Yesterday October 9 a group of journalists, and yours truly gathered by Vacheron Constantin got together in South Africa, in Pilanesberg to be exact to get an idea of the process of extracting platinum and as you read on you will get a better idea as why your platinum timepiece costs a fortune…because it costs a fortune to extract!!
The mine we visited is called Impala which started its activities in its actual location back in 1969, it consists of 13 shafts covering an area of 250 square km, each shaft goes down to over 1000 meters!
The miners work in two shifts, the morning shift first make the area safe by putting support, they then mark off the holes for drilling, and the rock drill operators drill these holes. When that is done, they prepare the face for blasting and then leave. When everyone is out from underground, the explosives are all set off at the same time. This is the end of the second cycle. The second cycle begins with the night shift, who cleans out the blasted rocks. We joined the 1st cycle while they were drilling holes.
Marine Lemonier: head of Press Relations for Vacheron Constantin..."its fun to stay at YMCA"
Packed in an elevator which took us down 1000 meters in less than a minute and a half!
We were divided in small groups to visit. The first impression was of heat and humidity (28 degrees and 80% humidity) but also of claustrophobia, but as you vaillant moderator not backing up against any hardship to bring you the latest news I picked up my courage and dived into the mine. I walked up, slid down, crouched, fell and all other catastrophese you can expect from a city kid but managed to survive!
This "tube" which is in fact 50m long, is used to pour ore from higher levels into wagons
Scrapers are used to pull back the drilled rock to the surface
wooden pillars are used to securitize the structure:
The blasted rocks also called ore are then transported via conveyor belts to one of the 28 humungous mills, with steel balls, which crushed it into powder. 1000 tons of ore are processed each hour!
This “powder” is then pumped into the flotation section. Flotation is the process used to separate the metals containing platinum from unwanted materials. The powder is mixed with water and certain chemicals in what is called flotation cells and oxygen is pumped into the liquid. Platinum Group Metals (i.e.: platinum, ruthenium, palladium etc...) stick to the bubbles and form a froth. The froth goes through 9 different flotation cells to gather as much of the PGM as possible. In fact here 95% of the ore is rejected, the 5% remaining concentrates 88% of the platinum coming from the ore!
Julien Tornarre, head of VAcheron Constantin US:
The froth which consists of what looks like wet sand needs to be dried. The solids are separated from water and then dried in spray dryers to a fine concentrate powder.
The powder is then smelted in the furnace section (at a temperature of 1400 degrees Celsius) and takes the form of molten liquid. During this process the PGM are again separated from other unwanted materials. The result is then sent off to be refined.
Ok that's it folks..i'm off to the pool