What is Silver?

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What is Silver?

Silver is a metallic element, element 47, symbol Ag, on the periodic table. In its pure form is a lustrous white metal, and has long been valued for use in currency, as a precious metal (including for making jewelry), tableware, and an investment. Silver also has many important applications including in electrical contacts and conductors, in some kinds of mirrors and window coatings, as a catalyst of certain chemical reactions, in dentistry, in water filtration, and in solar panels. Compounds of silver with other elements are also important in photographic film and X-rays, and as disinfectants (where they made added to bandages and other dressings, catheters, and used in making medical instruments).

Silver is found in a number of forms, including its pure form (known as "native silver"), alloyed with gold, and in certain minerals such as argentite (a form of silver sulfide) and chlorargyrite (a form of silver chloride). Most silver production today occurs as a byproduct of refining other metals, particularly copper, gold, lead, or zinc.

Silver used in jewelry, ornaments and tableware is most often alloyed with other metals. The purity of such alloys is usually measured on a per-mille basis - a 95% pure alloy would be described "0.950 fine". Here are some other key facts about silver alloys.
  • In the United States only alloys that are at least 90% silver (i.e. "0.900 fine") can be marketed and sold as "silver". Such items are often stamped "900".

  • Sterling size is an alloy of at least 92.5% silver (i.e. "0.925 fine" and often stamped "925") with another metal, usually copper.

  • Britannia silver is an alloy of 95.83% silver by weight, with the other metal also usually being copper.

  • Argentium sterling silver is a patented silver alloy. There are two variations - Argentium silver 935 which meets the standards for Sterling silver, and in fact contains 93.5% silver, with the remainder being copper and some germanium - and Argentium silver 960 which meets the standards for Britannia silver, and in fact contains 96% silver, again with the remainder being copper and some germanium.

  • Very pure silver ("fine silver") such as 99.9% pure silver, is softer than the common alloys of silver, and usually considered too soft for most uses.

    Silver jewelry, especially sterling silver items, is often coated (known as "flashing") with a 0.999 fine coating of silver to give the item a shiny finish. Rhodium is also sometimes uses as an alternative.

  • Silver jewelry is also sometimes coated (gilded) with gold. This is known as a silver-gilt, although it is also sometimes referred to by the French term, vermeil. Many large objects which appear to be gold (such as crown jewels of many countries, sporting trophies, etc.) are actually silver gilt.

  • Silver is also often alloyed with gold. White 9-carat gold is 62.5% silver and 37.5% gold. White 22-carat gold is at least 91.7% gold, and 8.3% silver, copper, or other metals.
As already noted, silver (but also platinum and gold) are rated for purity, in terms of parts per thousand. Here are the common millesimal grades for silver:
  • 999.9 - Sometimes referred to as "four nines fine". This is almost-pure silver, and has been used, for example by the Royal Canadian Mint for their Silver Maple Leaf and other silver coins.

  • 999 - Sometimes referred to as "fine silver" or "three nines fine". This purity is typically used in silver bullion bars and coins.

  • 980 - This purity was used in Mexico in the 1930s and early 1940s.

  • 958 - Britannia silver

  • 950 - The French 1st Standard.

  • 925 - Sterling silver

  • 917 - The standard used in India, for silver rupee coins during the period of British rule (the Raj).

  • 900 - Sometimes referred to as "one nine fine" or "90% silver". All US silver coins produced between 1792 and 1964 were of this purity. This is the minimum silver percentage permitted in the United States for items that are marketed as "silver".

  • 835 - Standard purity used in Germany after 1884, and coins of countries of the Latin monetary union.

  • 833 - Another common European standard purity, especially among the Dutch, Swedish, and Germans.

  • 830 - Another common European standard purity. This standard was mainly used in older Scandinavian silver.

  • 800 - The minimum purity standard permitted in Germany after 1884. Also used for Egyptian silver, and Canadian silver circulating coinage

  • 750 - A standard purity used in some older German, Swiss, and Austro-Hungarian silver coins.

  • 720 - A standard purity used for many Mexican silver coins.





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