Top 10 Surprising Uses for Valuable Materials - Listverse (2023)


It’s easy to think of precious metals and gemstones as just trinkets for movie starlets and hoard for dragons. However, many of these materials have also other, far stranger uses. Here are ten of those amazing uses.



Stops Your Socks from Smelling

Did you know the socks you’re wearing right now might contain silver? Apart from its many uses in dentistry, jewelry, optics and photography, silver also has some serious antibacterial properties. It can inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi in fabric, which makes it nature’s own odor stopper. 

Because of this, the clothing industry uses quite a lot of silver—in nanosilver form—to stop the clothes they make from smelling. Apart from socks, almost all of your clothes (up to and including your shoes) may well have some silver in them. Silver’s antibacterial superpowers have also made the metal very popular in the world of medicine as a very effective disinfectant and antiseptic.



Invisibility Cloak to Infrared Cameras

Sapphire, the second hardest naturally occurring gemstone, has a reputation for being just a pretty jewelry stone. But its beautiful, vivid color hides some serious talent on a very specialized field: The infrared spectrum of light.

Sapphire is used to build some of the most effective infrared lasers around. And just to establish its complete dominance over infrared, sapphires can also absorb it. An appropriately treated sapphire is completely invisible to infrared light. So, coating a vehicle (or even a person’s clothes) with a special sapphire compound could render it completely invisible to infrared goggles and cameras. 

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The Key to Better Fuel Cells

Palladium is a cousin of platinum. It’s used in jewelry, both by itself and as an ingredient in white gold. But palladium can do more than just look pretty. The metal is able to capture hydrogen within itself extremely well, which makes it a key element in fuel cell research.

In fact, palladium is thought to be the key to creating better and, most importantly, cheaper fuel cells. This in turn enables the construction of more environmentally friendly machines, an impressive feat during a time when our fuel resources are getting scarce.



One of the most precious metals… in our watches and spark plugs

Iridium is one of the rarest and most expensive materials around, with only three tons produced every year. Even a simple ring made from this silvery-white metal can cost so much jewelers’ websites won’t even name the price. 

Yet outside jewelry, iridium is used for ridiculously mundane purposes. It’s one of the few materials that are extremely sturdy and nearly invulnerable to corrosion and heat. In fact, it takes temperatures over 3632°F (2000°C) to melt it. This has made the metal useful in many small (because of its rarity) gadgets that need to handle a lot of pressure. In its various alloys with other metals, the super-expensive iridium is used for making such basic objects as spark plugs, crucibles, compass bearings and wrist watches. We even used it to make tips for fountain pens.



Industrial overachievers

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Not all diamonds are like the shiny ones we see at the jewelry store. The vast majority of them are unappealing black chunks that are unfit for engagement rings. Such diamonds are still valuable, though. The industrial sector grinds them to dust and uses it as coating for saw blades, drill bits or grinding wheels, creating super tools that can cut through nearly anything. Diamonds can be used for making heat sinks, durable windows and even high quality speakers. Diamonds are a scientist’s best friend, too: they use them to build some of their most interesting stuff, such as lasers and special anvil cells to simulate the massive gravities of strange planets.



Used in Catalytic Converters

Rhodium is one of the lesser-known valuable metals. That doesn’t make it any less valuable, though—the stuff is routinely cut with platinum to make it less expensive. Rhodium is used in jewelry, usually as a thin, protective layer cast over the more expensive trinkets made from soft alloys such as sterling silver or white gold. But its main use is as counterintuitive as it gets: the rear end of our cars.

The vast majority of rhodium is used for making catalytic converters, since it’s one of the very few materials that can handle the process. The expensive materials inside these emission reducing devices are largely unknown by most people. However, thieves have caught wind of it. That’s why in many parts of the world, catalytic converter theft has become a common occurrence.


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Science Super Metal and the Secret of US Military Might

Beryllium is a white-gray metal that is not only rare on Earth, but close to nonexistent in the whole Universe. Well, except for the United States, which just happens to have a beryllium deposit of their own. Many precious stones such as emeralds, cat’s eye gems and aquamarines are made of beryllium, but that’s just the beginning. It is also a major building material for missiles, high altitude planes, spaceships and satellites. Even CERN’s famous Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most famous science construction in the world, is dependent on this rare metal.

