23 Rarest And Most Expensive Materials On Earth

We usually measure value by the weight of the gold or the sparkle of diamonds, but there exists a realm of materials so rare and precious that their very scarcity elevates them to a status beyond the reach of most. 

Did you know that the entire world’s supply of some materials could fit into a small room, yet their significance resonates across industries, fueling economics and shaping technologies? 

The most valuable and rarest substances in the world tend to be expensive.  

Connection between Rarity and High Value

In the world of materials, where certain substances are hard to find, they become extra special, and only a handful of people get to have them. The limited availability of these substances creates a competitive market where demand surpasses supply, driving prices to astronomical heights. 

From the depths of our planet to the intricacies of nuclear science, we have featured some of the rarest and most expensive materials on Earth. These aren’t just commodities; they are building blocks for innovations and the hidden gems that command astronomical prices. 

Some items on our list have high price tags because they involve illegal activities and the risk of dealing with criminals. However, the price can change depending on how much of the rare stuff is around and how much people are willing to pay for it.

20. White Truffles – $11 per gram

Truffles are a type of underground fungus, often shaved into a granular form. They can be used in various culinary dishes to add a rich and earthy flavor. 

The white truffles are rare – they are only available for a couple of months of the year, almost exclusively from one portion of Italy. They have a unique smell – like a combination of musk, nuts, and ozone.

In December 2007, Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid $330,000 for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms. In November 2010, he again paid $330,000 for a pair of white truffles (one weighing nearly a kilogram).

19. Saffron – $15 per gram

Saffron is not even close to being one of the rarest things on Earth; still, it is making an entry in our list. The reason is that it grows in the middle of a crocus flower, which is an extremely labor-intensive crop. Around one acre of land of purple crocuses yields only one pound of Saffron.

Saffron is widely used in Indian, European, and Turkish cuisines. There are a few pieces of evidence that say saffron helps with major depressive disorder. It may also help relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

18. Rhodium – $22 per gram

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Rhodium is a noble metal found in platinum or nickel ores along with the other members of platinum group metals. The element is hard, durable, reflective, less dense, and more resistant to heat than platinum.

Rhodium is majorly used as a 3-way catalytic converter in automobiles. Due to its scarcity and resistance to corrosion, it is often alloyed with palladium. Additionally, Rhodium is occasionally used to plate a thin layer over White Gold, enhancing its appearance.

Beyond these applications, Rhodium detectors are also used in nuclear reactors for measuring neutron flux levels.

17. Iranian Beluga Caviar – $30 per gram

Image credit: caviarexpress

Iranian Beluga Caviar, also known as Almas, comes from fish eggs found in the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest saltwater lake.

The fish harvested for caviar are nearly 800 kg, and the eggs themselves are the largest of the commonly used roes. Almas is typically sourced from a female centennial sturgeon, making it the rarest type of Beluga caviar with very limited production.

16. Platinum – $33 per gram

Platinum is one of the rarest metals in the Earth’s crust (with only 0.005 parts per million in the Earth’s crust). It is found in small quantities, and its deposits are often located in geologically complex and challenging environments, which adds to the complexity and cost of mining.

Platinum is the least reactive metal with high resistance to corrosion, even at high temperatures. It is usually found chemically uncombined as native platinum.

Like Gold, Platinum is used in jewelry and decoration. It is also used to produce catalytic converters, electrodes, platinum resistance thermometers, and laboratory and dentistry equipment. A few compounds containing platinum (like cisplatin and carboplatin) are applied in chemotherapy to remove cancer.

15. Gold (22 Karat) – $64 per gram

Gold is a dense transition metal and one of the least reactive metal elements that often occur in free elemental form. As of today, more than 205,238 tonnes of gold is present above ground.

Gold’s unique physical and chemical properties make it highly desirable. It is resistant to corrosion, does not tarnish, and has a distinctive luster. 

It is found in a wide variety of jewelry, art, and decoration. It has been valued by human societies for thousands of years. In the past (before 1976), gold was used as currency.

Because of its heavy conductivity, it is also used in different electronics. A few gold salts are used as anti-inflammatories in medicine. Moreover, it is used in color-glass production, gold leafing, dental implants, and infrared shielding.

Read: How Much Gold Is There In The World?

14. Methamphetamine – $90 per gram

You might be familiar with this drug, especially if you have watched Breaking Bad. It’s an illegal, most addictive drug that causes adverse changes in brain structure and function and can damage neurons in the Central Nervous System.

It is often produced illegally in clandestine labs in makeshift settings. The production process involves using hazardous and volatile chemicals, which requires expertise and caution.

