Metals Overview

What is a Metal?

A metal is a solid element with a shiny surface and is a very good conductor of both heat and electricity. A metal can be melted, fused or hammered into thin sheets as well as drawn out into wire. Metals are hard and possess a high physical strength and when polished they are good reflectors of light. The most common metals include bronze, copper and iron whereas metals used for making jewellery such as gold, platinum and silver are called ‘Precious Metals’.

What is a Precious Metal?

A precious metal is a metal with a rare and more metallic chemical element. Because of this metals properties, Precious Metals have a high economic value and they are less reactive than other metals. Precious Metals tend to have high lustre and with that, a higher melting point than other metals. Precious Metals are used in jewellery, ornaments, idols, temples, currencies, and war equipment but are now regarded mainly as jewellery and investment opportunities. Gold, Platinum and Silver are the three metals that are widely traded and considered as precious metals due to their rarity and beauty.

History of Metals in South Africa

Currently, there are 86 known metals but before the 19th Century only 24 of these metals had been discovered. The discovery of the first metals date back to 6000BC however 4 of these metals – arsenic, antimony, zinc and bismuth – were discovered in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Platinum was discovered in the 16th Century and the metals of antiquity were the remaining 7 metals.

These seven metals of antiquity are as follows:
- Gold – Discovered 6000BC.
- Copper – Discovered 4200BC.
- Silver – Discovered 4000BC.
- Lead – Discovered 3500BC.
- Tin – Discovered 1750BC.
- Iron – Discovered 1500BC.
- Mercury – Discovered 750BC. 

Other Precious Metals

The Precious Metals Group (PMG) or Platinum Metals Group is a group of six metallic elements positioned together in the periodic table. The other five platinum-group metals are:

- Ruthenium
- Rhodium
- Palladium
- Osmium
- Iridium

These metals have similar physical and chemical properties and tend to occur together in the same mineral deposits. Palladium is used more and more in jewellery today, mainly due to its unique properties and hardness to resist wear and tear. Palladium is an affordable alternative to Platinum and a substitute to White Gold in some jewellery lines. The Diamond Corporation of South Africa produces pieces in Palladium, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Argentium.