Precious Metals Education: Silver

Silver is a metal that is known by the atomic number 47 and is among the few precious metals that have over human history that has managed to hold its position as a top element that communicates beauty and luxury and hence has been rightly revered and valued as its worthy yellow competitor. Silver, in terms of its use, goes back thousands of years. Silver is a metal that is found in a naturally occurring state and can also emerge as a result of the refining of copper. Throughout history, as it is today, most societies have placed silver second to gold in terms of its value. Despite playing second fiddle to its main metal competitor, silver has managed to command a distinct degree of popularity that has continued to challenge the position of gold for the most purchased precious metal option, and at the same, it has managed to carve out a distinct appeal in the market for fine jewellery.

Key Features of Silver

Silver, like its top metal competitor, in addition to its adoption in the world of fine jewellery, finds its home in the world of industrials. With a wide array of applications, from soldering to the making of batteries, and even finds its use in nuclear applications. The uses of silver are manifold and hence its value is determined by market forces that expand beyond its demand in the world of fine jewellery. Since our aim here is to study the character, and later types of silver, here are certain key attributes of silver that you need to keep in mind.


Silver is a metal that has the most reflective character in the visible spectrum, with the ability to reflect around 95 per cent of light. Aluminium is a close competitor in this scale and can reflect around 90 per cent of the light that hits its surface. Owing to its high reflective character silver is valued in the world of fine jewellery, and notably in the industrial, notably in LED applications.


Silver in its natural (i.e. non-alloyed state) is a soft, ductile metal, and is valued for malleable character: which helps the metal to be shaped in the desired shape or form, which can be used in the required applications. Hence it is interesting to note that silver has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals; however, it is not widely used for electrical applications, owing to the cost. Hence when silver is exploited for its conductive capabilities, it is often only for special applications.


Silver has a history of use in health, notably in the treatment of wounds, notably in its ionic form, silver-containing wound dressings are found in contemporary use. Silver is considered safe for human use as the human body possess the capability to removes excess silver from the system. It may interest you to know that in certain parts of the world (Pakistan) silver is used as food coating. The subject of silver and human physiology is a subject that is deeply studied in medical circles, in terms of how silver reacts with various biological systems.


A metal’s hardness is a key feature that affects the decision to purchase fine jewellery. The ability of the metal to withstand cuts, scratches and its reaction to blunt force is a key factor in determining its longevity. Silver, is almost as durable as gold, in its alloyed character (sterling silver), which makes it a solid choice for the making of fine jewellery.

Types of Silver used in Jewellery

In practice, silver in its pure or natural form is not a great candidate for the making of fine jewellery. Hence it is often combined with other metals to make it suitable for use in fine jewellery. In the alloying of silver, a number of different combinations have emerged over the years. That differs in terms of its alloy and chemical character, and in terms of other attributes that make it more or less suitable for fine jewellery, in terms of quality, value and glow. Here are the key types you need to keep in mind.

Pure or Fine Silver

Pure silver, also referred to as fine silver, has actual silver content of 99.9 per cent, and its name implies it is the purest form in which silver is found. However, owing to its high purity, fine silver, in its natural form, is simply too soft for the making of jewellery. For the crafting of fine jewels which must stand the test of durability and longevity of use, are alloyed: that is combining of two or metals, or other elements. Silver is often mixed with other metals or elements to make it sturdier. In addition, silver whilst stable when exposed to oxygen and water, yet tends to tarnish when exposed to certain reactive compounds like sulphur, which are present in air and water, that produces an unattractive sulphide layer. Whilst the ductility of pure silver is is an advantage, its key strength is its ability to be combined with other alloys to produce quality, durable jewellery.

Argentium Silver

A new entrant to the world of silver alloys is a patented form of silver that is made using pure silver and an element called germanium (Ge). And is noted for its superior performance in contrast to its main competitor sterling silver. This is due to its distinct properties: notably its greater durability, as Argentium Silver is harder than sterling silver, and it is also purer than it in terms of the pure silver content, coming in at 940-960 parts per 1000. Argentium Silver has greater resistance to tarnish and is of a whiter colour, which is maybe more appealing to customers who desire this lighter colour. And is understood to be more hypoallergenic (non-allergic) and is also noted for its resistance to fire stain: A layer of oxides that arises on the surface of objects which are made of metal alloys containing copper that are subjected to heat. Since Argentium silver does not contain copper it does not contain this weakness. Some proponents of Argentium silver even argue that it is a better option for the environment.