Beryllium also dabbles in military business. In fact, it features so heavily in so many military vehicles and systems (including nuclear devices), that the Department of Defense has stated: “Beryllium is essential for important defense systems and unique in the function it performs.” 



Acne Cream and Multi-Purpose Medicine

Pearls are almost exclusively used for jewelry in Western countries. But in Asia, crushed pearls (also known as pearl powder) are a valuable ingredient in medical and dermatological products, particularly acne cures and state-of-the-art beauty creams. 

Pearl powder is used in a great number of other ways, too: tooth preservation (in place of tooth paste), calcium pills and stomach medicine. It is even said to be able to reduce sores and ulcers. Who knew?



A Cure for Cancer

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Platinum is one of the few precious metals on earth that have an aura of luxury that surpasses even gold. Its reserved, grey shine makes it the ideal material for people who dislike the yellow hue of gold, yet aren’t willing to consider something as pedestrian as mere silver. 

However, think twice before buying platinum jewelry. The metal has better purposes, such as curing cancer. A platinum based compound called cisplatin is one of the World’s top cancer medications. Some cancers (namely, testicular cancer) hate cisplatin so much, it cures the disease with an eight-five percent effectiveness. For comparison, the normal cure rate is ten percent.



It’s the Internet (And Everything Else)

Gold is the big one of precious materials. It’s not the most valuable nor rarest, but it’s certainly the most revered. So it stands to reason that gold also has a secret array of talents that leaves all other materials standing in its shadow. In fact, gold is one of the most versatile materials on the planet.

Apart from its obvious uses in jewelry, currency and dentistry, gold is used in . . . well, pretty much everything. For instance, the Internet’s physical body (wiring and computers) features massive amounts of gold. It’s also an important ingredient in printing, photography, spacecrafts, cooking, jet engines, nanotechnology, paints, and medicine.

And those are just the uses we know of. Science has only begun to tap into what gold can do and why. For instance, we just recently found out that injections of pure gold can ease arthritis. And we have no idea how it does it.

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fact checked by Jamie Frater


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Top 10 Surprising Uses for Valuable Materials - Listverse? ›

1. RHODIUM: TOP MOST VALUABLE METAL. Rhodium is the most valuable metal and exists within the platinum group of metals. It is used in jewelry for a final finish on white gold jewelry.

What is more valuable than gold? ›

1. RHODIUM: TOP MOST VALUABLE METAL. Rhodium is the most valuable metal and exists within the platinum group of metals. It is used in jewelry for a final finish on white gold jewelry.

What is more valuable than platinum? ›

Palladium is the most expensive of the four major precious metals – gold, silver and platinum being the others. It is rarer than platinum, and is used in larger quantities for catalytic converters.

What is the most precious metal? ›

As of July 2022, these are the five most expensive metals:
  • Rhodium (Rh) – $15,250/troy ounce.
  • Iridium (Ir) – $4,750/troy ounce.
  • Palladium (Pd) – $2,027/troy ounce.
  • Gold (Au) – $1,723.55/troy ounce.
  • Platinum – $889/troy ounce.
Oct 5, 2022

What does raw rhodium look like? ›

Rhodium is a silver-white metallic element that is highly reflective and resistant to corrosion.

What is a rare metal than gold? ›

Rhodium. The most expensive and valuable metal in the world is Rhodium.

How do you find rhodium? ›

Rhodium is the rarest of all non-radioactive metals. It occurs uncombined in nature, along with other platinum metals, in river sands in North and South America. It is also found in the copper-nickel sulfide ores of Ontario, Canada. Rhodium is obtained commercially as a by-product of copper and nickel refining.

What is the rarest precious metal? ›

The rarest stable metal is tantalum. The rarest metal on earth is actually francium, but because this unstable element has a half life of a mere 22 minutes, it has no practical use.

What is the most valuable mineral? ›

1. Rhodium. Rhodium is a rare, silvery-white metal that belongs to the platinum group of elements. It has a high melting point, excellent resistance to corrosion, and is known for its catalytic properties.

