Native platinum. 12 x 10 x 8 cm. Ural in Siberia, Russia.1859.
MORE VALUABLE THAN GOLD
In the 17th century gold prospectors in the Spanish colonies regarded platinum as an irksome by-product of gold panning, referring to it deprecatingly as platina, or “little silver”. This unassuming, grey-white metal was thought to be “unripe” gold and tossed back into the rivers: more inventive prospectors used it for gold forgeries.
Today platinum is the second most valuable precious metal on the planet. Only the price of rhodium is even higher. Platinum is used for the manufacture of jewelry, catalytic converters, laboratory equipment, and dental implants, but it is also used as a means of payment and as an investment. It is significantly harder, mechanically more stable, and considerably more expensive than gold.
The nugget in the collection of the NHM was a gift from the Russian Prince Anatole Nikolayevich Demidoff di San Donato to Moriz Hoernes, the director of the imperial and royal Mineralogical Cabinet. It is one of the few larger platinum nuggets that have ever been found.
Prince Demidoff was born in Saint Petersburg in 1813, but educated in Paris. At the age of only 16, he took over the family business, a Russian mining empire, which he managed from Paris – much to the tsar’s displeasure. He had a reputation as a benefactor of the arts and science, amongst other things equipping a scientific expedition by French naturalists prospecting for mineral resources in Southern Russia. Activities such as these – but also Demidoff’s extravagant lifestyle – greatly annoyed the tsar. Demidoff incurred his displeasure and, therefore, left the platinum nugget from the Ural not to the ruler of his homeland, but to the Austrian geologist Moriz Hoernes.