Iridium is not exactly a household word, and that’s not really surprising. After all, it was only discovered in 1803. Chemists who were studying platinum dissolved it in a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids to create soluble salts, and they often resulted in a small amount of an insoluble and dark residue. A British scientist then discovered that this residue was composed of two previously undiscovered elements, which were osmium and iridium. The latter got its name from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, because the salts obtained had many different colors.
It’s one of the rarest stable elements in the Earth’s crust, and gold is actually 40 times more abundant. When it is in its pure form, it’s very brittle and virtually impossible to machine. It is also one of the most corrosive metals in the world.
Below is the historical Iridium price per troy oz.
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The price of iridium is tied to its industrial usage. It is considered one of the rarest metals in the world, and with its comparatively small volume in the market (when compared to other industrial metals like copter and aluminum) has made its price very unstable. Its price fluctuates depending on any changes in the production, demand, speculation, and hoarding of the metal. But in general, unlike gold it’s not used as a hedge against inflation.
In the early 2000s, its price gradually decreased because the supply was too much for the relatively lower demand. But that changed in the early 2010s when demand for this metal suddenly increased. It was due to the increasing popularity of LED screens. The metal become highly valuable as flat screen TVs and tablets became more popular. By 2011, the demand for this metal was for 194,000 ounces and that was 27 times what it was back in 2009. Soon the demand reached 334,000 ounces. The price of iridium broke the $1,000-mark per ounce by 2011.
So in other words, it wasn’t speculation that was sustaining the increase in the price of the metal. It was actual industrial demand that dictated the price instead. Today, many manufacturers of LED screens now use cheaper fluorescent material instead. That’s why currently the price of iridium is about $520 per ounce.
Iridium as Investment
Very rarely do people invest in iridium, as it is considered a minor element. During the early 2010s when the price was heating up, the primary investors who benefited were the ones who had bought stock in the iridium-producing companies. These included Lonmin, Impala Platinum, and Anglo Platinum. Investors can either buy and trade stock in these companies, or pour in money in funds that invest in similar companies.
Purposes Used For
Iridium can be used today in many ways. As an alloy mixed with osmium (“osmiridium”), it was first used in the early 1830s to tip fountain pen nibs. Since 1944, the Parker 51 fountain pen had a nib fitted with a ruthenium and iridium alloy, and today the tip material in fountain pens is still called “iridium” even though other metals such as tungsten has replaced that metal.
It is also used in the LED and data storage technology, as it is used to grow synthetic single crystals. Since 1995, it has also been used in making acetic acid. Because it is so brittle, it is also used in alloys as a hardening agent, so it is used to harden the platinum used in medical probes, pacemakers, and other similar applications.
In the automotive industry, its main use is as a component of the exhausts for direct injection engines. It is also sometimes used in spark plugs. When used as an alloy with ruthenium, it is used in making electrodes for chlorine production.
It is also used in glass production, because the metal is inert when it is in contact with molten glass. It can be found in optical lenses as a coating, as it boosts clarity and reduces glare.
Here are some iridium trivia that you may find interesting:
- It is so rare that it is only available at 0.001 parts per million.
- Its rarity is thought by some experts as a result of its high density. The metal may have sunk beneath the Earth’s crust while the planet was still in its molten state.
- The metal is more prevalent in meteorites, and today the highest concentrations of the metal are found in impact craters. The largest meteorite to crash in North America is the Willamette Meteorite, and that had 4.7 parts iridium per million.
- Tracking the amount of iridium through geological records have led to the Alvarez Hypothesis, which posited that a massive object from space such as a meteor crashed on Earth, and that caused the extinction of many species 65 million years ago.