The dangers of handling volatile chemicals, the potential for explosions or toxic exposure, and the need for secrecy contribute to its overall cost. 

In the USA, methamphetamine hydrochloride is used for treating obesity and ADHD in both children and adults. Sometimes, it is prescribed off-label for idiopathic hypersomnia and narcolepsy. However, the overdose may lead to high/low blood pressure, painful urination, over-responsive reflexes, abnormal heart rhythm, tremor, and muscle aches.

13. Rhino Horn – $100 per gram

Rhino Horns are made of keratin. It’s a similar type of protein that makes up fingernails and hair. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is considered a life-saving medicine. There is a rumor that imbibing horn powder had cured a Vietnamese politician’s cancer, which somehow increased the horn demand.

In the past, horns were used to fight fever and liver problems. In ancient Greece, horns were believed to have the ability to purify water. Also, they were a ‘high society’ decorative ‘fad’ in Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The demand for rhino horns in traditional medicine drives the illegal trade and increases their value. While their international trade is banned, there is still a black market for these horns. In some Asian countries, particularly in Vietnam and China, they are highly prized for their “supposed” medicinal properties.

12. Heroin – $110 per gram

Heroin is illegal to manufacture, buy, and sell without a license. The illegal nature of this drug contributes to its high price, as the risk and penalties associated with its production and distribution are significant. 

In 2004, Afghanistan produced almost 87 percent of the world supply. Between 2007 and 2011, Mexico was the second-largest Heroin producer.

This highly addictive opioid drug is used in the treatment of acute pain, post-surgical pain, myocardial infarction, and physical trauma. However, an overdose may lead to the risk of contracting blood-borne pathogens and bacterial or fungal endocarditis, decreased kidney function, and even death.

11. Cocaine – $140 per gram

Cocaine is a strong, addictive drug, commonly snorted, inhaled, or injected into veins. It is produced from the Erythroxylum coca leaves, which generally grow in the Andes region of South America.

Cocaine is often used for numbing and decreasing bleeding during nasal surgery. However, the non-prescribed intake may lead to an intense feeling of happiness, agitation, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and body temperature. It also increases the risk of stroke and sudden cardiac death.

Since it is illegal in most countries, its production and distribution involve significant risks. Furthermore, achieving and maintaining a high purity level of cocaine is challenging and requires complex processing steps, which adds to the overall cost of the drug. 

10. Buckminsterfullerene – $270 per gram

Image credit: Wikimedia

Buckminsterfullerene (also called Buckyball) contains 60 carbon atoms (with nitrogen atoms housed within them). Oxford University has dedicated over 12 years to researching this material.

Buckyball holds promise for building a small and portable atomic clock, which would be the world’s most accurate form of timekeeping. At present, atomic clocks are room-sized. This new nano-material can shrink down the atomic clock to microchip size and thus could be integrated into mobile phones. It can also make GPS navigation accurate to 1 millimeter.

While this material can be found in nature, its extraction in significant quantities is challenging. The molecule is typically produced in the lab. Synthesis processes involve intricate techniques such as laser ablation and chemical vapor deposition. 

These processes are resource-intensive and require advanced equipment, contributing to the overall cost. Plus, the cost associated with scientific investigation, experimentation, and the development of new applications also contribute to the overall expense. 

9. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide – $2,500 per gram

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (commonly known as LSD) is a semi-synthetic drug derived from a non-organic chemical named diethylamide, a fungus that grows on certain grains and ergot. It is sensitive to ultraviolet light, chlorine, and oxygen.

The effects of LSD are unpredictable. The user may experience changes in mood, different emotions at once, and visual hallucinations. The physical effects include weakness, hypothermia, sleeplessness, tremors, goosebumps, elevated heart rate, and blood sugar.

The illegal and unregulated nature of LSD production and distribution contributes to its exceptionally high cost. Plus, the synthesis of LSD requires precursor chemicals and specialized knowledge in organic chemistry. The process involves handling sensitive and controlled substances in multiple stages. 

8. Plutonium – $3,900 per gram

Plutonium, a radioactive element obtained from Uranium, is used in nuclear reactions. It readily dissolves in concentrated mineral acids and reacts with various elements such as halogens, silicon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon.

Primarily known for its use in nuclear weapons, Plutonium has also served as an energy source in space missions, including the Mars Curiosity Rover and the New Horizons spacecraft.

What makes plutonium expensive is its nuclear fuel cycle, which involves uranium enrichment, reactor operation, reprocessing, safety measures, security, and waste management. The complex and regulated nature of working with plutonium, combined with its potential for misuse, adds to the overall cost of producing and handling this element. 

