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Watches - Feature Article

Platinum: The Rarest of Them All?

In our third instalment of our materials series, we take on Platinum – arguably the pinnacle of luxury – or is it? We will cover the history of the material and its sourcing. Then move into its application in watches and the key references you should be aware of.

Archaeologists believe platinum was first used by the ancient pre-Columbian Indians of South America for producing danglers, face studs and miniature masks. It was not until 1735 that it became known to western scientists. With a melting point of 1,768 Celsius it is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust. The majority (about 80 percent) of platinum is mined in South Africa. Approximately 10 percent is mined in Russia, and the rest is found in North and South America, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But I know what you are all thinking, Is platinum rarer than gold? In simple terms, yes. The numbers are clear, 150 tons of platinum are produced yearly, the vast majority of which is used in vehicle emissions control devices, aka catalytic converters. That 150 tons is less than 10 percent (7.4 percent) of the production of gold.

Platinum Nugget - Wikipedia
Platinum Nugget. Image Source: Wikipedia

A gold case is typically 18kt gold, meaning 75% of the metal is pure gold. However, platinum case watches are typically 90% in purity. So there is an extra 15% of precious metal just in the composition. Factor in the density (extra weight) and you require far more platinum by weight than you would for a comparable gold case. So there should be at least a 15-20% jump in price just based on raw metal costs assuming that they are priced comparably per gram. In the past, platinum has been twice the price of gold making for a truly expensive difference hence why it used to be regarded in the watch world with such reverence. It is also true that platinum is more more difficult to machine. Cutting instruments often need multiple replacements, etc.

The picture when it comes to watches and material is confusing. While we see gold watches from Vacheron, Patek and AP listed new for 18-80% differential between one another. And then of course the fluctuations in price of the material set by the market. 2088 saw a spike in the price of platinum, seeing it trade for double that of gold and steel trades for at least a couple of orders of magnitude less.

Table chart - Quill&Pad
Table chart. Image Source: Quill&Pad

Part of the reason that both platinum and gold are as rare as they are is that it takes fairly extreme conditions to produce. Only the most expensive, and often also the most complicated, watches are fitted with platinum cases crafted from this white metal. Because of their price tags, they have remained rare. And because platinum watches are rare, they retain that same price tag.

Platinum Rolex Daytona - Phillips Auction
Platinum Rolex Daytona. Image Source: Phillips Auction

It is hard not to look back on landmark moments in watchmaking, be it technical or design and not talk Rolex. The Oyster Perpetual Day-Date which made its debut in 1956 would certainly be considered an iconic Platinum reference. It was only available only in 18 ct gold or platinum, and it was the first wristwatch to display the date and day of the week. In 2013 we saw the 50th Anniversary Rolex Cosmograph Daytona In Platinum Reference 116506 with its. Now legendary ice blue dial (a platinum signifier for Rolex). I am also a huge fan of the German maker A. Lange & Söhne. And when I think platinum I always think Datograph – which was launched in 1999 to critical acclaim, immediately becoming the modern, high-end chronograph because of the incredible L951.1 movement inside. First launched in platinum with a black dial, that version of the Datograph has become the quintessential Lange chronograph.

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph in platinum - A. Lange & Söhne
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph in Platinum. Image Source: A. Lange & Söhne

Wearing a platinum watch is an experience. Its luster is much softer than that of stainless steel, and its more subtle than white gold. It is also a very understated material, which brings so much joy to the wearer knowing what it is, without having to screen and shout about it.

Here are three platinum references currently in stock.

Blancpain Villeret

JLC Reverso Septantieme

A Lange & Sohne Langematik

Shop our full collection of pre-owned Platinum Watches.