Hierarchy of precious substances

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

In popular culture, sets of precious substances may form hierarchies which express conventional perceived relative value or merit. Precious metals appear prominently in such hierarchies, but as they grow, gems and semi-precious materials may be introduced as part of the system. The sequences can provide interesting examples of the arbitrariness of semiotic signs.

Traditional manifestations[edit]

Jubilees have a hierarchy of years: silver (25 years), ruby (40), golden (50), followed by diamond (60), sapphire (65),[1] and platinum (70). Wedding anniversaries extend the jubilee hierarchy with various sequences of substances filling in many of the gaps between the same major milestones.

Ancient Greek mythic-cultural cosmology depicted a decline from a golden age to a silver age followed by an Iron Age.

Modern adaptations[edit]

The measurement of sales of popular music starts high relative to the wedding anniversary scale, concentrating on gold and platinum (see gold album). Likewise, credit card companies usually have a "gold card" and a "platinum card" (many formerly had a "silver card" then followed by a "gold card", but due to similarity in appearance between silver and platinum these were often discontinued with the rise in popularity of platinum as a precious metal); Standard Chartered Bank has introduced a "titanium card" as a grade higher than platinum.

Sports events have a well-established convention (introduced into the Olympic tradition at the 1904 Summer Olympics), of a hierarchy of medals: bronze medal - silver medal - gold medal. This presumably echoes conventional coinage systems, in which cheap bronze or copper denominations could aggregate to intermediate silver coins, then to gold money. The archetypal British designations (penny, shilling and pound) parallel and reflect this hierarchy.

Events-sponsorship in sport or in the arts may involve (for example) silver, gold and/or platinum sponsors.

Fantasy role playing games often have a hierarchy of materials, following the relative strengths of pre-modern metals, bronze, iron and steel, for example, at the lower end, and moving up through fantastic or legendary materials such as mithril and adamant.

The "golden age" metaphor is extended to a number of disciplines, for example the golden age of science fiction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBC News Queen's Sapphire Jubilee: Gun salutes mark 65 years on the throne 7 February 2017