The Jubilee index

Materials World magazine
3 Jul 2012

Silver, Golden and most recently Diamond Jubilee celebrations have reflected an increasing value of their associated goods. Craig Durham ponders which high value commodity could be put forward for the currently vacant 100th Jubilee spot.

I remember when I was much younger thinking that the link between an anniversary and the particular commodity associated with it must be proportional to the item’s value. As such, the first five years are celebrated by relatively modest paper, cotton, leather, linen and wood respectively, while precious metals and stones such as silver, ruby, gold, emerald, diamond and platinum come much later. Base metals also feature relatively early on, with iron, copper and bronze at sixth, seventh and eighth respectively, and tin at 10 years. Steel, silk, lace, ivory and crystal bring the anniversary list up to 15 years, after which it jumps in five-yearly intervals – via china to silver at 25, then through the gemstones pearl, jade, ruby, and sapphire to gold at 50, emerald at 55 and diamond at 60. In fact, Queen Victoria was the first to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee after 60 years on the throne, a hallmark that previously marked 75 years. Oddly, after 75 years the list reverts to more modest items of oak, wine and finally, after 90 years, stone – presumably for a memorial plaque.

IOM3 was formed too late to have any influence on the American National Retail Jeweller Association’s (ANRJA, now known as Jewellers of America) list, so it is only coincidence that many of these traditional commodities and materials are represented in one form or another by the Institute’s own technical groups. Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider how a US$100 investment in each commodity would have fared if sequentially bought and sold in each corresponding Jubilee year.

For this I am indebted to the US Geological Survey for its Historical Statistics for Mineral and Material Commodities price data. Cotton rose only a modest US$22/t from a base of around US$700/t between June 1953–1958. Re-investing in iron at US$65.70/t would have netted a slight loss if exchanged into tin at the 10th Jubilee in 1962, but this would have yielded a tidy 54% increase by the time of the 20th anniversary in 1972. At that time, China clay was trading at US$4.53/t and doubled in price to US$9.10/t during the inflation hit seventies. Exchanging into silver between 1977 and 2002 would have been a very bad investment, as the price barely moved above US$5/troy ounce during this time. However, the stunning rise in the price of gold over the last 10 years would have made amends, so that initial US$100 investment in cotton would now be worth around US$175,000 in gold.

Not a bad return – so would now be the best time to switch to diamonds or hold off for platinum in 2017? As I have no financial advisor accreditation I couldn’t possibly comment, but I notice there is nothing designated for a 100th anniversary – although by 2052, life expectancy at birth will be pushing 100 years, so maybe now is the time to stake a claim. How about that very 20th Century commodity – oil? A barrel of the black stuff averaged around US$2.77 in 1952, or US$23.55 inflation-adjusted, compared with a current price hovering around the US$100/bbl mark – a four-fold increase. Perhaps we should lobby for that 100th Jubilee spot?