Gold and silver in particular are seen as hedges against inflation and economic downturn.
A metal gets the "precious" title if it is rare - discoveries of new ore sources or improvements in mining or refining processes may cause the value of a precious metal to diminish. For example, aluminum was very expensive to mine at first and only small quantities were available, making it more valuable than gold. The dawn of accessible electricity in 1882 and the invention of the Hall–Héroult process in 1886 caused the price of aluminum to drop significantly over a short period of time.
While precious metals make for great jewelry-making, using alternative materials can be quite interesting as well. Which leads to thoughts on what makes a piece of jewelry "precious"? Is it the cost of the chosen materials to make, the execution of the artists vision, or both, that makes a piece worthy to pass on as an investment to future generations?