Live from the Platinum Mine

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!!

Mining

Live from the Platinum Mine


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.

Getting ready:

Live from the Platinum Mine

Marine Lemonier: head of Press Relations for Vacheron Constantin..."its fun to stay at YMCA"Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Packed in an elevator which took us down 1000 meters in less than a minute and a half!

Live from the Platinum Mine

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!

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

This "tube" which is in fact 50m long, is used to pour ore from higher levels into wagons

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Scrapers are used to pull back the drilled rock to the surface

Live from the Platinum Mine

wooden pillars are used to securitize the structure:

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

 

Concentrating


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!

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

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!

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Julien Tornarre, head of VAcheron Constantin US:

Live from the Platinum Mine


Smelting


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.

Live from the Platinum Mine

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.

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Live from the Platinum Mine

Ok that's it folks..i'm off to the pool Live from the Platinum Mine

WOW !!!
10/10/2007 - 19:48

What a visit.

A bit heavier than the usual "factory visits"

I don't think it's agood place for claustrophobia

Just fantastic pictures !

Thanks a lot,

and we will of course see and read more about it.

Take care in the bar

Doc

Holy Cow! Whose idea was this?
10/10/2007 - 20:53

What an adventure!  What an opportunity to experience, as Monty Python would say, "Now, for something completely different."

I am amazed that your employer would organize & pay for such a trip.  Is education about their products, even to this degree of where raw materials are extracted, that important to VC?  I'm not all over the Web looking at every watch site, but I've never seen anything remotely like this.

I hope you get to explore some of the other wonders in that part of the world, and I don't mean the hotel bar.

  Nicholas

I think what VC wanted to show was that if platinum watches
10/13/2007 - 12:32

are expensive its because its so damn hard to get. Before this trip I used to think that all you had to do was go in a platinum mine crush the rocks and voila!!

It was a highly education trip...loved it

Re: Live from the Platinum Mine
10/10/2007 - 21:15

Really Impressive!!

Thanks Alex for this original "visit" :D

What is the next stage of your trip in South Africa Alex?...after the hotel's pool? :D

Re: Live from the Platinum Mine
10/10/2007 - 22:44

Great article and splendid photos, Alex. Must be nice getting perks like that. I think I'm in the wrong job

It tends to put things into perspective.

QP the British watch magazine had a great article on this very topic in Issue 22 last year in conjunction with VC's release of its Excellence Platine line at SIHH. It was by Simon de Burton called "Going Platinum". It too shows clearly why platinum, palladium, rhodium are so expesive!

By the way, the froth-flotation method is also used to extract copper from ore.

Definitely need steel balls for that kinda job! Thanks, Alex. (nt)
10/11/2007 - 02:52

Platinum Mine
10/11/2007 - 09:12

Alex

What Platinum treasures are you uncovering for us?

Cannot wait to see

TL

And i thought SA would be holidays for you.......
10/11/2007 - 11:38

Nice report.

jérôme

very cool!
10/11/2007 - 13:20

Thanks for this insight into another facet of watch production, Alex.

And send my regards to Mr. Tornare, Mr. Thompson, Ms. Kahles, Mr. Koh, et al!

To paraphrase Mr. Twain, "The rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated..."

Cheers,

TM

nice to see you here Thomas :-) (nt)
10/13/2007 - 12:33

e

Re: Live from the Platinum Mine
10/13/2007 - 00:17

What a detailed post, very well pictured, Alex!

I read also this article, Joseph, and it was quite interesting to understand this PT environment, but Alex, daring risking his life to bring an unique article to the Loungers, is really on top of it.

Congratulations, Alex, and I hope to learn more next time we are meeting together.

Cheers, Patrice

thank you all for your kind words :-) (nt)
10/13/2007 - 12:34

e

Alex, did you write a will before you go down there?
10/13/2007 - 13:08

It is an eye opener indeed, thanks.

Regards

Ling

After seeing the following I
10/13/2007 - 16:13

think that I should have !!

A stunning post !
10/14/2007 - 23:41

Thanks a lot Alex for the visit !