A List of Precious Metals

Here is what makes them valuable

Precious metals were used in coins in the past.
Mr.nutnuchit Phutsawagung / EyeEm / Getty Images

Some metals are considered precious. The four primary precious metals are gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. Following is a look at what makes a metal precious compared with other metals, plus a list of precious metals.

What Makes a Metal Precious?

Precious metals are elemental metals that have high economic value. In some cases, the metals have been used as currency. In other cases, the metal is precious because it is valued for other uses and is rare.

The most widely known precious metals are corrosion-resistant metals that are used in jewelry, currency, and investments. These metals include:

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These are crystals of pure gold metal, a well-known precious metal.

Alchemist-hp (talk) www.pse-mendelejew.de/Wikimedia Commons/CC-SA-3.0

Gold is the easiest precious metal to recognize because of its unique yellow color. Gold is popular because of its color, malleability, and conductivity.

Uses: Jewelry, electronics, radiation shielding, thermal insulation

Major Sources: South Africa, United States, China, Australia

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Silver is a precious metal widely used in jewelry.


Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de)/Wikimedia Commons/CC-SA-3.0

Silver is a popular precious metal for jewelry, but its value extends well beyond beauty. It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of all the elements and has the lowest contact resistance.

Uses: Jewelry, coins, batteries, electronics, dentistry, antimicrobial agents, photography

Major Sources: Peru, Mexico, Chile, China

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Platinum: The Most Precious?

Platinum may be the most precious metal.

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Platinum is a dense, malleable metal with exceptional corrosion resistance. It is nearly 15 times rarer than gold yet widely used. This combination of rarity and functionality might make platinum the most precious of the precious metals.

Uses: Catalysts, jewelry, weaponry, dentistry

Major Sources: South Africa, Canada, Russia

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Palladium is a precious metal that is similar to platinum in appearance and properties.

Jurii/Wikimedia Commons/CC-3.0

Palladium is similar to platinum in its properties. Like platinum, this element can absorb an enormous quantity of hydrogen. It is a rare, malleable metal, able to maintain stability at high temperatures.

Uses: "White gold" jewelry, catalytic converters in automobiles, electrode plating in electronics

Major Sources: Russia, Canada, United States, South Africa

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Ruthenium is a very hard, white transition metal belonging to the platinum group.

Periodictableru/Wikimedia Commons/CC-3.0

Ruthenium is one of the platinum group metals, or PGMs. All metals of this element family are considered precious metals because they are typically found together in nature and share similar properties.

Uses: Increasing hardness in alloys and coating electrical contacts to improve durability and corrosion resistance

Major Sources: Russia, North America, South America

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Rhodium powder

Purpy Pupple (talk)/Wikimedia Commons/CC-SA-3.0

Rhodium is a rare, highly reflective, silvery metal. It exhibits high corrosion resistance and has a high melting point.

Uses: Reflectivity, including jewelry, mirrors, and other reflectors, and automotive uses

Major Sources: South Africa, Canada, Russia

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Iridium crystal

Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements/Wikimedia Commons/CC-3.0

Iridium is one of the densest metals. It also has one of the highest melting points and is the most corrosion-resistant element.

Uses: Pen nibs, watches, jewelry, compasses, electronics, medicine, automotive industry

Major Source: South Africa

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Osmium Crystals
Ryoji Tanaka / Getty Images

Osmium basically is tied with iridium as the element with the highest density. This bluish metal is extremely hard and brittle, with a high melting point. While it's too heavy and brittle to use in jewelry and gives off an unpleasant odor, the metal is a desirable addition when making alloys.

Uses: Pen nibs, electrical contacts, hardening platinum alloys

Major Sources: Russia, North America, South America

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Other Precious Metals

Museum mineral series: rare element Rhenium. Container is 2cm long.
MarcelC / Getty Images

Other elements are sometimes considered to be precious metals. Rhenium is commonly included on the list. Some sources consider indium to be a precious metal. Alloys made using precious metals are themselves precious. A good example is ​electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold.

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What About Copper?

Although it shares many common properties with precious metals, copper typically is not listed as one.

Noodle snacks/Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Copper sometimes is listed as a precious metal because it is used in currency and jewelry, but copper is plentiful and readily oxidizes in moist air, so it is not particularly common to see it considered "precious." 

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "A List of Precious Metals." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/list-of-precious-metals-608467. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2023, April 5). A List of Precious Metals. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/list-of-precious-metals-608467 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "A List of Precious Metals." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/list-of-precious-metals-608467 (accessed June 6, 2023).