On the 6th of February this year, Her Majesty the Queen became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service to the nation.
Platinum as a metal is prized for its rarity, high lustre, exceptional strength and insusceptibility to corrosion. Discovered in South America in the 1700s by Spanish conquistadores, the special qualities of this heavy white metal were largely lost on them, and they contemptuously named it ‘platina’ (little silver).
For many years, platinum was seldom used in jewellery due to its rarity, and the lack of tools available to work with the extremely high temperatures required to melt it. Until the 1900s, the reigning white metal used in jewellery was silver. Relatively abundant, and with a low melting point workable to jewellers, diamonds and gemstones would be set in silver, but overtime this would tarnish easily, giving a darkened look.
By 1901, advancements in technology led to the creation of the oxyacetylene torch. This torch produced a safe and direct flame hot enough to enable jewellers to melt the platinum in their own workshops, marking the start of solid platinum jewellery production!
Throughout the Edwardian period, the popularity of platinum rose sharply. Platinum revolutionised jewellery design and irrevocably changed how diamonds and gems were fashioned and retained in their settings. Platinum could safely hold stones in thinner more discreet mounts, which led to ornate and feminine designs featuring elaborate millegrain and filigree that had an intricate lace-like appearance.
The opulent and romantic styles of the Edwardian era continued until the outbreak of World War I. Life changed overnight and platinum became reserved exclusively for the manufacturing of armaments, and disappeared almost entirely from the jewellery world.
By 1918, the war had ended and a sense of change was spreading through Britain, Europe and America; women had a new-found sense of freedom and independence, favouring a new style of jewellery to match. During the Art Deco years, geometry and symmetry were the favoured style. This new cubist influence demanded new fashionable cuts, with baguette and emerald cut diamonds set alongside coloured gemstones. The use of platinum enhanced these striking designs by allowing gemstones to be set in unobtrusive and almost invisible settings.
By the 1940’s, platinum had once again been deemed a strategic metal and was reserved solely for the war effort. Alternative white metals such as palladium and white gold became stand-in’s, but by the 1950’s, the demand for all-platinum jewellery soared again, and continues to this day.
With a natural brightness and superior strength, the century old heirlooms we see today are testament to the enduring properties of platinum.
At Berganza we have an impressive collection of platinum pieces from across the eras. Our entire collection can be viewed on our website, or our jewellery specialists would delighted to welcome you to our Hatton Garden showroom.