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A precious metal is a rare metallic chemical element of high economic value. Chemically, the precious metals are less reactive than most elements, have high luster, are softer or more ductile, and have higher melting points, than other metals.
Historically, precious metals were important as currency, but are now regarded mainly as investment and industrial commodities. Gold, silver, platinum and palladium each have an ISO 4217-currency code.
The best-known precious metals are gold and silver. While both have industrial uses, they are better known for their uses in art, jewelry and coinage. Other precious metals include the platinum group metals: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum, of which platinum is the most widely traded.
Rhenium is a precious metal that is not part of the platinum group or one of the traditional precious metals.
An interesting case of a precious metal that is now common is that of aluminium. Although aluminium is one of the most commonly occurring elements on Earth, it was initially found to be exceedingly difficult to extract from its various ores. This made the little available pure aluminium which had been discovered (or refined at great expense) more valuable than gold.
Bars of aluminium were exhibited alongside the French crown jewels at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, and Napoleon III was said to have reserved a set of aluminium dinner plates for his most honored guests. Additionally, the pyramidal top to the Washington Monument is made of pure aluminium. At the time of the monument's construction, aluminium was more expensive than silver, gold, or platinum. Over time, however, the price of the metal has dropped; the invention of the Hall-Héroult process in 1886 caused the high price of aluminium to permanently collapse.