Sterling Silver

Sterling is the jewellery quality standard of silver, that is recognized around in the world of fine jewellery. Sterling silver is an alloy that contains 92.5 per cent silver, and 7.5 per cent copper (though other metals such as nickel are also used. The addition of different metals is to increase the hardness of the material to make it more durable. The alloying of silver also produces changes to its colour and lustre, features which are valued by customers. Sterling silver is of bright, light colour, but not too light. On the downside sterling silver has the tendency to tarnish over time. Which on the upside it is also easy to clean with the right products. Sterling silver whilst sturdier than its pure silver alternative, is still soft compared to other precious metals like platinum. When it comes to purchasing sterling silver it is important to look out for quality stamps, notably those that are marked with .925 numbers: which indicates the percentage of pure silver and the STG mark. That certifies its sterling silver character. It is important to note that sterling silver whilst popular in the jewellery world, is generally not used to make engagement rings, as sterling silver engagement rings are not the most popular industry choice. 

Argentium vs Sterling Silver

When it comes to choosing a solid silver alloy, what type should you go for? Whilst sterling silver is the popular choice, owing to its industry-wide recognition, Argentium silver making the case for its sturdier, tarnish resistant character. The key difference lies secret is in the alloying. Traditional sterling silver as noted has 92.5 per cent pure silver and 7.5 per cent, copper. Argentium silver on the other hand contains 93.5 per cent silver, with various levels of germanium; and sometimes some percentage of copper. Sterling silver jewellery often tarnishes because the copper in the alloy reacts to the elements. The germanium element creates a thin barrier between the copper and the elements, thus slowing down the tarnishing process. The downside of going for the Argentium variant is of course the cost. As the materials that are used in the production of this metal whilst different is also rarer and more expensive to source. Further, Argentium is relatively a new kid on the block, whose long-term effects in terms of its manufacture, environmental effects, experience the wearers are yet to be fully understood.

Coin Silver Jewellery

Coin silver, on the other hand, is an alloy that contains 90 per cent Silver and 10 per cent, copper. Going back a few hundred years it was the alloy used in most of the United States silver coins. And it gets it to name from the recycled character of the metal from which it was made: that was produced by melting and repurposing existing silver materials, notably coins. The United States had some trouble until the third quarter of the 19th century, as the North American country had no reliable domestic source of silver for its silversmiths (as they are known) to work with. When American silversmiths needed raw materials, they often had to buy and melt existing silver objects (including coins) to make the demand for silver products. Hence during this time, silver from America was much rarer than silver that was made in England. Driven by the resource scarcity of raw silver and growing demand, a great percentage of all American silver that came before the 1870s fell under the category of coin silver. The mark for coin silver, which is still found, though much rarer, and is known by the number.900: A little lower in percentage than sterling silver.

Silver Plated

Silver-plated jewellery contains an extremely thin layer of silver (measured in microns). That cover the base metal, commonly copper, brass, white metal, or nickel. The layer of silver is very thin, so it will also wear off with time and usage. As a consequence people who have nickel allergies may develop skin and other reactions when wearing silver-plated nickel. Unlike sterling silver, the tarnish on silver-plated jewellery is, most of the time, irreversible. Further, this type of jewellery has little resale value unless they are rare or collectable items.

Tribal Silver

Tribal silver and many other types of exotic varieties of silver are base metal alloys that are silver only in appearance. The elements of tribal silver alloys vary greatly depending on the level of pure silver they carry: which may be some or potentially very little silver. Silver in this variety generally come from exotic parts of the world, usually the orient. Hence their final quality is not always reliable when it comes to those seeking authentic silver. And also could potentially contain harmful materials such as lead and other chemicals. So when it comes to jewellery that is made from this type of silver, one must exercise a great degree of caution, and at best they must only be used as ornamental pieces. 

Identifying Silver Quality

Silver, like gold and platinum, is a popular metal. In India, many people invest in gold and silver. Silver is a precious metal that is found in abundance and is used to make jewellery, flatware, and other durable items. It is a soft metal, and if you take proper care of your silver jewellery or flatware, it will last long. Whether you buy a pair of silver earrings or a silver ring made with sterling silver and copper, as long as you take good care of it, it will last a lifetime. However the character and quality of the silver in question will differ depending on its use. As the silver alloys that are used for jewellery or flatware (plates, knives, silver ornaments etc.) tend to differ. So it is important that you are able to make the distinction between those with high quality, against those who are not. Check for stamp marks, magnetism. Best way to ensure jewellery quality silver is to purchase your alloys from a reputable jeweller: one who specialises in fine jewellery. 

Why Silver is Popular in Fine Jewellery

Silver’s popularity in addition to the general factors of value that we have engaged is also dependent on a number of cultural factors that come to be positively identified with it. Silver is a precious metal that is valued for its beauty and colour, but it is also perceived as something of value that is accessible to the common mind. Whilst is a marker of value and quality (i.e. the saying of being born with a Silver spoon), it nonetheless corresponds to the aspirations of those who wish to stand out but yet be who they are. Silver as a precious metal has a grounded character, that combines well with its luxurious character. Silver in this regard can be considered as a metal that of affordable luxury. With its distinct colour and sheen silver, its metallic colour carries a modern look which appeals to the modern mind, that seeks to communicate that youthful feel.