A South African Platinum Odyssey

In October 2006, Platinum Guild International’s U.S. office organized a special trip for select members of the American jewelry trade—both retailers and manufacturers—to visit the source of all things platinum: the mines in South Africa. The eight-day odyssey included visits to the platinum mines, a side trip to a diamond mine, and a visit to the jewelry studio at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, as well as outings to historical sites, wineries (another important South African export), and, of course, game preserves. When asked about the most memorable part of the trip, all participants cited the friendships and deep camaraderie that developed as a result of traveling together, and everyone also in some way identified with the elemental mystique of the metal.

Here are some thoughts and images from the participants of the trip:

“My wife, Fern, and I had anticipated one day going to Africa for some kind of safari but readily accepted the PGI invitation without knowing much of what to expect. It turns out to have been one of the best trips we have ever gone on. … It proved to be an informative, collegial, exciting, and unique experience. While I knew most of the industry players in passing, from trade shows or industry events, my wife and I finished the trip with a truly warm feeling for everyone (and their spouses), whom we had gotten to know on a far more personal level. Everyone was truly open to mixing it up and getting to know each other better.”

Lowell Kwiat, Kwiat

“My first trip to Africa was to Kenya in 1976. At that time, I thought it was a trip of a lifetime. Others advised me that nobody only goes to Africa once. How true that statement was, as the 2006 PGI journey was my eighth trip to the African continent. I was honored to go on the trip. … It was physically and visually revealing to see how they literally ‘move a mountain’ from the inside out to recover that precious metal.”

Chuck Lein, Stuller

“I learned about social and economic issues affecting South Africa. Our visit was more intimate than a typical tourist might experience. I loved peeking into another world and I left there profoundly connected. The history of South Africa is as interesting as it is complex. It is a place where good people make a difference. I hope that someday, in some way, I can be a participant in making a difference. Selling platinum helps.

The best adrenaline rush came when we toured the platinum mines. It quantified everything I believe about the magic of platinum. Now when I finish creating a piece of platinum jewelry, I have a sense of the time line. I can visualize the miners with drills and explosives, one-and-one-half miles underground, crawling through tunnels chasing this rare metal. … Years ago I spoke at a Platinum Symposium and someone referred to me as a ‘pied piper of platinum.’ … [Since then] I’ve relaxed, thinking that everyone understands platinum like I do, but there is a new generation of consumers and people in the jewelry industry that need to be reminded how platinum makes jewelry so much better. It is time to get my pan flute out again.”

Bruce Pucciarello, Novell

“The Anglo Platinum mines have donated a workshop to teach the skills of working in platinum. In this land of rich natural resources, there is a great growth opportunity for the South African jewelry industry. It is at present small. As we strolled the shop and talked with the students, we were quite surprised to find that they were only doing hand fabrication. There was no casting equipment. Most of the students I spoke with were unaware of the actual cost of the pieces they were making or where or for how much they could sell their designs. The need for a broader education was apparent. However, there is much electricity in the air of South Africa as this emerging country pushes to move forward. It was contagious and made me want to share my knowledge and encourage their advancement. I want these students to learn how to take their artistry and resources and turn it into a successful business.”

Judith Conway, Judith Conway