7. Painite – $8,500 per gram

Painite is an exceptionally rare borate mineral discovered in Myanmar. This mineral has a distinctive orange-red to brownish-red color and contains trace amounts of vanadium and chromium. Its rarity and unique coloring make Painite a sought-after and valuable mineral.

Painite crystals that can be used in jewelry are even rarer than the mineral itself. The crystal must exhibit an appealing color, size, and clarity to be considered for use in jewelry, further limiting the available supply of desirable specimens.  

As of 2022, there were fewer than 300 known crystals, though many more materials have been found recently in Myanmar. Only a few of them are privately owned. The rest of the stones are distributed between the Gemological Institute of America and GRS Gem Research Laboratory, and the British Museum of Natural History.

6. Red Beryl – $9,000 per gram

Red beryl, first described in 1904, is an extremely rare gemstone found in only a few locations, specifically in the states of Utah and New Mexico.

Red beryl also occurs in topaz-bearing rhyolites. They are produced by crystallizing under low pressure and high temperature from a pneumatolytic phase along fractures or within near-surface cavities of the rhyolite.  

Red Beryl is estimated to be over a thousand times rarer than diamonds. This scarcity contributes to its value and desirability among collectors and enthusiasts.

And since these gemstones are very fragile, cutting and faceting pose additional challenges. Skilled lapidaries are required to handle the cutting process delicately, contributing to the overall cost of obtaining Red Beryl crystals. 

5. Taaffeite – $20,000 per gram

Taaffeite is a gemstone named after its discoverer, Richard Taaffe, and is identified from a faceted stone. There are fewer than a dozen known Taaffeite stones, with colors ranging from red to purple.

The first discovered Taaffeite weighed 1.419 carats. Part of this material was analyzed, and the rest was re-cut into a smaller gem of 0.55 carat.

Taaffeite is the first mineral to contain both magnesium and beryllium. It also shows the property of double refraction. These crystals are typically small, and gem-quality crystals over a few carats are rarer. Larger and high-quality specimens are particularly valuable due to their scarcity. 

4. Tritium – $30,000 per gram

Image credit: Wikimedia

A tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen – its trace amounts are formed by the interaction of the atmosphere with cosmic rays.

It has a relatively short half-life of about 12.3 years, which means it needs to be replenished periodically, adding to the cost of maintaining a stable supply.

Tritium plays diverse roles in various applications due to its radioactive properties. The radioactive decay of small amounts of tritium causes phosphors to emit light, making it useful for creating self-powered lighting devices called betalights. Additionally, tritium is employed to enhance the yield of fission bombs and the fission stages of hydrogen bombs.

In scientific endeavors, tritium has been utilized to study ocean circulation and ventilation. Furthermore, it serves as a crucial fuel in controlled nuclear fusion, contributing to research and development efforts in this field.

3. Diamond -$50,000 per gram

Diamond is the most expensive gemstone, despite the fact it is not the rarest one on Earth. It’s an allotrope of carbon with the highest hardness and thermal conductivity. A few diamonds have been dated as far back as 3.3 billion years.

Each diamond is unique and has specific rare characteristics, such as fancy colors (red, pink, blue), high clarity, and exceptional size, which can significantly increase their value.

Primarily known for their use in jewelry, diamonds are a popular choice for engagement and wedding rings. Smaller pieces find application in cutting glass and drilling rocks, while diamond dies are utilized in creating thin tungsten wires.

Beyond traditional uses, researchers are exploring innovative applications of diamonds. They are testing diamonds as a drug-delivery system to combat breast and liver cancers. Additionally, diamond electrodes are being developed for implantation in the retina to aid blind individuals in regaining vision.

2. Californium – $27 million per gram

The cyclotron was used first to synthesize californium

Californium is a radioactive element, first made in 1950 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory. It doesn’t occur naturally on Earth; it has to be created using either a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor.

Its production relies on the availability of specific target elements, such as plutonium-239 or curium-244, which themselves are produced in nuclear reactors. The limited availability of these target elements and high-maintenance nuclear reactors contribute to the overall cost of Californium production.

Californium is nearly insoluble in water but adheres well to ordinary soil. It has a relatively short half-life. Its most stable isotope, Californium-251, has a half-life of nearly 898 years

Remarkably, just one microgram of Californium is capable of releasing 170 million neutron particles every minute. It is used as a neutron source to identify silver and gold ores. It is also used in neutron moisture gauges, which help researchers find water and oil-bearing layers in oil wells.

1. Antimatter – $62.5 trillion per gram (estimated by NASA)

The first positron ever observed

Antimatter is a substance made up of antiparticles, which have the same mass as particles of ordinary matter but carry opposite charges.  

