By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Last week, about a dozen trade editors touched down in Miami, courtesy of Platinum Guild International (PGI). The reason for the jaunt? To fabricate platinum and learn about its unique properties firsthand.
Many entries to the AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards are made in platinum, and PGI sponsors 11 categories in the competition—including Best Use of Platinum and Color and several Platinum Honors and Platinum Innovation awards across the Spectrum categories—so the AGTA audience is well acquainted with the precious metal. Many jewelry editors, too, know how special platinum is because we’ve written countless stories over the years about how some of the most valuable precious gems are set only in this metal. And with good reason: it’s as rare as many of the special gems (think Paraíba) sold by dealers and retailers and strong enough to securely contain them. Plus, you won’t lose metal over time like you do with other precious metals; instead, when scratched, platinum displaces across a jewel rather than sustain the loss that occurs with gold and silver.
So off we went to Miami! Editors checked into our hotel last Tuesday and had a fun dinner with longtime colleagues. The U.S. PGI team of Rebecca Moskal, vice president of marketing; Kevin Reilly, senior vice president; and Jenny Luker, president, were present and prepared to test our mettle (ha!) in a game of platinum Jeopardy.
Rebecca and Kevin really thought out this game! They had a “game board” on a TV screen at the head of our dining table, and the editors broke into three teams. I was on Team No. 1 with Shawna Kulpa of the magazine for the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) and Victoria Gomelsky of JCK. Team No. 2 comprised the ladies of National Jeweler (NJ), and Team No. 3 featured Trace Shelton of INSTORE, freelancer Amy Elliott, and Emili Vesilind of Jewelers Mutual’s Gem + Jewel. Centurion’s Anthony DeMarco joined us later, followed by INSTORE‘s and Forbe‘s Beth Bernstein the next day.
PGI quizzed us about platinum properties. For example, platinum is more durable than other precious metals, is naturally white—eliminating the need for rhodium-plated jewels that require maintenance over years of wear—hypoallergenic, pure (90–95% in the U.S.), and 30 times rarer than gold. Many of the questions were familiar, as they should be after years of absorbing platinum education at trade shows. The competition was fierce, interfused with rounds of gourmet grub like pasta with lobster, and super fun! I think my team won but the biggest win that night was enjoying each other’s company (though I really do think Team No. 1 won). After the meal and fun ended, we made our way to bed for the night. The next day would be an early one as we were headed to Miami Jewelry School (MJS), run by Marc Thurn.
Back to School
The next morning, we all rode out to the school, a space on the outskirts of downtown Miami. MJS houses about 12 benches for students to learn metalsmithing, and more rooms are used for lectures and include tools such as polishing wheels and ultrasonic cleaners.
To start, Marc and Kevin gave us some history about the school and platinum itself. MJS was founded in 1987 by Marc, who hails from a prestigious jewelry- and gemstone-cutting family in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. His goldsmith training began at the Munsteiner Atelier in 1984 at age 16, and by 1988 he had earned a Journeyman degree in goldsmithing. He eventually moved stateside and began working with Susan Helmich Designs Inc., starting his school to train up-and-coming jewelry professionals and provide them with exceptional skills like those he learned in Germany.
Kevin, meanwhile, broke out a PowerPoint to educate our group about the metal he’s devoted a big chunk of his professional career to (he’s been with PGI since 2006). While most of the trivia questions from the night before were familiar to me, some of his lessons the next day were new. I don’t think I realized that platinum is here on Earth because meteorites containing it crashed here 2 billion years ago. Then in 1590, South American prospectors who were panning for gold in rivers discovered the metal, naming it platina, meaning “little silver.” If I knew this, I had forgotten, so the brush-up was well appreciated.
Kevin went on to revisit some of the material we covered over dinner, but in a little more depth. While we know platinum is a secure metal, did you know that it is more likely to bend but not break when subjected to force? Also, more than 50% of mined platinum goes to other industries because of its noncorrosive nature and strength. Plus, platinum is dense! A six-inch cube of it weighs 165 pounds; Platinum is 60% heavier than 14K gold and 40% heavier than 18K gold.
And PGI’s consumer research reveals that nearly 70% of consumers said they preferred platinum for their engagement ring. That’s not hard to believe given the reputation it has for quality, durability, and preciousness. Platinum even sounds fancy to say! And that may be a little part of its cachet.
Hitting the Bench
After the book learning, we moved into the bench room to get our hands dirty. One of Marc’s instructors, Alex, was in charge of cutting each of us a chunk—literally, a chunk—of platinum that we would be fashioning into our own rings to wear. Many of us were thinking, oh, we’ll probably make little 2 mm bands. No! PGI was not messing around; they gave all of us a 5 mm wide and 1 mm thick strip of metal. More instructors gave us bending tools to turn and twist the flat strip into as close a perfect circle as we could.
Years ago, I took Fabrication I & II at Revere Academy East. I was on staff at JCK at the time, and I wanted to understand the terms about which I was writing. I also took a wax carving and casting class near my home. Between the two, I worked with sterling silver and karat gold, so I understood terms like work hardening and remembered how soft gold and silver were to work with. Platinum? Not so much. I struggled to bend it. I wanted to hand it to Trace to do it for me, but I decided not to wuss out. I bent it part of the way and then Marc torched it to make it easier to finish the task. As tough as that task was, Marc said many jewelers only want to work in platinum because it’s so durable.
Once that was complete, Alex soldered it and the shaping began. We used files to mold the look of the ring we wanted. Afterwards, we sanded it with four different grits of paper until our instructors determined it was ready for polishing. Mine turned out really nice! It looked washer flat, which for me makes sense; my husband and I both have washer-flat wedding bands (we like that modern look). This new band, however, was a big step up from my day-to-day band—which is platinum—because it’s a lot thicker and heavier.
All the bench work did indeed dirty my hands, but wow, was I psyched to have a new band—which looks good next to my karat-gold one (I’m an equal opportunity jewelry editor). I like this new band so much that I’m going to enlist someone to set diamonds into it to match the setting effect of my gold estate band.
Final Dinner and Farewell
Everyone had a great time, and the experience was a phenomenal one for learning. It’s important for trade writers to have these experiences so we can best tell the stories of our audience. I suppose stone cutting and setting should be next—I already know how to string pearls. Any gem folks out there want to lend a hand with my next jewelry school experience? Find me on the floor in Tucson next week wearing a big fat shiny platinum band.
That evening, we dined together again in a very Vegas-y type (for Miami) restaurant. We kind of all felt like we were in Las Vegas, minus the crowds, as young gymnast-type dancers performed on platforms in front of our table. The food was YUM—Asian-Indian fusion. Hello, edamame and masala sauce!
Press trips like these are few and far between, so I greatly appreciated the event. Like all firms who host trade journalists, they do so to provide a better understanding and discernment of a subject. Goal accomplished. And while companies typically just invite one journalist to an event, PGI invited MANY; it didn’t need to invite the entire NJ crew of writers (three!), but the team did out of appreciation for the work we do. That was above and beyond—the trip, yes, but most important, PGI’s appreciation of trade writers, who are sometimes dismissed as “not as important” as consumer writers. Thank you, PGI. That was a fabulous learning experience and a beautiful act of kindness and gratitude.
To learn more about platinum, log onto PlatinumJewelry.com.
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