What are Precious Metals?


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What are Precious Metals?

Noble Metals

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Noble Metal specimens.

Introduction

  Precious Metals are rare high metallic chemical elements of high economic worth. Usually, these elements have a high luster and ductile value. Commonly referred to as noble metals they also generally share a unique corrosion and oxidation resistance, unlike base metals.

Rare

The term rare is ambiguous and may need some clarification. In most instances, the naturally occurring noble metals are rare in that their finite amount is much lower than their base metal counterparts. However, rare can also annotate the level of difficulty to extract the element from the ground as well as the high cost associated with extracting and refining the metal to its pure form.

Naturally occurring

Most metals we will discuss are naturally occurring, however, if price tag and rarity define a metal as precious then there are some metals that are synthetically created that we will mention below.

Related: Precious Metals 101 >

What are the 8 Noble Metals?

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum
  • Palladium
  • Rhodium
  • Ruthenium
  • Iridium
  • Osmium

There is an on-going debate in the realm of chemistry that these should be added to the list of noble metals as well;

  • Copper
  • Mercury
  • Rhenium

It is important to note that noble metals are not exactly synonymous with precious metals and the list has changed numerous times since the 14th century. For example, in the field of atomic physics (which has the strictest definition of noble metal) only Gold, Silver, and Copper fill all d-subshell requirements. In this article, we will only go over the metals that are directly used as a vehicle of investment.

What is Gold?

Gold is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 196.96657 u. Gold has an atomic number of 79 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Au,’ derived from the Latin word for Gold ‘Aurum.’ Gold is a transition metal and is a group 11 element. Gold is created during the rapid neutron capture in supernova nucleosynthesis, though, recent studies suggest heavy metals such as Gold and Iron could be produced in quantity during the r-process when the collision of neutron stars occur.

Gold is found on earth in rock formations called ores from the Precambrian time and onward. Gold ore is usually accompanied by Silver and both precious metals have been in use as a currency for at least 6,000 years. Besides being used as a currency today (currency code XAU may refer to the ISO 4217) Gold sees extensive use in a broad spectrum of industry. Some of these industries include medical, consumer jewelry, dental, aerospace, telecommunications, and other tech sectors. 

What is the price of Gold?

Gold is worth $1,959.07 per troy ounce.*

10 gram sample of pure Gold

A 10 gram specimen of pure .999% Gold with a mirror-like finish. Photo Credit: Investor Crate staff circa 2017.

What is Silver?

Silver is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 107.8682 u. Silver has an atomic number of 47 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Ag,’ derived from the Latin word ‘Argentum’ meaning shiny or white. Silver, like Gold, is a group 11 transitional metal. Silver is created during what is called a weak r-process, like Gold, however, the stars that produce Silver are 8 to 9 times less dense than the stars that produce Gold. Therefore, the mass of Silver is nearly 50% less dense than Gold.

Silver can be found on earth in rock formations such as Gold and is usually found with Gold, however, it can be found in the ocean. Silver on the ocean floor looks like black sooty rocks or crystals and is produced from sulfur compounds that mix with brine that get pushed out of the earth's crust, dissolving into the mineral as the brine solution hits the cold seawater.

Silver has some of the most unique properties of any element found on the planet. First and foremost, Silver is the best thermal and electrical conductor than any other element. Silver is the most reflective metal, reflecting more than 90% of the visible light spectrum. Silver, believe it or not, kills bacteria and a recent study by Scienceline found that no known bacteria can create a resistance to Silver. In fact, Silver has so many unique properties that more patents have been issued that have a direct use from Silver than ALL metals combined.

Due to the aforementioned (which only touched on a small fraction of chemical properties) Silver is used in a wide variety of industries. Some of those industries include photography, dental and medical, solar, telecommunications, batteries, weather modification, water purification, and much more. 

How much is Silver worth?

An ounce of Silver is worth $27.22.*

Chunk of Silver

A small 2 oz chunk of Silver. This is a hand-poured bar by Monarch Precious Metals.

What is Platinum?

Platinum is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 195.084 u. Platinum has an atomic number of 78 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Pt,’ derived from the Spanish word ‘Platino’ meaning little Silver. Platinum is a group 10 element and has 6 naturally occurring isotopes. Platinum is extremely scarce and over 80% of the world's Platinum production comes from only a few mines in South Africa. Platinum is one of the least reactive metals on the periodic table and has rather amazing resistance to corrosion.

Pure Platinum has a high luster, ductility, and malleability, and its physical characteristics and chemical stability make it excellent for industrial use. Platinum’s most unique characteristic is the oxidization property where it can add an oxygen molecule to a chemical compound. This is useful in the case of a reaction causing the emission of a harmful gas such as carbon monoxide. Over 40% of Platinum mined globally is used in the automobile industry for this exact reason. Platinum is the only catalyst within a catalytic converter that changes a percentage of carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide as a byproduct of a combustion motor. 30% of all Platinum mined is used for creating Jewelry as its non-reactive and extremely resilient nature makes it a perfect candidate for wearables.

