The precious metals are rare, natural metallic elements with a high economic value. They are gold, silver, and the platinum group elements, which are platinum, ruthenium, osmium, rhodium, and palladium. Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium have ISO 4217 currency codes.
Precious Metals List
The elements included as precious metals depends on who you ask. Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are universally considered precious metals. Most sources include other members of the platinum group of elements. Sometimes rhenium and indium are included. Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, but at one time, it cost more than gold and was included as a precious metals. The invention of the Hall–Héroult process in 1886 dropped the price of aluminum.
- Gold: It’s easy to recognize gold (atomic number 79, symbol Au) by its unique yellow color. People value gold for its rarity, color, conductivity, and malleability. It’s used in jewelry, electronics, thermal insulation, and radiation shielding. Major sources of gold include South Africa, the United States, China, and Australia.
- Silver: Silver (atomic number 47, symbol Ag) is a precious metal for its rarity, beauty, and high electrical and thermal conductivity. Uses include jewelry, coins, batteries, electronics, photography, medicine, and dentistry. Peru, Mexico, Chile, and China are major producers of silver.
- Platinum: Platinum (atomic number 78, symbol Pt) is 15 times rarer than gold, yet widely used for catalysts, jewelry, dentistry, and weaponry. It is a dense, corrosion-resistant, malleable metal. Because of its numerous applications, maybe the most precious of the precious metals. Sources of the element are South Africa, Canada, and Russia.
- Palladium: Palladium (atomic number 46, symbol Pd) displays properties similar to those of platinum. It is highly valued as a catalyst for its ability to absorb hydrogen. Palladium is rare, malleable, and stable at high temperatures. It finds use in “white gold,” electrode plating, and catalytic converters. The primary sources of palladium are Russia, Canada, the United States, and South Africa.
- Ruthenium: Ruthenium (atomic number 44, symbol Ru) is another platinum group element and shares uses in common with platinum and palladium. It increases hardness in alloys and improves durability and corrosion resistance as an electrical contact coating. Sources of ruthenium include Russia, North America, and South America.
- Osmium: Osmium (atomic number 76, symbol Os) is the element with the highest density. The blue-silver metal is hard and brittle, with a high melting point. While it’s too heavy to use in jewelry, osmium finds use in pen nibs and electrical contacts and to harden platinum alloys. Osmium comes from Russia, North America, and South America.
- Rhodium: Rhodium (atomic number 45, symbol Rh) is a shiny, silvery precious metal. Its high corrosion resistance and high melting point make rhodium popular for mirrors, jewelry, and automobiles. Major sources of the element are South Africa, Canada, and Russia.
- Iridium: Iridium (atomic number 77, symbol Ir) is nearly as dense as osmium. Its high melting point and corrosion resistance make it useful for watches, jewelry, pen nibs, electronics, and medicine. South Africa is the major source of iridium.
- Rhenium: Rhenium (atomic number 75, symbol Re) more closely resembles magnesium and technetium than the platinum group metals. But, it’s a precious metal because of its rarity and high demand for use in jet engines and catalysts. Major producers of rhenium are Chile, the United States, Peru, and Poland.
- Indium: Indium (atomic number 49, symbol In) is sort of an outlier, in terms of its placement on the periodic table. While rare, it’s a soft post-transition metal. It is much more reactive than other metals on this list and is toxic. Its value comes from the difficulty of the extraction process and its demand for use in LCD screens, semiconductors, diodes, batteries, control rods for nuclear reactors, and pigments. Basically, demand greatly exceeds supply. Major producers include China, South Korea, Japan, and Canada.
What Makes the Precious Metals “Precious”?
You may wonder why some metals are precious, while other metals are rarer and more expensive. Precious metals are (mainly) currency metals. As such, they are rare, beautiful, and also corrosion-resistant. These metals exhibit low reactivity, so they don’t discolor or degrade under ordinary conditions. So, the list of precious metals largely overlaps the list of noble metals. Other metallic elements may be more scarce and costly, but they are more reactive and useful in compounds or alloys, rather than coins, jewelry, medals, or keepsakes.
Precious Metal Prices
Precious metals prices change from minute-to-minute! Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are popular for investment. But, you may be surprised by the most valuable precious metal. Here are some example precious metal prices:
|Gold||57,433 (April 2021)|
|Silver||838 (April 2021)|
|Platinum||39,481 (April 2021)|
|Palladium||92,892 (April 2021)|
|Rhodium||69,928 (April 2021)|
|Iridium||200,942 (April 2021)|
|Osmium||12,217 (December 2014)|
|Rhenium||2,425 (December 2014)|
|Ruthenium||1,865 (December 2014)|
|Indium||520 (January 2010)|
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- Geller, Tom (2007). “Aluminum: Common Metal, Uncommon Past“. Chemical Heritage Magazine. 27 (4).
- Renner, H.; Schlamp, G.; Kleinwächter, I.; Drost, E.; Lüschow, H. M.; Tews, P.; Panster, P.; Diehl, M.; et al. (2002). “Platinum group metals and compounds”. Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Wiley. doi:10.1002/14356007.a21_075 ISBN 3527306730.
- Tolcin, A. (2012). U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries 2012.
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