While antimatter can be produced in particle accelerators or specific types of radioactive decay, the amounts generated are minuscule. Its scarcity and production complexity are the fundamental factors that make it expensive to obtain in significant quantities.  

Making 1 gram of antimatter would require 25 million billion kilowatt-hours of energy.

When antimatter particles interact with matter particles, they annihilate each other and produce massive amounts of energy. This could be used as fuel for interplanetary or interstellar travel.  

Moreover, the controlled use of matter-antimatter reactions has practical applications in medical imaging, particularly in Positron Emission Tomography (PET), where antimatter particles called positrons are utilized to detect and visualize internal structures in the human body.

Rare and Expensive Materials Gemstones 

21. Black Opal – $10,000 per carat 

Black Opals are known for their dark body tone. They exhibit a vibrant array of colors when exposed to light. The oval cut enhances the visual appeal of the stone and is considered attractive in jewelry settings.

They are rarer than other types of opals, and those with a dark body tone are particularly sought after. The rarity of the stone, combined with the unique play-of-color, contributes to its value. 

Black opals found in specific regions, such as Lightning Ridge in Australia, are highly prized—the larger ones command even higher prices, especially if they exhibit high-quality play-of-color.

22. Alexandrite – $20,000 per carat 

Alexandrite is known for its unique ability to change color in different lighting conditions. In daylight or fluorescent light, the gemstone typically appears green to bluish-green, while under incandescent light, it shifts to a reddish-purple or purplish-red hue.

The more pronounced and vivid the color change, the more valuable the alexandrite. 

Most high-quality specimens on the market today come from historically significant sources such as Russia, although deposits have also been found in Sri Lanka and Brazil. 

23. Blue Garnet – $30,000 per carat 

Like alexandrite, blue garnet has color-changing properties. In daylight, it appears green, while under incandescent light, it shifts to a purplish-red or purplish-pink hue.

The color change in blue garnet happens because of trace amounts of vanadium and chromium. These trace elements affect the absorption spectrum of the gemstone.  

The uniqueness and rarity of blue garnet make it highly desirable among collectors and gem enthusiasts. And as with other gemstones, larger and cleaner blue garnets with fewer imperfections tend to have higher market prices.

More To Know

Strongest Element On Earth

Tungsten is the strongest element on Earth and is mainly used to make alloys, steel, and industrial machinery. It stands out because it has the highest boiling point (5,930 °C) and melting point (3,410 °C) among all known elements, second only to carbon.

What Is The Heaviest Material In The World?

Osmium is the heaviest material on Earth, with a density of 22.59 grams per cubic centimeter. It is also one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust, making up just 50 parts per trillion.

However, much heavier and denser materials exist beyond our planet. Neutron stars, for example, have a density of about 100 trillion grams per cubic centimeter.

Can the rarity of a material change over time?

Of course. The rarity of a material depends on several factors, such as shifts in demand, new discoveries, technological advancements, exhaustion of non-renewable resources, and changes in extraction techniques. 

Moreover, economic and geopolitical factors (such as trade policies or political instability in resource-rich regions) can disrupt the supply chain of specific materials, influencing their scarcity in global markets.

What industries are most affected by the scarcity of certain materials?

The scarcity of certain materials can significantly impact various industries, including —

Electronics: The electronics industry heavily relies on rare materials like tantalum and indium to manufacture semiconductors and high-performance electronic components.

Automotive: The scarcity of materials like palladium (used in catalytic converters) and lithium (for batteries) can lead to higher production costs for vehicles. 

Jewelry and Luxury Goods: This industry is directly affected by the scarcity of precious gemstones like blue garnets and pink diamonds and certain metals like platinum and rhodium. 

Energy: The availability of Uranium and other rare Earth elements directly impacts the energy sector. Their scarcity may also hinder the development of clean energy solutions and slow down the transition to renewable energy sources. 

Graphene: Transparent, Thinnest 2D Material

One of the most studied materials of this decade is graphene. It’s a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a two-dimensional hexagonal honeycomb lattice. It is the thinnest known material with incredibly high strength and electrical conductivity.

Researchers worldwide continue to study graphene to learn its range of properties and potential applications, which include semiconductors, batteries, water filters, DNA sequencing, and bacteria detection.

Read More 

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Written by
Varun Kumar

I am a professional technology and business research analyst with more than a decade of experience in the field. My main areas of expertise include software technologies, business strategies, competitive analysis, and staying up-to-date with market trends.

I hold a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. If you'd like to learn more about my latest projects and insights, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected].

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1 comment
  • Russell-Roberts says:

    Thanks. You need to update your matal prices! Especially Au, Rh, Pt!