Although it is less famous than silver, palladium is also used as a bullion metal, and, as one of the precious metals, is also a good investment and an excellent store of value. Relatively little of this metal finds its way into use as coinage or bars, because it is so valuable for other, high tech uses. Though initially scorned after its discovery as a mere alloy, palladium has proven to be a naturally occurring noble metal on a par with silver, gold, and platinum (to the latter of which it is closely related).
What Types of Palladium Bullion are Available?
Palladium bullion is relatively scarce, but there are still many exquisitely beautiful examples of this type of precious investment metal offered by Russia, Canada, China, other nations’ mints, and even some private minting companies such as Johnson Matthey. You can find palladium bullion coins, rounds, and bars, just as is the case with silver or gold. Just a few examples include –
• Pamp Suisse Palladium Bars come from this prestigious assaying and minting institution, and are made in one troy ounce, ten troy ounce, and one kilogram sizes. These bars are usually sold along with an assay certificate from Pamp S.A. Switzerland, proving the fineness and value of the palladium bar you have just purchased. These bars are finished to a high standard, struck with a stylized female head on the reverse whose coiled hair extends out into a cornucopia, or classical “Horn of Plenty”.
• Canadian Palladium Maple Leaf bullion coins exactly resemble 1 troy ounce silver maple leaves, except that they are struck of palladium. The effigy of Queen Elizabeth II appears on the obverse, while the reverse shows the standard maple leaf.
• Credit Suisse Palladium Bars also come from the mountainous nation which houses so many bankers – and so many banking scandals. These appear to be somewhat less common than Pamp Suisse equivalents, but are offered in the same sizes – 1 ounce, 10 ounces, 1 kilogram – and have the same quality and the same .999 millesimal fineness.
• Johnson Matthey, the famous precious metals company which has a highly scabrous history of its own, has produced ½ ounce and 1 ounce Lewis and Clark palladium rounds commemorating the dramatic expedition of two of America’s most famous explorers as they sought the west coast of North America. The purity of the palladium rounds produced by this firm is .9995, slightly higher than the standard. An assay card is included to prove the purity of the coins, which show a rather stumpy depiction of the two explorers on one side and a buffalo on the other.
• The Soviet Union (SSSR) struck palladium coins showing the hammer and sickle on the obverse, and a slender, graceful ballerina on the reverse, an ironic contrast to the brutality that the Soviet system inflicted on the Russian people. These coins are highly prized due to their relative scarcity and the fine artistry which was put into their striking.
• Russian St. George the Victorious coins are sometimes struck in palladium as well.
• Chinese Palladium Pandas are just one more example of palladium coins struck in ½ ounce and 1 troy ounce sizes. Other nations of the world also produce palladium bullion coins from time to time.
What is the Investment Potential of Palladium?
Palladium’s spot price generally ranges between $750 and $850 per ounce in recent years, with the record high being $1,100 when Russian production was interrupted for a time around the turn of the 21st century. Its investment potential is high, both for speculation and for storing of value as a hedge against inflation, because of a convergence of factors.
Palladium is rare, production is limited, and technological demand is high – a combination which makes it safe investment both for those looking for long term protections of their assets, and for the adventurous types who are hoping to make a quick profit trading precious metals. Unless new lodes are discovered, and those lodes prove to be more productive than the current ones, then palladium is an excellent precious metal to buy regardless of the exact purpose you have in mind.
When Was Palladium Discovered?
Palladium was unknown through most of human history, its deposits lying undiscovered and untapped beneath the surface of the Earth. Bearing the name of the ancient Greek goddess Pallas Athena – and so named because of the major scientific “headline” of the day, the discovery of the asteroid Pallas – the metal was first described in 1802 by an Englishman who was both a distinguished physicist and a foe of the metric system, William Wollaston.
Palladium was initially used as a medicine against tuberculosis – rather ineffectively, unfortunately, as well as having the potential to poison the patient if used in solution as well – but did not achieve its full significance until the modern era, when the explosion of technological devices that work better when made with the noble metal increased demand for it a thousandfold.
What are the Uses of Palladium?
Palladium is a metal with several bizarre, possibly unique qualities, as well as the peculiarities found in all the noble metals. It does not rust or oxidize in any way at the Earth’s surface, making its silver-white sheen as eternal as the rich yellow glow of gold. It can be melted in acid, unlike some other precious metals, and it is relatively lightweight (though nowhere near as light as some non-precious metals such as aluminum).
The metal is noted for absorbing vast amounts of hydrogen, and it will actually get slightly larger – measurably – after it has soaked up a large amount of this compound. A piece of palladium can absorb and store up to 900 times its own volume of hydrogen. It is fairly soft, easy to work, and has a high melting point, though lower than the rest of the platinum family of metals.
Palladium has a large array of crucial technological uses. Foremost among these is the construction of catalytic converters, which consumes half of the world’s annual production of somewhere around 225 tons of the metal. Fuel cells make extensive use of palladium as well, and so do groundwater treatment devices, medical technology, dentistry, and chemistry. In short, high-valued demand for the metal is intense, and is likely to remain constant or grow in the future.
Where Does Palladium Come From?
Palladium deposits are very scarce, at least so far as is known – there is always the possibility, of course, that there are lodes elsewhere which simply have not yet been discovered, since the Earth still holds a few secrets. Russia is the current palladium capital of the world, providing nearly half of all the metal produced each year. South Africa is nearly as large a producer, while the United States and Canada, with much smaller production, account for around 10% of the world supply between them.
Ironically, much of the pollution-cleansing palladium in the world comes from Norilsk, a town so polluted by the metal industry that the soil itself can be mined because the heavy metal contaminants in it are concentrated enough to make this economically feasible. More than 1% of the world’s total pollution comes from this single town, and all trees within 30 miles of the main smelter are dead.