Debunking Certain Myths About Precious Metals, Part I

Gold, silver and platinum are more than just pretty things to look at, so join us as we debunk a few myths about precious metals in this two-part article.

Few things draw human attention more than shiny useful things, which is probably why there are as so many myths about precious metals. A lot of those myths center around lost mines and other ephemera, but there are quite a few that pertain directly to the metals themselves. Here are 3 in our first part of the discussion.

Myth 1: Precious metals are useless for anything except coinage and bullion

Not at all. Interestingly enough, most precious metals are excellent conductors of electricity, and as such are highly sought after in the electronics industry. This is especially true of gold and silver, and of course copper — the least precious of our coinage metals — has been used for electrical wiring for more than a century.

The contacts on computer motherboards and other electronic circuit boards are often made of pure gold and sometimes of silver, which makes it clear that this myth about precious metals is way off base. In fact, it’s possible to make a good living scavenging gold and silver from junked electronics, if you’re careful.

Myth 2: Platinum is just a funny kind of silver

Nope. It’s a completely different element, closely related to nickel and palladium. It’s also worth quite a bit more — though that was less than obvious at first. Until the mid-1700s, it was considered just an annoying by-product of silver mining; in fact, the name derives from “platina,” which means “little silver” in Spanish.

Platinum was also disdained for so long because it’s hard to work and, for many years, was impossible to melt with state-of-the art technology. This is no longer the case, and now we know its true worth — more than $1,100 per troy ounce as of September 2008. That one myth about precious metals down for the count.

Myth 3: Gold is the most valuable precious metal of all

Actually gold isn’t even in the top two, though it’s the precious metal most people think of first. Platinum, of course, is worth substantially more at the moment, but the real winner is rhodium. As of mid-September 2008, it was worth between $4,500 and $4,500 an ounce.

That’s about six times more than gold — and it occasionally gets above $7,000 an ounce. Why? Because it’s very hard and alloys well with palladium and platinum. It’s also an effective catalyst, and has many uses in the electronics, automotive, and jewelry industries.