This precious metal has surged 32% in 2017

The price of rhodium is trading 32% up so far this year and has added nearly $400 an ounce since hitting 12-year lows mid-2016.

Rhodium's main application is to clean vehicle emissions and the price quoted by Johnson Matthey, the world's number one manufacturer of autocatalysts, on Monday breached $1,000 for the first time since June 2015.

Due to rarity, the small size of the market and concentrated supply – South Africa alone produces roughly 80% of the world's rhodium – prices are typically volatile.

But rhodium (and sister metal ruthenium) stands out when it comes to price swings – the metal touched $10,025 an ounce just before the 2008 financial crisis hit, but would drop 90% before the end of that tumultuous year.

South African PGM producers extract a mix of metals comprising roughly 60% platinum, 30% palladium and 10% rhodium

Robust car sales in China and the US, where gasoline vehicles dominate, coupled with rising emissions standards worldwide has been a boost for the metal. Rhodium and palladium finds application in gasoline vehicles while diesel-powered mostly use platinum for autocatalysts. Platinum at $970 an ounce has advanced 8% in 2017, while palladium is showing gains of 19%, climbing back above $800 an ounce recently.

Rhodium has also benefitted from speculative demand. Deutsche Bank launched a rhodium exchange traded fund as far back as 2011 while South Africa's Standard Bank listed its own physically-backed rhodium ETF at the end of 2015.

South African PGM producers extract a mix of metals comprising roughly 60% platinum, 30% palladium and 10% rhodium.

Ruthenium prices have also been moving with the metal, used in the aerospace industry thanks to a very high melting point and in distinctive jet black jewellery, scaling $50 in recent weeks.

New York-based Miguel Perez-Santalla of German precious metal trader and refiner Heraeus commented last week that "it will be interesting to see if there is truly an industrial sector that plans a new use for this at current price levels or will they abandon it if it trades much higher."

Ruthenium prices peaked in 2007 shy of $900 an ounce, but has languished in double digits since November 2012.

This precious metal has surged 32% in 2017

Hong Kong wholesale price 99.9% rhodium. Source: Johnson Matthey