Palladium is a lustrous silvery white metal with the atomic number 46 and chemical abbreviation of Pd. Because the metal is extremely rare, palladium is considered to be a precious metal, and it can command a high price on the open market. It is used in electronics, jewelry, and certain other industries. The growing popularity of the metal jewelry has led many to wonder about this “new” metal. This sleeper silver-white metal owes its existence to another, better-known precious metal, and its renewed popularity to better technology.
The metal was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston, who named it palladium after the asteroid Pallas. Jewelers used it for jewelry as early as the Victorian era. After World War II, when the war effort called for platinum, the chemical emerged as a viable alternative white metal, especially for use in fine jewelry and wedding jewelry. The re-emergence of platinum for jewelry in the 1980s and 1990s made lower-cost alternative white metals return in popularity as well.
The metal resists tarnish, and is extremely ductile, meaning that it takes readily to working. When palladium is cold worked, the tensile strength greatly increases. The asteroid, in turn, was named for a Greek Goddess of Wisdom. It often occurs in conjunction with platinum, and it is frequently associated with gold, nickel, and copper. Its true, white-silver appearance rarely tarnishes and needs no plating to retain its color.
Palladium is anything but a newcomer to the jewelry market. Two factors, however, contributed to the disappearance of the substance on the jewelry market during the last half of the 20th century. These were the difficulty to create a palladium alloy for mass-market jewelry, and the increasing popularity of gold jewelry.
White gold, which is actually yellow gold alloyed with other white metals, made a comeback, as did silver. However, the fact that white gold is rarely “white” and retains a yellowish cast unless plated with rhodium, and the fact that sterling silver is neither precious nor as durable as gold or platinum, opened the market for the reappearance of palladium.