A Brief History of Platinum

Because platinum wasn’t used widely in jewelry or industry until about 100 years ago, it seems like a “new” precious metal. That’s not really true.  In about 700 B.C., Egyptian artisans were using it to make ornamental objects, like the famous and mysterious Casket of Thebes.  And at the same time, pre-Columbian artisans in South America were fashioning it into small trinkets.  

Shown: the periodic table symbol for Platinum, element 78, which is very valuable and can be recycled and refined by Specialty Metals.

Those are only a few fascinating facts about this beautiful, tarnish-resistant, and durable precious metal. Here’s a quick timeline of the fascinating history of platinum.

  • c. 1735 – A Spanish explorer named Antonio de Ulloa “discovers” deposits of platinum in South America, where it was already being used by pre-Columbian Indians.
  • 1751 – Platinum is listed as a new element. At the same time, a Swedish metallurgist named Sheffer finds a way to melt the metal by adding arsenic to it and then applying heat.
  • c. 1780 – A French goldsmith named Marc Janety fashions a variety of ornamental platinum items for Louis XVI.
  • c. 1802 – A British scientist named Wollaston invents a way to make platinum more malleable by the application of high heat and arsenic.
  • c. 1820 – Large deposits of platinum are discovered in Russia and mining operations begin.
  • 1850 – Johnson and Matthey, two English scientists and businessmen, start to sell platinum ingots for use in manufacturing.
  • 1925 – A South African geologist named Merensky identifies large deposits of platinum that later became (and still are) the world’s largest source.
  • 1940 – Significant deposits of platinum are discovered in Ontario, Canada and mining begins.
  • c. 1950 – Thanks to its increased availability and resistance to corrosion, platinum becomes the metal of choice for crucibles, testing vessels, and other laboratory equipment.
Photo of platinum crucible scrap containing platinum alloy, which Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners can recycle for your company.


  • 1974 – The use of platinum and platinum-group metals surges when the U.S. government introduces air quality standards that automakers meet by installing catalytic convertors on cars.
Photo of catalytic converter containing platinum, palladium and rhodium which can be recycled and refined for best prices at Specialty Metals.


  • 1975 – Platinum ingots are sold for the first time to individual investors.
  • c. 1985 – As the first generation of convertor-equipped cars go out of service, recycling catalytic convertors becomes a major industry.
  • c. 1995 – Platinum finds new uses in implantable devices, testing equipment and other medical applications.
A normal chest X-ray after placement of an ICD, showing the ICD generator in the upper left chest and the ICD lead in the right ventricle of the heart. Note the 2 opaque coils along the ICD lead. Image Credit: Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, FACC

Do You Have Platinum Items to Recycle?

So where do you stand with platinum? Do you have catalytic converters to recycle? How about used laboratory vessels or platinum jewelry? Do you have spools of scrap thermocouple wire gathering dust? Those items could be  worth more than you think. Our experienced platinum refiners are available to talk to you about turning your holdings into cash. Call 800-436-2344 now for a complimentary consultation.

Related Posts:

New Medical Technologies Spur a Boom in Platinum Use
What Precious Metals are Inside Catalytic Converters and What Are They Worth?
Bright Shiny Platinum Could Be Hiding in Your Dented and Dirty Old Labware
Interested in Thermocouples and Thermocouple Wire
Six Traits of the Best Platinum Refiners