Platinum is one of the most valuable materials on the planet. It’s prized for its usefulness in jewelry, machinery, and more. However, platinum is extremely rare, and it’s usually found in grains rather than veins or large metal nuggets.
Platinum is a hard metal to find because it forms far below the surface and is only found in a handful of countries. Alluvial platinum is typically discovered in moving streams and rivers, but it’s usually not bigger than small grains.
Throughout this article, I’ll show you why platinum is so rare, how you can find it, and how common it is compared to other metals and minerals.
Why Is Platinum So Rare?
Platinum is so rare because it forms near the mantle and takes many years to get to the earth’s surface. Platinum mines are only found in a few places around the world. Most platinum prospecting brings people to platinum pieces that broke off of igneous rocks that came through the surface.
Here’s a look at why platinum is so rare compared to other precious metals:
- Platinum is usually mixed with other ores in small amounts. This means that most pieces of platinum have a lot higher percentages of other minerals than platinum. Unlike gold, you won’t come across a vein that’s mostly made of platinum or platinum-group metals (palladium, platinum, etc.).
- It forms well below the earth’s surface. Much like diamonds and gold, platinum has to make its way to the surface through several years of plate shifting, steam ventilation, and magma flows. This process takes a lot of time, which is why the majority of platinum reserves were formed many centuries ago.
- According to Biltmore Loan and Jewelry, South Africa has ⅔ of the world’s platinum supply. Anyone outside of this country will be at an immediate disadvantage. While there are platinum reserves in other places around the world, most of them are depleted or low in supply.
- Platinum requires immense amounts of heat and pressure to form. There’s nothing above the earth’s surface that naturally forms platinum. Many companies extract platinum from scrap materials (jewelry, car parts, etc.), but it can’t appear on the side of a mountain or show up in a river without forming underground.
- It’s carried by moving bodies of water and tectonic plates, which means it can move far from the source. Platinum rarely stays where it comes through the earth’s crust. Instead, it’s often spread throughout the area. This natural process makes it difficult to spot, especially in large quantities.
Platinum’s rarity is the primary reason it sells for so much. It’s also used in dozens of industries, including computer building and laboratory tech.
Where Is Platinum Usually Found?
Platinum is usually found in South Africa, Canada, and Australia. However, small amounts of platinum reserves can be found in the USA and a few other countries. The best places to find platinum include volcanic zones, mountain rivers, and gravel shores.
So, where can you find platinum?
Volcanic activity is one of the most effective processes that bring various metals to the surface, including platinum. Magma streams, steam pressure, and moving tectonic plates occur near volcanic zones. Anything that forces materials to the surface from below the crust is capable of producing platinum in the area.
Mountains form through tectonic plates in fault zones. Water that moves through these zones can pick up platinum grains, nuggets, and dust. Platinum is rather heavy, which means it often settles near the bottom of the water. Platinum and gold can be found near the dense clay layer called the false bedrock, while it also falls to the natural bedrock in some scenarios.
Much like gold, platinum grains get stuck in hard-to-reach areas, including the following:
- Cracks and crevices
- Submerged logs
- Densely packed clay
Gravel and Black Sand
Platinum can get stuck in gravel if the grains are big enough. It can also get stuck in black sand, which is where you can find gold, too. Black sand is often made of iron-rich rocks that come from volcanic activity. As mentioned above, volcanic systems yield platinum pieces that fall into black sand.
Similarly, platinum can be found in abandoned or public mines, volcanic tubes, and caves. These areas go below the crust or into a mountain, both of which bring you closer to platinum’s source. Platinum is extremely resistant to temperature changes, so it doesn’t melt very quickly. It’ll stay in its original state until it breaks apart at the surface.
Although platinum is usually found in South Africa, Canada, and a couple of other countries on the African continent, you can look for the areas above to try to find platinum in any country. There’s undoubtedly a handful of undiscovered platinum reserves around the world, which means they’re always worth looking for.
What Is the Best Way To Find Platinum?
The best way to find platinum is by panning, suction dredging, and metal detecting. You can also look for platinum dust by the side of most roadways since the vast majority of vehicles have platinum or palladium in their catalytic converters.
Try this process to increase your chances of finding platinum:
- Pan for platinum near the shores of rushing streams and rivers. Platinum is often carried by moving water, especially in fault zones. Scoop riverside sediment into a prospecting pan or run it through a sluice before panning for platinum. Rotate and swirl the water until small, heavy bits of platinum stay near the surface.
- Consider suction dredging for platinum and other precious metals where it’s permitted. Keep in mind that suction dredging is illegal in some areas since it can affect the local ecosystem. If you’re allowed to suction dredge, you can pull platinum dust, nuggets, and grains into the collection tank very quickly.
- The Natural Sapphire Company explains that platinum is slightly magnetic, which means it can be found with metal detectors. Use a high-frequency metal detector for better results (platinum isn’t extremely magnetic, which means it’ll be hard to detect if it’s far below the surface with a low-frequency metal detector).
- Look for gold because platinum often forms under similar conditions. Gold and platinum use nearly identical collection methods. Anything you do to find gold has a chance of finding platinum. Sluicing, dry panning, high banking, and almost any other gold prospecting process works for finding platinum.
- Gizmodo reports that many people find platinum dust near roadways. Vehicles use platinum in some of their components, which get hot and slowly erode. Platinum debris from these parts lands around the edges of the road, letting you dry pan for it. Note: This process can be dangerous. Make sure it’s legal and safe in your area.
You can attempt panning to separate the minerals if you think you’ve found platinum. The process is similar to gold panning. To learn more, read my other post for a step-by-step tutorial on how to pan platinum: Is It Possible to Pan for Platinum?
Unfortunately, there’s no tried and true way to find platinum every time. It’s rarer than gold, and it can’t be found in as many mines as diamonds. Additionally, large platinum reserves are often claimed by big companies before the average prospector can get to them. Let’s dive into the rarity of platinum below.
How Common Is Platinum on Earth?
Platinum is extremely uncommon on earth, even below the surface where it forms. Platinum deposits are rather small, which means they’re prospected very quickly. The bulk of large platinum reserves are legally claimed, making platinum even more uncommon for prospectors.
Review this list of facts about platinum’s rarity:
- Platinum has a 0.005 ppm concentration within the earth’s crust. In other words, this statistic means that platinum makes up 0.0000005% of materials below the earth’s surface. This mineral concentration makes it one of the rarest materials on earth (especially compared to other metals).
- Platinum scarcity threatens numerous industries. It’s used in electronics, dentistry equipment, jewelry, and many other industries that depend on it daily. Its rarity is causing issues and worries that the earth’s available platinum reserves might not be able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.
- It’s even less common above the earth’s surface. All of the platinum found above the surface came from the aforementioned 0.005ppm concentration below the crust. This means that it’s extremely rare and uncommon compared to almost any other material found on the planet.
- The metal’s increasing price reflects its usefulness and rarity. Platinum prices fluctuate, but they steadily increase throughout the decades. The good news is that the increased demand and rarity means platinum prospectors can expect more profit for their findings. It also means platinum-group metals will be more valuable.
Despite platinum’s extreme rarity, it’s found in many everyday items. It’s very resistant to heat and pH fluctuations, not to mention its impressive durability and density. Platinum will continue to be a rare yet required metal for the foreseeable future.
Platinum is incredibly difficult to find, but that doesn’t stop countless prospectors and companies from looking for it. Finding a small amount of platinum can generate a hefty income. This rare metal is entering a state of scarcity, making it even more valuable as the years go by.