New platinum alloy ignites firestorm of debate

Platinum Guild International USA last week sent a letter to 400 industry manufacturers and retailers, reiterating its position on maintaining platinum’s purity at present levels and urging widespread participation in a forthcoming Federal Trade Commission Federal Register Notice for industry comment about the marking and disclosure practices for a lower-karat (.585) platinum alloy.

“We want to get across that we are standing by our position of platinum jewelry being 90% or higher [platinum content in an alloy] and alloyed only with platinum-group metals [in order to be marked platinum], said Huw Daniel, PGI-USA president.

In response to a request by Karat Platinum LLC, Inwood, N.Y., to the FTC to mark products made from 585-part platinum alloy as “585 Plat. 0 PGM,” the FTC earlier this year issued a staff opinion letter stating that the proposed mark is “neither prohibited nor allowed.”

The FTC did warn that because the proposed product is sufficiently different from other platinum products that do contain platinum group metals, the mark alone is insufficient disclosure of its base metal content and additional information to distinguish it from other platinum products must be included when selling products made from it.

Karat Platinum has since revised its intended mark to read “.585 plat, .415 CO/CU,” says company president Paul Lundstedt. Rather than tell what the metal isn’t (an alloy of platinum group metals), the mark tells what the product is (an alloy of platinum, copper, and cobalt).

Karat Platinum is adamant about both marking and marketing the product precisely, Lundstedt says. He adds that his firm intends to be diligent about over-communicating, rather than under-communicating. “We want the manufacturers to fully understand it, we want the retail jewelers to fully understand it, and we want the consumers to fully understand it. We are not trying to represent it as 950 platinum. We have no hidden agenda here. We want to be as transparent as possible.”

Karat Platinum is partnering with Allegemeine A.G., a division of Umicore, on platinum 585. Lundstedt says Allegemeine handles the technical and manufacturing side of the business, and Karat Platinum handles marketing and distribution.

Currently, the industry works to the International Standards Organization (ISO) Standard TC174, which specifies a range of fineness of precious metal alloys recommended for use in jewelry. In the case of platinum, these are (in parts per thousand) 850 ppt, 900 ppt, and 950 ppt. The latter two are the most popular. Additionally, says Daniel, the level of base metals allowed is capped at 5%; the remainder must be platinum-group metals.

Lundstedt maintains that the current guidelines—which were created in 1997 when there were no alloys that didn’t contain platinum-group metals—are not law. The guidelines didn’t address this issue because there was no reason to, he says. Indeed, the FTC’s opinion letter issued in February said the guidelines neither prohibit nor allow the 585 alloy and the company has gone ahead with production of the product. He expects several jewelry manufacturers to introduce .585 platinum pieces at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas in June.

At a meeting of the Industry Image Task Force on Jan. 23, 2005, attendees raised a variety of questions and concerns regarding long-term technical and quality issues of 585 platinum, both at the manufacturer and retailer levels. Attendees also expressed concern that the new alloy could undermine the high position of platinum in the mind of the consumer as a pure metal and durable investment. Also at issue was whether general consumer confidence in and expectations of platinum jewelry would be altered by the new product.