Precious Metals

An assortment of precious metals.

An assortment of precious metals.

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:

Gold:

A rare mix of Gold, Sylvanite and Quartz from the famous Gold Hill District in Colorado.

A rare mix of Gold, Sylvanite and Quartz from the famous Gold Hill District in Colorado.

Gold from the Yuba River Placers area, Nevada County, California. Since it was unlikely to have been formed as a cast over another octahedral mineral, this specimen is believed to represent a rare phase and form in gold: octahedral hopper crystal growth.

Gold from the Yuba River Placers area, Nevada County, California. Since it was unlikely to have been formed as a cast over another octahedral mineral, this specimen is believed to represent a rare phase and form in gold: octahedral hopper crystal growth.

Copper:

Interconnected copper crystals from Bisbee, Warren District, Mule Mts, Cochise County, Arizona, USA

Interconnected copper crystals from Bisbee, Warren District, Mule Mts, Cochise County, Arizona, USA

Copper and Silver from the Adventure mine, Greenland, Ontonagon County, Michigan, USA. This specimen is not called a "half-breed" because the copper and silver are not densely intermixed, but intergrown. Beautiful contrast of the iridescent copper and shiny silver which has formed crude crystals instead of the usual "lump" upon copper most half-breeds come as.

Copper and Silver from the Adventure mine, Greenland, Ontonagon County, Michigan, USA. This specimen is not called a "half-breed" because the copper and silver are not densely intermixed, but intergrown. Beautiful contrast of the iridescent copper and shiny silver which has formed crude crystals instead of the usual "lump" upon copper most half-breeds come as.

SILVER:

A rarely seen combination of native silver with dioptase (a copper cyclosilicate mineral) from Mindouli, Mindouli District, Pool Department, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

A rarely seen combination of native silver with dioptase (a copper cyclosilicate mineral) from Mindouli, Mindouli District, Pool Department, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

photo © by Heinrich Pniok (www.pse-mendelejew.de) license: CC-BY-NC-ND A pure (>99.95%), Silver Crystal.

photo © by Heinrich Pniok (www.pse-mendelejew.de)

license: CC-BY-NC-ND

A pure (>99.95%), Silver Crystal.

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?