What metal is 30 times rarer than gold? ›

Platinum is 30 times more rare than gold.

How much is 1 gram of rhodium worth? ›


What does raw platinum look like? ›

Platinum is a metallic white to silver-gray colour. Its streak is a shiny silver-gray. Crystals, if found, tent to be distorted cubes. Platinum has a very high specific gravity.

Will a magnet stick to rhodium? ›

Is rhodium magnetic? You may have noticed magnets attract pieces of rhodium-plated jewelry. This is because rhodium is a paramagnetic metallic metal. This means that a magnetic force will attract rhodium-plated jewelry.

What rock is rhodium found in? ›

Rhodium is found in platinum or nickel ores with the other members of the platinum group metals. It was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston in one such ore, and named for the rose color of one of its chlorine compounds.

What everyday items contain rhodium? ›

Rhodium is used for several different things, such as automobiles, jewelry, searchlights, electronics and mirrors. By far the most common use is in catalytic converters, which are exhaust emission control devices that look like a small muffler on the outside of a vehicle.

What are the three rarest metals? ›

In terms of abundance in the Earth's crust, the rarest metals are: gold, platinum, osmium, iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, tellurium and rhenium.

What is the rarest metal than diamonds? ›

Rhodium. Rhodium holds the title of being the most expensive precious metal on the planet.

What metal looks like gold but isn t? ›

Fool's Gold can be one of three minerals. The most common mineral mistaken for gold is pyrite. Chalcopyrite may also appear gold-like, and weathered mica can mimic gold as well.

Where is most rhodium found? ›

South Africa produces over 85% of the global rhodium supply annually, with majority of this supply being generated by the mining companies listed below (rhodium production listed as a percentage of overall mining production):

Where can I dig for rhodium? ›

Rhodium is obtained as a by-product from mining platinum and palladium in the USA (Montana), South Africa and Russia.

What cars have the most rhodium? ›

Low emission vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Ford F250 contain more rhodium in their OEM catalytic converters than other cars. The same goes for luxury cars like the Ferrari F430 and BMW 760 Li, which have about $1300 worth of rhodium in their OEM catalytic converters.

What household items have gold in them? ›

The processors and connectors in computers, tablets, and smartphones use gold. You can also find gold in televisions, gaming consoles, printers, or essentially anything electronic.

Where is palladium in everyday items? ›

Palladium is often used in cell phone and laptop components, and it's also found in ceramic capacitors having multiple layers. Due to the metal's high level of conductivity, manufacturers commonly include it in the connector plates of a variety of electronic products.

What are the rarest minerals to collect? ›

Painite : Not just the rarest gemstone, but also the rarest mineral on earth, Painite holds the Guinness World Record for it. After its discovery in the year 1951, there existed only 2 specimens of Painite for the next many decades. By the year 2004, there were less than 2 dozens known gemstones.

What are 3 rare earth minerals? ›

The Rare-earth Elements (REE) are a collection of 17 elements, namely, scandium, yttrium and lanthanides (15 elements in the periodic table with atomic numbers 57 to 71, namely, lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), ...

What is the most expensive raw mineral? ›

Rhodium is easily one of the most expensive minerals, and if current trends continue to follow the same route they are now, it would not be a surprise to see its prices soar even higher in the future.

What does palladium look like? ›

Palladium has the appearance of a soft silver-white metal that resembles platinum. It is the least dense and has the lowest melting point of the platinum group metals. It is soft and ductile when annealed and is greatly increased in strength and hardness when cold-worked.

What scrap items have the most gold? ›

In fact, computer parts contain the most gold. It is possible to recover gold from computer boards; it is also possible to extract gold from motherboards, integrated circuits, contacts, pins and printed circuit boards. And how is gold recovered from a computer?

Is palladium toxic to humans? ›

Palladium is regarded as of low toxicity, being poorly adsorbed by the body when ingested. It may cause skin, eye or respiratory tract irritation, may cause skin sensitisation. Liquid may cause burns to skin and eyes.

What is iridium worth? ›

5 more rows

What is the valuable metal in a catalytic converter? ›

Precious metals in catalytic converters such as platinum, palladium and rhodium attract thieves, but University of Central Florida researchers are working to reduce the amount of precious metals the converters need — down to single atoms — while still maximizing their effectiveness.

