The most valuable metals in the world understandably command higher prices – usually due to rarity or the cost involved in obtaining them. However, while a few metals inflate in value to unreasonable levels, some remain underappreciated. This causes shifts in the perception of what is deemed ‘precious’ in the eyes of investors.
Gold and silver are perhaps the most popular precious metals in the world. Moreover, they are also the oldest precious metals as well. It is apparent that our ancestors saw value in them. A wide variety of gold and silver products discovered to date, especially in palaces and regal areas, are a testament to this fact.
Note – although being rare is almost a necessity for something to be considered precious, the converse may not always be true. For example, Helium gas is one of the rarest gases on Earth, but it remains relatively inexpensive.
Here is a list of the most ‘precious’ precious metals in the world (in no particular order):
Gold has remained one of the most widely accepted precious metals for investment. In fact, it was used as currency before our present monetary system came into being. Even now, gold retains its position as one of the most investible precious metals of all – as it has existed for thousands of years symbolizing wealth and prosperity.
Gold is an incredibly malleable metal, especially when at its purest. This makes it ideal for intricate jewelry. Moreover, it is also a highly conductive element – allowing the passage of electricity with minimal loss of energy.
Common Uses: Widely used in jewelry, coins, bars, rounds. Furthermore, its electrical conductivity makes it the preferred choice for use in a variety of electronic circuits.
Largest Producers: South Africa, United States, Australia, and China.
Holy cow! That's a lot of gold!
Platinum is one of the most popular precious metals after gold and silver. Its malleability, high density, and non-corrosive nature make it an ideal metal for fashioning into coins, rounds, and bars for storage with minimal to no damage to the products, even over large periods.
Although its earliest use can be traced back to 1200 B.C. in Egyptian artifacts, Platinum wasn’t rediscovered and used again until around 1735.
Common Uses: Its flexibility makes it ideal for jewelry, coins, bars, and rounds. On the other hand, its chemical resistance to even hydrochloric and nitric acid makes it the perfect candidate for use in electrodes and chemical reactions.
Largest Producers: South Africa, Russia, and Canada.
No precious metals list can be complete without the inclusion of silver. The sheen of silver is unmistakable – ensuring that silver products stand out as no other metal does. However, it is quick to oxidize in the open air, making proper storage and protection essential to maintaining its original sheen and finish.
Nonetheless, the value of silver remains unaffected even if it loses its original minted shine. This metal’s industrial applications in batteries and electronics only further enhance its desirability.
Common Uses: Jewelry, circuitry, batteries, coins, bars, and rounds.
Largest Producers: Peru, China, Mexico, and Chile.
Almost 60% of the rhodium reserves on Earth are in South Africa – making it the largest supplier of this particular precious metal. The finish and sheen of rhodium seem similar to platinum. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise as rhodium is a member of the platinum group of metals (Ruthenium, Rhodium, Palladium, Osmium, Iridium, and Platinum).
On the other hand, it is far less dense and more heat-resistant compared to platinum, while being extremely durable, hard, and reflective. Fun fact – rhodium is even rarer than gold. However, the recent decline in the car industry, which facilitated its main industrial application, brought about a crash in rhodium prices, dropping almost 90% of its value in 2009.
Common Uses: Usually used as alloying agents for hardening and improving the corrosion resistance of platinum and palladium. It is widely employed in catalytic converters in automobiles as well.
Largest Producers: South Africa, Russia, and Canada.
Another platinum group metal, ruthenium is relatively unknown compared to its more famous counterparts. It is relatively hard and durable compared to platinum and palladium. Hence, similar to rhodium, ruthenium is also used as an alloying agent to increase the hardness of platinum and palladium.
Common Uses: Usually used as alloying agents for hardening and improving the durability of platinum and palladium. Its electrical properties make it popular in electronics as well – for effectively plating electrical contacts.
Largest Producers: Russia, North America, South America, and Canada.
Iridium is yet another platinum group metal. As you’re starting to notice, yes, every metal in the platinum group metals is rare and valuable
Iridium is one of the densest elements in existence. With an inordinately high melting point, it can also withstand a lot of heat without any physical change (like softening, melting, or vaporizing). Furthermore, it is corrosion resistant as well – making it suitable for a wide variety of industrial purposes.
Common Uses: Used as a hardening agent for platinum alloys. Moreover, it forms an alloy with osmium that is widely used for tipping pens and compass bearings. Crucibles and other equipment that need to be operated at high temperatures also use Iridium lining.
Largest Producers: South Africa and Russia.
This grayish-white precious metal is valued for its rarity, malleability, and stability. Moreover, it can absorb a considerable amount of hydrogen at room temperature – opening up a variety of uses for this metal.
Palladium has recently become an attractive investment option with famous mints such as the United States Mint releasing palladium-based coin programs like the American Palladium Eagles.
Common Uses: Used in coins and bars. Moreover, it has industry-wide applications such as catalytic converters to reduce emissions.
Largest Producers: Russia, United States, and Canada.
Osmium is a high-density metal that is mainly found in North and South America. This bluish-silver metal is hard and brittle. However, its high melting point allows several industry applications.
Although osmium is never used directly due to its brittle nature, it is alloyed with platinum to create an alloy that possesses the malleability and durability of platinum as well as the heat resistance and hardness of osmium.
Common Uses: Its alloy with platinum is used for making electrical contacts and filaments.
Largest Producers: North American, South America, and Russia.
The high melting and boiling points of rhenium make it extremely useful in several industrial practices. In fact, it boasts the third highest melting and boiling point after carbon and tungsten.
It is a byproduct of molybdenum, which in turn is a byproduct of copper mining. Understandably, rhenium is relatively rare, and its industrial applications make it a highly coveted metal indeed.
Common Uses: Its high boiling and melting points make it ideal for use in high-temperature turbine engines and jet engine exhaust nozzles. However, the above uses are possible only after it is alloyed with nickel to form superalloys with astounding properties.
Largest Producers: Chile, Kazakhstan, and the United States.
This white metal is produced as a byproduct from zinc-ore, lead-ore, copper-ore, and iron-ore dispensation. In its pure state, it has a distinctive white glint and is extremely malleable – making bending and fashioning into complicated shapes relatively easy.
Moreover, it is a soft metal, like sodium, and can be easily cut with a knife. However, this metal’s extreme rarity (making up only 0.21 parts per million of the Earth's crust) in addition to several industrial applications ensure that it is highly valued by investors and businesses alike.
Common Uses: Indium was widely used during World War II – coating bearings in engines (usually airplanes). However, in recent times it has seen widespread use in creating corrosive-resistant mirrors, semiconductors, and various alloys. Furthermore, it is also used to facilitate electrical conductivity in flat-panel devices.
Largest Producers: China, South Korea, and Japan.
A special shout out to the Periodic Videos YouTube channel for putting together great informational videos about these precious metals.