In June, JCKonline.com ran a story about Heraeus—a precious metals and technology group—when it announced the reorganization of the company’s U.S. chemicals division into a single unit titled Heraeus Precious Metals North America.
I got some odd looks in the JCK newsroom when I included it in our daily rundown, but I was curious about what the company was all about—especially after compiling JCK’s Ultimate Guide to Gold.
To indulge my intellectual curiosity even further, Uve Kupka, CEO and president of Heraeus Precious Metals North America, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about what the company does and how it relates to the jewelry business.
JCK: Tell JCK readers what your company does and how it’s connected to the precious metals market.
Uve Kupka: Heraeus Precious Metals North America is a leader in the manufacturing, recycling, and trading of precious metals and a global supplier of precious and non–precious metal bearing products. By combining precious metals refining and production with precious metals trading, Heraeus Precious Metals North America is a complete, single source solution. For many of our customers we manage their entire precious metal cycle.
The preparation of materials for the refining process is as important as the refining itself. Every day, customers arrive at our facilities with primary and secondary concentrates, industrial catalysts, alloys, jewelry, and dentals sweeps, karat scrap, and residues. They leave with precious metals in some of the purest forms found in the industry. Materials are carefully burned, milled, blended, or melted and then sampled using methods, which assure proper sample preparation and analysis and excellent recoveries. All these services are provided to the jewelry and other industries by our recycling business unit.
After separating and purifying precious metals we manufacture through our chemical products business unit a large range of high quality precious metal compounds on an industrial scale from the Platinum Group Metals which include platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, osmium, and iridium. We also manufacture products containing gold, silver, and rhenium.
JCK: What are some of the markets that the precious metals you refine end up in?
UK: While our precious metals are naturally used in the jewelry and dental industries, it is important to point out that precious metals are used in a variety of prominent industries including the automotive, chemical, electronics, environmental protection, photovoltaics, petrochemical, and health care industries.
JCK: What’s one of the coolest products a metal you refined has ended up in?
UK: It is difficult to say which use of precious metals is the “coolest.” It is like asking which one of your children is your favorite. The use of platinum in spark plugs, gold in computer applications, silver on solar cells, ruthenium in data storage, palladium in the dental industry, all achieve this level of importance in the innovative atmosphere of Heraeus. My personal favorite is the oncological use of platinum in anti-cancer drugs. But we are speaking to a specific audience, and manufacturers of the jewelry industry have used precious metals refined by Heraeus for decades.
JCK: Has the high cost of gold hurt or helped your business in any way? And has the refining of other precious metals like silver, platinum, and palladium made gains on gold in recent years?
UK: The high cost of precious metals, of course, increases the cost of products and in these challenging economic times the customer will defer the purchase.
The recent decline in the gold price has resulted in hesitancy on the part of sellers to move their material, preferring to wait for the return of higher gold prices above the $1,800 per ounce mark. Silver, platinum, and palladium continue to suffer because they are driven more by industrial usage, which continues to be suppressed. At the time when the silver price reached its recent peak, however, silver refining volumes increased sharply and supply exceeded demand and refining capacities. Platinum, which for a long time ran ahead of gold has been surpassed by gold, because many look upon gold as a hedge against inflation and use it as an investment vehicle.
JCK: How much of your company is devoted to dealing with the jewelry industry?
UK: While Heraeus has continued its close association with the jewelry industry, as most recyclers of jewelry are aware, the industry continues the trend to transfer manufacturing to lower cost regions in particular to Asia. As a result, Heraeus has been able to acquire more of these materials at their source, particularly through our refineries in Hong Kong, in mainland China, India, and other Asian locations. This development, coupled with the ongoing challenging economic situation in the United States, however, has not affected our commitment to this industry.
JCK: What’s the next exciting thing on the horizon for Heraeus?
UK: We are excited that we are enlarging our footprint on the East Coast by expanding our Newark refining operation and therefore will be in an even better position to serve our customers, especially in the dental and jewelry industry. Furthermore, the recent reorganization of our U.S. chemicals division will allow our customers a greater ease of business as well as a quicker access to all of our products and services.