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About Silver (Content)
 

 


About Silver (Content)
Silver History l Silver Finish l Silver Purity l Silver Alloys l Silver Oxidization l Siver Care


Silver History

Silver is one of the first metals to be used by humans. It may have been the first metal smelted from ore. The art of silver working dates back to the ancient Byzantine, Phoenician and Egyptian empires, where silver was forged into domestic utensils, jewelry, buttons, weapons, horse trappings, boxes, and other articles.

Unfortunately, silver's high utility meant that items were often melted down and re-forged into new items. Consequently, much ancient and early European silverwork has been lost forever. The silver tradition was carried over to colonial America, where it co-existed with the centuries-old hand-hammered craft traditions of the North and South American natives.

The mines in Mexico and Peru are still the highest-producing ones in the world, and the methods of silver jewelry making among native peoples remains largely unchanged today. The niche of silver making in Western society has been a bit more dynamic. Silver's value as a jewelry and utensil metal made it an early target for ambitious miners, and the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada in 1859 created a silver rush that rivaled the Gold Rush.

In recent years, silver has lost much of its value as a reserve metal and a traded commodity. However, its low price often means it acts as a leading metal in jewelry fashion - allowing silver craftsmen freedom to experiment with new and innovative designs, which are later duplicated in more expensive gold and platinum, once the "style" is safely established.

Silver is popular among younger people attempting a less-formal look in their accessorizing, and among those who simply find gold and platinum too old-world and ostentatious.
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Silver Finish

Silver is also the brightest reflector of any metal (except for liquid mercury) and can be polished to a high sheen that even platinum can't achieve. In fact, the chemical symbol for silver, Ag, is derived from the Latin, argentum, meaning "white and shining."

The finish on silver can be high polished, matte or brushed (rubbed with an abrasive), satin (a smoother matte), sandblasted (rough matte), oxidized (chemically blackened), or antiqued (chemically "aged"). Silver is said to have a "patina," a worn- looking finish that is achieved through frequent use and handling, and is particular to the wearer's skin chemistry.

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Silver Purity

In its pure form silver is almost as soft as gold, and therefore is usually alloyed with copper for strength. Karatage is not marked because, legally, anything called "silver" or "sterling silver" is 92.5% pure.

Sometimes silver from south of the border is designated "Mexican silver," which runs anywhere from 90% to 99% pure. Purity is really not something to worry about with silver.
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Silver Alloys

Fine Silver in its natural state, 999/1000 pure, is too soft an element for practical jewelry. To make it workable, an alloy such as copper is added. Here are the main silver alloys:

Sterling Silver: A mixture of 92.5 % pure silver (925 parts) and 7.5 % metal alloy.

Silver Plating: Also known as silver plated or silver coated. A base metal, usually nickel silver or brass, is coated with a layer of pure silver by a process called electroplating.

Vermeil: Sterling silver electroplated with at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold

German Silver or Nickel Silver: A silver-white alloy consisting of copper, zinc and nickel.

Coin Silver: 90% (900 parts) pure silver and 10% (100 parts) metal alloy. A process of melting down coins done in the 19th century, and mostly discarded today.

Buying Silver Jewelry
Silver is the queen of metals: gleaming and elegant, cool to the eye, sensuous to the touch. Silver jewelry is a classic gift that remains close to a woman's heart. More than merely decorative, it often carries with it the appeal of a tender sentiment or a lovely memory. And it possesses a sophistication that every woman understands.

However, in selecting silver jewelry for herself, a woman should not forget that men place a high value on silver themselves. For that special man the perfect gift in silver might be a handsome pair of sterling silver cuff links, a tie bar, an I.D. bracelet, or even a signet ring. For a man, silver is a gift of distinction.

Make sure there are no visible blemishes or imperfections on the piece. Check to make certain that fasteners, clasps and catches work properly and are secure. Check pin backs and earring posts for strength and durability. Lay silver chains flat to make certain their links don't kink or bend.
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Silver Oxidization

Silver does not oxidize in air. However, it does react with sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in the air or other sulfur compounds and chloride salts, resulting in tarnish. Tarnish is a brown discoloration caused by air pollution, cigarette smoke, some foods, furnace fumes, etc. Egg yolks, mustard, table salt, vinegar, olives, salad dressing, perspiration, rubber floor coverings, rubberbands and sulfur in some household synthetic detergents can tarnish or affect silver. Latex paints may contain rubber, and casein paints will tarnish silver.

Provide an environment that will prevent or retard tarnish. Protect silver from sulfur by wrapping it in acid-free tissue and storing it in tarnish resistant cloth or polyethylene bags. Use caution in storing to avoid trapping moisture and do not allow the polyethylene bags to directly contact the silver. If anti-tarnish strips are used, do not allow them to touch the silver and change strips regularly as they can redeposit the sulfur onto silver.

Silver is a soft metal. Use care in cleaning it. No matter how mild an abrasive polish is used, some silver will be removed each time it is polished. Rubbing with a soft cloth causes some wear.

Cleaning. Clean with soap (not detergent) and water. If additional cleaning is necessary, use as mild a cleaner as possible.

Silver polishes, rubbing and buffing removes tarnish but they should be used with care. Avoid polishing silver with any compounds containing abrasive. A paste of very fine precipitated chalk and denatured alcohol can be used.

After using any commercial polish, rinse the silver in water and polish dry with a soft cloth. Residues of some polish left on silver may cause silver to tarnish faster. Soap may dull silver. Detergents with phosphates may leave a stain if not rinsed.

Chemical electrolysis should not be used on silver items which have oxidized areas as a part of the decoration or on plated silver. The silver plate may be stripped off. Electrolysis can also affect some finishes and adhesives and may result in a hazy surface on some silver which then requires polishing. Although this method is easy, it may leave the surface dull. Consider the advantages and disadvantages before using this method. In electrolysis, the silver is placed in contact with aluminum and covered with a dilute solution of washing soda and water (1 ounce soda and 2 quarts water). Some experts suggest that only experienced conservators should use this method.

According to some experts, silver-dip, although quick to use, may remove decorative oxidation.

Valuable silver items should be treated with care and carefully stored and cared for. Consult a conservator or a jeweler knowledgeable about silver, silver polishes and processes before attempting to clean valuable items.
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Silver Care

Acquiring fine silver is one thing. Keeping it bright and beautiful is another. However, there's no mystery to caring for your fine silver jewelry. Just follow these tips:

Store your silver in a cool, dry place that is preferably airtight, to avoid oxidation. Avoid direct overexposure to artificial light or sunlight for long periods. Don't store directly on wood, which often contains acids that can affect silver's surface.

Store items in a tarnish-proof cloth, or in drawers with tarnish-resistant strips. Store each item individually, either in its own soft pouch or in a separate compartment of your jewelry box. Do not store silver loose in drawers; scratches will occur if you toss your jewelry into a compartment or allow pieces to rub against each other.

If a piece of silver jewelry becomes tarnished, use a paste, liquid polish or a treated polishing cloth to restore its original luster. Never put rubber bands or plastic directly against the surface of your silver.

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