Silver has long been valued as a precious metal and has a long historical use in jewellery across many cultures. It is a suitable metal for most jewellery that is worn occasionally, but not for wedding bands and engagement rings as it is too soft for years of daily wear, and thus not strong enough to set gems into as the settings are prone to wear away. Silver is a good choice for most other types of jewellery and has a wonderfully long history in jewellery and metalsmithing. It also exhibits the highest electrical and thermal conductivity and reflectivity of any metal.
- Moh's Hardness/2.5 - 3
Silver is very pliable, can be formed into new shapes with hand tools, casts well and is strong enough to withstand wear and tear when worn. Pure silver is typically alloyed with other metals to make it more hard wearing. Usually, this is copper, and our jewellers most typically use sterling silver; an alloy of 925 parts (92.5%) pure silver with 75 parts (7.5%) copper. Fine silver is pure silver, stamped 999, and occasionally used in jewellery but is often too soft for most applications.
Oxidised silver is sterling silver that has been deliberately blackened by chemical oxidisation with sulphur to create a black finish. Whitened silver is sterling silver that has a white surface treatment created by a heat and acid process. Sterling silver is also sometimes plated with another metal such as gold. All of these finishes are surface treatments which wear away with time. How quickly this happens depends on the wearer and the type of jewellery. For example, it will happen more readily in a ring than an earring, due to the hands having more contact with their environment, and thus more opportunities of wearing the surface away. All of these finishes can usually be reapplied to the metal; enquire with the gallery for more information.
Silver has a long history reaching back some 5000 years to Anatolia where it was first mined in what is now modern day Turkey. These mines were extremely important in early antiquity and in 1200 BC, the centre for silver mining moved to Greece's Laurium mines. By 100 AD, Spain became the center of silver mining, developing as a major supplier for the Roman Empire and Eastern spice route in Asia. Huge new mines were later centered in Germany and Eastern Europe, but nothing rivaled the discovery of silver in the 'New World' of the Americas in 1492 by the Spanish. Until around 1800, 85% of the world's supply came from this region.
Silver has antibacterial properties and is used in water purification and medicine. During the Bubonic Plague, the wealthy ate off silver plates and used silver cutlery, hence the origin of the phrase "born with a silver spoon in your mouth". Importantly, silver was used as currency by many cultures for thousands of years, and it is only in the middle of last century that it started to be removed from circulation. Today the majority of silver is mined in Mexico, Peru, China, and Chile.
Sterling silver is prone to oxidising, meaning a blackening of the surface. This can be easily cleaned off with professional jewellery cleaning compounds and treated cloths you can readily buy, we also sell these products in the gallery. Silver is considered soft as it can be dented if knocked, scratched with abrasives and will wear away with many years of wear. Be mindful to wear your silver jewellery with care and should you need to, see the gallery about repairs and to check gem settings are secure as time passes.
Finishes like oxidisation, whitening and plating are not permanent; how long they last depends on the individual, the design of the piece and the amount of wear. They can, however, be reapplied - enquire with the gallery if you’d like to refresh the finish on your silver piece. To maximise the lifespan of these more delicate finishes, be careful to avoid chemicals and anything abrasive. It’s best to take these pieces off when swimming or showering, gardening or washing dishes.