A REFINED UPDATE: NEW TRENDS IN METAL REFINING
While the refining sector often plays a ‘behind the scenes’ role in the industry, EMILY MOBBS finds there are several advancements that deserve attention.
Investigating developments in the casting industry also offers an ideal opportunity to gain insight into the refining sector – the two often go hand in hand given several casting houses provide refining services as well.
In simple terms, refining involves a process whereby temperature, pressure and chemicals are used to remove impurities from a metal such as gold, silver, platinum or palladium. A refining business will generally refine a jeweller’s scrap, lemel or sweeps in return for a cash payment or in some instances other return options like metal bullion and cast alloys.
The suppliers that spoke with Jeweller agreed that the market hadn’t greatly changed in the past few years; however, that’s not to say there aren’t any noteworthy advancements and advice to ensure jewellers make a strategic decision when refining.
The move to environmentally-friendly technology is the ‘big change’ in this sector, states Pallion CEO Andrew Cochineas.
Cochineas explains that Pallion subsidiary ABC Refinery recently invested in a new type of technology called Acidless Separation (ALS) that separates metal without the use of cyanide.
“ABC Refinery is the first refinery in the world to employ this technology with exclusivity to provide it in Oceania,” Cochineas says. “There are no chemicals required in the ALS separation process, there are no toxic fumes or vapours that could cause harmful effects in the workplace and there are also no environmental leakage issues.”
Cochineas adds that the technology offers fast processing – the vacuum distillation machine is said to process dozens of kilograms of gold or silver in an hour or less per cycle – resulting in reduced operating costs that are ultimately transferred to the jeweller.
Darren Sher, director of Chemgold, which has offered a refining service for more than 30 years in Australia and 10 years in South Africa prior to that, also stresses that his business prides itself on being ‘environmentally-friendly’.
“A key way is that a large amount of the metal we use for our production comes from our refinery,” Sher explains.
Honesty is the name of the game
Pure Casting director Craig Long points to the importance of a dip sample, which can be assayed by an independent source should a dispute regarding returns arise.
“The best piece of advice we could give to anyone considering their options for refining is to always get a dip sample,” Long says.
The importance of transparency is another issue highlighted by Long, who states that jewellers are encouraged to visit the Pure Casting factory to view their metal being weighed, melted and reweighed.
Sher also emphasises the need for honesty: “We believe education and transparency are extremely important in our business and even more so with refining. Being a family business, we are hands on and ensure that the results we provide clients are transparent.”
Cochineas says jewellers should ask to see the refining plant to ascertain if the refining is “really” taking place on site or if it’s only being melted and then sent to a third-party.
“Many clients that I meet confuse melting with refining,” he states. “When someone offers for you to witness the melting of your refining job, remember that minimal refining is taking place [at that stage]. The refining process is a long process that chemically separates the various metals within your job into pure gold and silver and sometimes platinum and palladium as well.
“If they’re not doing the refining process in-house, then all a jeweller is doing is paying a middleman.”
Offering a jeweller’s perspective is Chris Hood, owner of Metal Urges Fine Jewellery in Hobart.
Hood, presumably like a number of jewellers, uses a refining service once a year. He says the timing is based on when he believes the gold price will be highest.
“It’s well worth watching the market seasonally and refining with this in mind,” he advises, adding, “I’ve got better at preparing and taking samples of my scrap, which has made me more confident predicting the value each year.”