The other 30% of mined Platinum is used in oil and gas refinement, some anti-cancer drugs, biomedicine, hard disk drives, electrodes, and of course investments. Platinum is toxic and should not be handled without proper safety equipment. The Osha standard for Platinum in the workplace can be found under method number ID-130-SG. Platinum exposure can cause irritation of the eyes and throat. Long-term exposure can cause respiratory allergies. 

What is the value of Platinum?

Platinum is being traded at $971.61*

1 oz of pure Platinum

1 oz Platinum Bar. Photo taken at the Investor Crate depository in Dallas, TX.

What is Palladium?

Palladium is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 106.42 u. Palladium has an atomic number of 46 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Pd,’ discovered by William Wollaston an English chemist in 1803. Palladium resides in group 10 of the Periodic Table along with other metals referred to as the PGMs or the “Platinum Group of Metals.” It has very similar properties to Platinum and the other metals residing in this group but it is the least dense and has the lowest melting point of the group 10 elements.

Over 50% of Palladium is used in conjunction with Platinum in catalytic converters which if done properly, can eliminate up to 90% of harmful gasses from combustion engine byproducts. Palladium is also used in chemical applications, groundwater treatment, dentistry, medicine, and more recently and predominately fuel cells. Fuel cells are essentially a type of battery that converts chemical reactions into electricity.

A standard battery involves converting electrons from an electrode through an internal circuit to create electrical energy. A fuel cell on the other hand involves converting the chemical energy of a fuel into electrical energy using a redox reaction. However, a fuel cell needs a constant flow of external chemicals to create electricity but is up to 2 times more efficient than a standalone battery with current iterations and has been theorized a potential increase of 85%. This has caused the fuel cell and related tech “flow batteries” research and industry to increase dramatically. 

How much does Palladium cost?

Palladium is currently worth $2,396.93 per troy oz.*

1 gram of Palladium

1 gram of Palladium. Photo Credit: IC Staff circa 2018.

What is Rhodium?

 Rhodium is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 102.9055 u. Rhodium has an atomic number of 45 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Rh,’ derived from the rose color of the metal when dissolved in a chlorine solution. This metal was also discovered and named in 1803 by Dr. Wollaston. Rhodium is also in the PGM (Platinum Group Metals) and resides in group 9 of the periodic table.

Rhodium is ultra-rare, rarer than any metals considered precious or noble. It is estimated that Rhodium is only found on earth as a 1 in 200-million-part ratio. To make matters worse, the metal is extremely difficult to extract. Rhodium is typically found mixed with other metals such as Gold, Silver, Platinum, and Palladium, and the process to separate the metal is highly complex. One of the most effective mining operations for Rhodium is from a Nickel mine in North America. The large scale Nickel mining makes the extraction of the small amounts of Rhodium cost-effective. Most known Rhodium ore is found in South Africa but mining the metal is not cost-effective despite it being traded at a higher price than even Gold.

Most Rhodium is used as an alloy mixture in the Platinum and Palladium alloy used in catalytic converters. A small percent of the available metal is used in the production of fiberglass, chemical industrial use. Rhodium is also a byproduct of nuclear fission using Uranium-235, however, the extraction method is more complex than mining extraction. Additionally, there is a ‘cool off’ process due to the radioactive isotopes that have half-lives of 10 years meaning extraction can’t even be attempted for a decade after the fission byproducts are created. 

What is the spot price of Rhodium?

An ounce of Rhodium is worth $13,550.00.*

Pure Rhodium for sale

Blob of refined Rhodium. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

What is Copper?

 Copper is a chemical element with an atomic mass of 63.546 u. Copper has an atomic number of 29 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol ‘Cu,’ derived from the Latin word “cuprum,” which is what the ancients used as cups for their rum. (Just kidding – Sounded good though.) Copper, like Gold and Silver, is a group 11 transitional metal and is considered a noble metal. Coppers increased use in a huge variety of industries as well as economic restrictions on mining operations are creating a frenzy over the orange-red metal.

Each year around 1.2 million metric tons of Copper is mined annually, making it about 200 times more abundant than Gold. However, the demand for Copper far surpasses the demand for Gold as its low price and versatility make it sought after in many industries. Copper does not conduct heat or electricity as well as Silver but for most applications, it does this perfectly fine. That’s why the Copper wire is used in almost all electrical applications including wire and electrical motors. Copper was also used for plumbing for years but is being slowly phased out for PVC and plastic options as the price of Copper is on the rise. This is also why U.S. pennies are no longer made out of pure Copper as the weight in Copper used to make a penny exceeds the monetary value of the penny.

Copper also has a wide variety of use as an alloy, in fact, some of our favorite Gold coins that we stock have a bit of Copper in them. For example, the South African Gold Krugerrand (which is one of the most popular Gold investment options) has a metal composition of 91.67% Au, 8.33% Cu. The small percentage of Copper is why the coin is so durable and has its iconic reddish tint. 

Price of Copper?

Copper currently trades at $6.76 per Kilogram. Up about 40% in the last 5 years.

*All values for all metals are measured as of 9/15/2020

Copper Bullion

500 gram bar of Fine Copper by Geiger Edelmetalle. Photo taken at one of the Investor Crate distribution centers.

We hope you enjoyed the article.

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