Rarity and aesthetics separate precious metals from other metals found on Earth. Because they are not as prevalent, platinum, gold and silver are all considered precious metals. From prehistoric times, people have been fascinated with the idea of these metals, their value, and what they mean to society. With the legend of King Midas, there is no doubt that individuals were thinking about how gold was obtained as well as what large quantities of it would mean.
Precious metals directly influence the course of history. Silver played a critical role in Athens’ Golden Age while the Roman Empire continued to expand due to the discovery of gold and silver. Even Columbus set sail across the ocean in search of precious metals that would change his fortune. Today platinum, gold and silver influence the worldwide economy.
Kids Guide to Gold
The look of gold created an immediate association with the sun. The word itself means to shine and the yellow color tends to attract lots of attention. In its natural state, gold is incredibly soft and just one small piece, about the size of a sugar cube can be flattened out to a film that reaches out 27 feet. It is measured in by its fineness or its karats, based on how it is mixed with other metals. This precious metal resists corrosion from the air as well as most chemicals.
Gold is incredibly rare however certain geological processes create concentrated areas of gold. Even in the concentrated areas, it is still difficult to discover gold because of the large amounts of rock also contained in the same area. Gold usually occurs as native gold, a pure metal or one that is combined with a certain type of silver. Despite the rarity of this form of gold, there is still another version of gold that is still more valuable.
Placer gold comes from a rock that has released the gold due to weathering over the course of time. With the help of running water, as well as gravity, the pieces of gold come away from the rock and often wash downstream. Sometimes, the amount of gold becomes so dense, like the backside of a boulder, that one area will contain a large deposit of the precious metal. Placer gold was the reason that individuals rushed out to California to participate in the Gold Rush in 1849.
The deposits of gold begin in the mountains and flow downstream. Each of the smaller streams where gold has been found is considered a vein. The goal for most miners was to keep working their way upstream to find the actual location of the largest deposit of gold. Today, the largest deposits of gold have been discovered in the Witwatersrand district inside South Africa.
Because gold can resist corrosion and stand up to a variety of different elements, it is possible that much of the gold that has been mined up to this point in history is still in circulation. Gold is currently being mined and continues to be produced for a variety of different purposes. From coins to bullion, decorations to jewelry, individuals see the value gold has to offer. The precious metal doesn’t tarnish and can be worn by any person for any length of time without worry.
Kids Guide to Silver
While it is not considered to be as precious as platinum or gold, silver continues to be useful in several different areas. While it can be found in nature, the most common form of silver, it is usually created as a compound from other elements. Much like gold, water veins tend to deposit the metal in certain areas. However, because of the difference between the two metals, silver tends to be removed easily from the rocks, making it easier to find.
Mexico has always been the leader of silver production in the world. While it is still considered a precious metal, its most important uses center on industry. There is still jewelry, coins, and even silverware, however the photographic industry, as well as the electronic industry, tends to use even larger amounts.
Kids Guide to Platinum
Platinum is a white metal that is found in pure chunks, much like gold, in stream placers. It tends to occur in conjunction with other metals including iridium and palladium. Platinum ore deposits are rare however it can be found as a native metal or in natural alloys and compounds that include both sulfur and arsenic. Much like silver, platinum can be used in jewelry but it tends to be used more commonly in industry, including parts like a catalytic converter that helps a vehicle manage its pollution. Aside from electrical uses, platinum can also be found in various parts of the medical and dental industries.
The continual demand for both gold and platinum suggest that they will continue to increase in value. Silver on the other hand, because of its connections to industry could rise and fall depending on the current state of the world economy. The search for these precious metals will continue indefinitely.
For more information on precious metals, check out the following links:
- Emporia State University – Gemstones and Gemology
- Wyoming State Geological Society – Metals
- Gold and Precious Metals
- Ancient Science – Silver
- Berkley – Platinum
- Department of Chemistry – UW Madison – Platinum
- Dartmouth – Silver: Metal of Many Faces
- Carnegie Mellon University – A Short History of Metals
- University of Virginia – Silver: A Medical and Environmental Case Study
- UC Davis – The Coinage Metals: Copper, Silver, and Gold
- University of Texas – Precious Metals
- US Geological Survey – Gold: Statistics and Information
- US Department of the Interior – Matter, Metals, and Minerals
- Cochise College Geology – Different Alloys of Gold
- MIT – Platinum Group Elements: Supply and Demand