Clinging on to his girlfriend, Wang Guomin passes the counter selling eye shadow, shampoo and lipstick and makes for the jewellery counter. 'This is my fiancee. We are getting married soon,' he said with a wink. 'I am buying her a ring and I thought we could go for something different this time. 'We have gold items at home so I will buy her platinum.' For the young and fashion-conscious, platinum - especially wedding rings, necklaces and earrings - has become the latest fad. At between 170 and 190 yuan (about HK$158-$176) a gramme, it costs more than 30 per cent more than gold, making it the most expensive jewellery. A manager at the jewellery department of the Yansha Friendship Store, one of Beijing's most upmarket stores for the rich and fashionable, said that the craze for platinum began in the second half of last year. In the first quarter of this year, sales of platinum jewellery in her store surpassed those of gold jewellery, she said. 'I expect the fashion to continue for at least one or two years since it has only just started,' she said. 'Most buyers are in their late 20s and buy for a wedding, a gift or because they like wearing it. 'They see it as smart and fashionable. 'They spend from 5,000 to 10,000 yuan.' Who has such money, when the average Beijinger earned about 7,000 yuan last year? 'We don't ask where their money comes from but I think it is private business people or those working in foreign companies,' she said. It is the same story at the Caishikou Department Store, which sold 60 million yuan worth of jewellery in the first quarter this year, with sales of gold pieces up 15 per cent and of platinum ones up more than 50 per cent. 'Owning gold has become commonplace,' one sales manageress said. 'Everyone has some. So, if you want to stand out from the others, you buy platinum. 'And it is not just the rich who buy. Ordinary people are also customers, spending 1,000-2,000 yuan. 'People have bought colour televisions and most of the things they need for the house but cannot afford to buy a house or a car. 'So they are looking for something new to buy.' One factor in the platinum boom has been a popular television advertising campaign by South African mining company De Beers, proclaiming that 'diamonds last forever'. Platinum still runs second to gold, which remains the most popular metal for Chinese who have bought it for centuries as a hedge against inflation, the depreciation of money and other paper instruments, famine, exile and the fall of a dynasty. According to World Gold Council estimates, 90 million Chinese bought gold jewellery or gold bars last year, with an average purchase of 0.35 grammes, making them the highest proportion of retail buyers of any country in the world. Gold remains the most popular, especially with rural and elderly people. Platinum is still a new taste, mostly among young people and those in the large, coastal cities. Johnson Matthey said that China used 100,000 ounces of platinum for jewellery in 1996, overtaking the figure in the United States, and that demand for platinum jewellery could more than double by the end of this century. It estimated total Western platinum sales to China in 1996 at 180,000 ounces, up from 130,00 in 1995 and 50,000 in 1994. As state firms shrink housing and welfare benefits, the spending patterns of urban Chinese are becoming more like those of people in Japan and the West, with more money being set aside for long-term needs and less on short-term consumption. According to an official survey published this week, the average Beijing family has assets of 68,756 yuan, of which 39,873 yuan is in the form of bank savings, shares and bonds and 28,883 in the form of goods. It found that the top three of the 10 priorities of those surveyed were education of their children and saving for future illness and old age, while the desire to buy high-class consumer goods fell to eighth from fifth in the previous two years.