Where can I find platinum in everyday items? ›

Platinum has often been used in cigarette boxes, lighter cases, cigarette and cigar holders, cigar cutters, and other smoking accessories. Now that smoking is becoming less popular, a number of these items are “washing back” onto the marketplace.

Will a magnet pick up platinum? ›

Generally platinum is not magnetic. However, it depends on the platinum alloy: if the platinum is mixed with ruthenium, iridium or palladium then no, none of these are magnetic; if it's mixed with cobalt then yes, cobalt is magnetic so, theoretically, platinum can be attracted by a very powerful magnet.

How much platinum is in a catalytic converter? ›

According to Waste Advantage Magazine, the average catalytic converter contains from three to seven grams of platinum, from two to seven grams of palladium, and from one to two grams of rhodium.

What is better than platinum? ›

Titanium is stronger and lighter than platinum, making it an ideal choice for pieces that need extra durability, like rings or bracelets; however, due to its rarity, platinum tends to be more expensive than titanium but can still be used in smaller pieces like pendants or earrings without sacrificing comfort or style.

Is palladium better than platinum? ›

Platinum and palladium are similar in appearance, and both are hardwearing white precious metals. Still, platinum is our preferred choice as its greater weight gives it a more luxurious feel, and it is also a much better metal to work with.

Is palladium more expensive than platinum? ›

Cons: Palladium is actually much more expensive than platinum weight for weight but due to the lower density less is required to produce the same item of jewellery; therefore a palladium wedding band or ring mount traditionally would cost less than its platinum counterpart.

How much is palladium worth? ›

Palladium Price Live Chart
Palladium Price Last Week
Current Price$47,149.79
Week High$48,493.61
Week Low$44,829.07
Week Change+$1,451.68 (3.18%)

Can you test platinum with a magnet? ›

Use a magnet to determine that metal is not platinum.

Platinum is not magnetic. Therefore, if the piece you are testing is attracted to a magnet, you will know it is not platinum. If you notice a slight magnetic pull, it is more likely that the metal is white gold mixed with nickel.

What can scratch platinum? ›

It is 4 – 4.5 on the MOHs scale of hardness. This means it can be scratched by anything harder than it is. Diamond is ten on the MOHs scale and can easily scratch platinum. An amethyst is a seven on the MOHs scale and can scratch platinum.

Will a magnet stick to palladium? ›

Palladium isn't magnetic. If the piece you have is a forgery, it may contain iron. This is because iron is an inexpensive metal that's relatively easy to mold and shape. If your piece contains any amount of iron, it will react to a magnet.

Why is palladium suddenly so valuable? ›

Jewelry makers are especially keen on palladium because it does not tarnish like other metals such as silver or gold. In recent years, however, the price of palladium has surged due to increased demand from the automotive and. electronics industries. Palladium is becoming one of the most expensive metals on earth.

What metal is rarer than palladium? ›

In terms of abundance in the Earth's crust, the rarest metals are: gold, platinum, osmium, iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, tellurium and rhenium.

How much is 1 gram of palladium worth? ›

Monex Live Palladium Spot Prices
Palladium Spot PricesTodayChange
Palladium Prices Per Ounce$1,597.00+66.00
Palladium Prices Per Gram$51.34+2.12
Palladium Prices Per Kilo$51,343.55+2,121.90

What's more valuable than rhodium? ›

Top ten most expensive metals
MetalPrice per oztDate of discovery
6 more rows

Can you scrap palladium? ›

For dentists especially, palladium scrap is one of the resources you need to capitalize on. An incredibly valuable precious metal with many industrial uses, palladium can be found in a wide range of recyclable items. We'll show you how to find palladium scrap to recycle.

What coins contain palladium? ›

Palladium bullion

Popular platinum coins include British Britannias, Canadian Maples, US Eagles, Isle of Mann Nobles and Australian Koalas.

How much palladium is in a catalytic converter? ›

Although the quantities vary by model, on average, only one standard catalytic converter contains about 3-7 grams of platinum, 2-7 grams of palladium, 1-2 grams rhodium.


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