Precious Metals

Platinum vs. Silver: Is Platinum Better Than Silver?

Platinum and silver may look remarkably similar at first glance. However, it’s easy enough to tell them apart. Let’s consider platinum vs. silver and see if we can determine if platinum is better than silver…

Platinum vs. silver
Image CC BY 2.0 via Eric Golub
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Key Takeaways

  • Characteristics: Platinum is denser and harder than silver. Silver is brighter and more reflective than platinum.
  • Demand: Platinum’s main uses are automotive and industrial; silver has diverse applications.
  • Supply: Platinum supply is concentrated in South Africa, unlike globally mined silver.
  • Investment: Silver is both more affordable and more resilient during economic downturns.

By Peter Reagan, for Birch Gold Group | Reading time: 6 minutes

Platinum and silver are the two precious metals most often mistaken for one another. And it’s no wonder why! When you consider that, of the 70 naturally-occurring metallic elements on earth, only two of them have a color (gold and copper), it’s surprising we don’t get confused more often.

Platinum and silver may look remarkably similar at first glance. However, it’s easy enough to tell them apart. We’ll discuss the different characteristics of the two metals, then discuss how to distinguish between them.

Characteristics of platinum vs. silver

Platinum and silver have been frequently confused for one another. In fact, the word “platinum” originates from the Spanish platina, a diminutive of the Spanish word plata, or silver.

Although they’re similar in appearance, there are two major differences in these metals.

The first: Density. Platinum is more than twice as dense as silver. If you have two samples of approximately the same size, the heavier one is platinum. If you’re looking at, say, 1 oz. Canadian maple leaf coins, the platinum coin will be significantly smaller.

The difference is obvious when you see them side by side.

Three types of 1 oz Canadian maple leaf coins, minted of platinum (left), silver (middle) and gold (right).

The second characteristic isn’t obvious from a picture, but can be useful in distinguishing platinum vs. silver – and that is hardness. Measured on the Mohs scale, silver is only as hard as the notoriously soft gold (Mohs hardness 2.5). Platinum, by comparison, registers at 3.5 – closer to iron (Mohs 4) than gold. It’s a big enough difference that platinum coins and bullion bars don’t scuff or scratch as easily as silver.

This makes platinum coins and jewelry significantly more resistant to everyday wear and tear than either silver or gold.

How to tell platinum from silver

  • Density: This is definitely the easiest test. Platinum feels almost supernaturally dense (even compared to gold).
  • Luster: Because of its incredible reflectivity, silver is often distinguishable from other metals under a bright light. Nothing shines like silver – that’s why, for centuries, mirrors were backed with a thin film of silver.
  • Tarnish: Silver is the only one of the precious metals subject to tarnishing. If the object in question displays discoloration, it’s not platinum.
  • Scuffs and scrapes: A close look at coins can reveal the minute wear and tear associated with handling. Platinum is hard enough that it resists these imperfections quite well – while silver does not.
  • Mint and refiner’s marks: Okay, this is cheating – but extremely helpful if you don’t know whether you’re looking at platinum or silver. Investment-grade silver is usually minted at 0.999 purity (sometimes 0.9999 or “four nines fine,” like the silver Canadian maple leaf). Investment-grade platinum, on the other hand, is nearly always 0.9995 fine.You’ll also note that, along with the purity, the specific metal is indicated on the coin or bar. In some cases the chemical symbol is used instead (Ag for silver, Pt for platinum).

Platinum vs. silver color

Both metals are “colorless” (like the other 68). However, there are subtle differences in tone.

Let’s take another look at our side-by-side comparison. It’s useful because the coins were photographed under identical lighting conditions.

Platinum vs. silver vs. gold Canadian maple leaf coins
When seen side-by-side, silver’s whitish tone and greater reflectivity is notably different from platinum’s slightly duller and warmer grayish tone.

Silver has the highest reflectivity of all metals. Exactly as you’d expect, that makes silver coins brighter and shinier than platinum coins in the same condition. In the example above, we’re looking at uncirculated coins – silver’s relative softness means it wouldn’t maintain that brilliance for long.

If you look closely, the difference is there. You might not notice it at first.

Is platinum better than silver?

Let’s discuss symbolism first.

Because of its rarity, platinum has a sort of prestige that outranks other precious metals. For example, it’s more difficult to get a platinum credit card than a gold card.

Here in the U.S. platinum awards are ranked above gold and silver (but below diamond) – in the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s album certification, for example. In the 18th century, King Louis XV of France declared that platinum was “the only metal fit for a king.”

In a symbolic sense, then, yes, platinum is better than silver.

Now let’s talk about the investment case.

Platinum and silver are rather different as investments.

Demand for platinum vs. silver

Platinum demand primarily comes from cyclical or economically sensitive sectors. The four core segments of platinum demand are:

  • Automotive (primarily catalytic converters): 30-44%
  • Industrial (including medical): 27-36%
  • Jewelry: 23-30%
  • Investment: -10-20%

(Percentages indicate minimum and maximum range over the last four years.)

Auto, industrial and jewelry consumption tend to rise when the economy is growing. In many industrial applications, palladium can be substituted for platinum during times of extreme prices or supply constraints. Investment demand for platinum is the smallest segment.

In comparison, silver has a more diverse set of demand sources:

  • General industrial usage (electronics and batteries, medical, automotive): 41%
  • Investment: 25%
  • Jewelry: 18%
  • Photovoltaics: 10%
  • Silverware: 4%
  • Photography: 3%

(Numbers based on 2022 and 2023 reports; total does not equal 100 due to rounding.)

Even though they share the similarity of being primarily industrial metals, silver demand doesn’t rely so heavily on a single industry. That makes silver better positioned to weather economic downturns.

Furthermore, silver’s historically low price per ounce compared to gold, platinum and palladium gives silver an advantage over the other precious metals. In times of economic turmoil, silver investment demand often soars. Silver is sometimes called “the poor man’s gold.” This is never more apparent than during a true crisis. Even when industrial and luxury demand for silver plummets, investment demand often fills the gap.

Finally, when considering platinum vs. silver as investments, it's important to note there are relatively few platinum coins and bullion bars. The silver buyer enjoys an incredible number of options.

Platinum vs. silver supply

Platinum supply is extremely constrained. Some 75-80% of the world’s platinum comes from a single nation: South Africa. A relatively small number of mines produce platinum, and a single industrial accident can create a massive supply disruption.

Silver mining is more widely distributed. Mexico, the top-producing nation, contributes only 25% of the world’s total silver. This makes the silver supply generally less volatile than platinum.

However, both platinum and silver supplies are now facing “structural deficit.” In other words, current supplies are simply incapable of fulfilling demand.

Want to learn more about platinum vs. silver? If you’re interested in learning more about diversifying your savings with physical precious metals, Birch Gold Group can help you get started. Request your absolutely free, no-obligation Guide to Precious Metals Investing today!

Further reading

How does battery development affect silver demand?

World Platinum Investment Council:

The many uses of silver

The Silver Institute:

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