The Impala mine in South Africa is the second largest producer of platinum in the world. The mine employs over 28,000 people who work between 1,000 and 2,000 meters (3280 to 6560 feet) under the surface of the earth. The mine represents labyrinth of numerous tunnels covering over 65,000 square meters (700,000 square feet) of Bushveld Igneous Complex in South Africa.
The whole site consists of 14 shafts, with each shaft leading to numerous tunnels, individually manned by teams of workers physically mining the ore during eight-hour shifts. First, they have to install wooden support poles required to secure the ceiling of the tunnels. Then, the workers mark off the holes for the rock drill operators who later pierce and blast the rock. The night shift cleans out the blasted rock, bringing it to the surface.
The Impala mine has mined 28 million tons of rock in the last 12 months. In fact, it takes 14 tons of mined ore to get one ounce (28.3 grams) of pure platinum. To produce one platinum watch, watchmakers require about 20 tons of rock.
Elevated Price for Platinum
The worldwide production of platinum makes up about 190 tons annually. Compare it to gold, with annual production of about 3,300 tons. Probably, these numbers partially explain the elevated price for platinum. The price for one ounce of the noble metal is 1,660 Swiss Francs (1,431 US dollars) and 928 Swiss Francs for gold (800 US dollars). Moreover, with no large inventories of platinum stored in central bank vaults, any interruption in supply results in soaring prices.
The elevated price for platinum is explained not only by the scarcity of platinum in the earth's reserves. To get the pure platinum, it is necessary to conduct more than 50 different processes.
Obtaining Pure Platinum
During the first stage, the rock is crushed to a powder. Using a system of flotation, the minerals are extracted from the dirt. The next stage is to heat the ore to lava. It is dried and mixed with different chemicals to separate every element one by one. Following the extraction of the ore, it takes about six weeks to get to the final process.
At the end of the production line, the mustard yellow platinum salt is put into transparent plastic bags. Later, the substance will be transformed into ingots or platinum grains depending on the clients' wishes.
The long and expensive platinum production process is only one factor contributing to the value of the noble metal. You will probably be surprised to find out that 70 percent of the world's platinum is used by the automobile industry for producing catalytic converters. The growth of European diesel fleet, tighter emissions standards around the world and the growing Chinese market have led to the raised price of platinum over the last ten years. At the Impala mine alone, China went from being a zero to a 500,000 ounce - 14 metric tons - per year market in the period from 1999 to 2004.
Platinum in Watch and Jewelry Industry
As for the watch and jewelry industry, it only uses 20 percent of platinum produced around the world. The remaining ten percent are used in the production of a wide range of products, including cancer drugs, i-pods, fishing rods, pacemakers, ladders, parachute silk, fertilizers, and even the glue in Post-it notes.
The price for platinum watches hikes further due to the high cost of machining platinum watch components, such as cases, crowns, and dials. The production of a platinum watch case may sometime take three times longer than the production of a gold one.
This is mainly explained by the need for specially manufactured tools used for turning, milling and drilling the case components. To reduce friction of the tools, the specialists maintain slower tool speeds and lower pressures. To come up with the distinctive platinum finish, they also have to conduct successive hand-polishing processes.
According to the Swiss Watch Federation report for 2006, platinum watch sales increased by 23 percent, with a sales volume of over 390 million Swiss Francs (330 million US dollars).
You are probably puzzled by the increasing appeal of platinum watches when only a specialist is able to distinguish a platinum watch from a white gold one.
Rarity and Exclusivity: The watch industry witnesses a growing trend towards rare and expensive products, with fossils, meteorites, precious stones among many others. Platinum is found on the list of this rarity category. In fact, you will fin very few companies producing large series of platinum watches that thus boast remarkable exclusivity. However, platinum watches are so appealing not only due to their rarity and expensive price.
Purer than Gold: Platinum is much purer than gold. The Impala mine produces platinum that is 99.95 percent pure. Compare it to 18-K gold that is 75 percent pure.
Gold is a soft metal, so you will almost never find it produced in its purest, 24-K, form. It is necessary to mix gold with other elements to improve its strength and durability. Rose gold is often mixed with copper, while white gold is mixed with nickel and/or silver for better strength and color.
Platinum that is purer than gold is therefore characterized by greater resistant to tarnishing, in comparison gold that overtime acquires a yellowish tinge. The supreme purity of platinum is one of the major components of its success, especially in markets like Japan, where purity is highly appreciated.
Due to its density and weight, durability of platinum is also much superior to that of gold. A platinum accessory is created for lifetime wearing. If a platinum item is scratched, the metal is merely displaced with none of its volume lost. Platinum is therefore a symbol of eternal things.
Platinum is also praised for its resistance to heat and acids. The noble metal is hypoallergenic containing fewer alloys than gold. Platinum has a quite incredible mass - a six-inch (15 centimeter) cube of platinum has about the same weight as the average man.
If you could personally follow the way of platinum from the earth's depths, with huge work required for creating just one single ounce of platinum, to the presentation of the latest models of platinum watches, you would no doubt acquire completely new appreciation of the precious metal.
Platinum Watches Created by Vacheron Constantin
Vacheron Constantin initiated the production of platinum watches as early as in the 1820s. In 2006 the company unveiled 'Vacheron Constantin Collection Excellence Platine,' a very limited edition of highly collectible timepieces destined for exclusive distribution. Each piece has been produced with a solid platinum dial (featuring the Pt950 stamp), case and buckle.
In 2007 Vacheron Constantin developed two new watch models for the Collection Excellence Platine - a Malte Tourbillon Regulator and a Malte Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Both models were created in a limited edition of 50 individually numbered pieces.
The Malte Tourbillon Regular is equipped with the company's in-house mechanical hand-wound movement - 11790R calibre.
The timepiece features a regulator-type hour and minute display, a small seconds hand on the tourbillion and a 40-hour power-reserve.
The Malte Perpetual Calendar Chronograph is powered by mechanical hand-wound movement the 1141 QPR calibre, notable for its column-wheel chronograph mechanism. The timepiece displays a 30-minute counter at 3 o'clock, central chronograph seconds hand, a perpetual calendar and a moon phase display.
Find out more about platinum