Palladium’s primary use is in the auto industry where for years it has been a key component in catalytic converters. However, recent years have seen a noticeable increase in use in the jewelry industry. The change as a key metal in the jewelry industry was most evident in China where designers took advantage of the metals unique capabilities and saw the demand grow from 70,000 ounces to over one million ounces in just four years. China is now the world’s largest market of palladium jewelry.
The interest in palladium for jewelry in the United States has been intense since the country’s largest jewelry trade show in Las Vegas last June. Several top designers projected that palladium could be the industry’s white metal of choice in just a few years.
The reasons for the interest in palladium include its similarity to platinum (pure, hard, does not tarnish, hypoallergenic, white luster) but also the fact that it is lighter and considerably less expensive than platinum. Jewelers love its capability for new designs and the higher profit margins they can achieve relative to platinum or gold. Because palladium requires some different techniques and skills compared to gold jewelry making, it will take a little time for it to achieve its full potential but the forces of change are moving.
The power behind the booming popularity of palladium in the United States is Stillwater Mining Company located in southern Montana, the only primary palladium producer in the U.S. The palladium ore at their two mining locations is the richest known palladium deposit mined in the world with three parts palladium produced for every part of platinum. By comparison, mines in South Africa yield two parts platinum for every part of palladium and in Russia palladium is a byproduct of nickel mining.
In March of 2006, Stillwater Mining Company launched Palladium Alliance International, an organization committed to providing marketing support and promotion of palladium as a precious luxury metal. The platinum industry used a similar organization, Platinum Guild International, to propel platinum to record levels of demand for jewelry. Stillwater Mining is hoping to follow that example to create consumer awareness. Palladium jewelry is currently less than one percent of the U.S. jewelry market but Stillwater Mining Company is aggressively promoting its product and expects that percentage to grow dramatically in the years to come.