Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Silver - Past, Present, and Future

Silver in its pure state is a very soft, malleable metal. It is only slightly harder than gold. It has been known since antiquity, is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and there is evidence that it was being separated from lead as early as 3,000 B.C.E. It has been historically second in value only to gold, although in modern times the metals platinum, rhodium and palladium are worth more.

With Europe's discovery of the New World came the discovery of rich sources of gold and silver. Tradition says that the Spanish conquistador Pizarro had his horse shod with silver horseshoes because of the abundance of the metal in Mexico and the scarcity of iron. There were not only gold rushes in The United States in the 19th century, there was also silver rushes. In Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California and other areas of the western United States and Canada the mining of the metal contributed to the influx of settlers and became a vital part of the economy.

The metal has also played a part in folklore, from the Lone Ranger's 'calling card' of a silver bullet, to slaying a werewolf with a weapon or bullet made of silver. But the metal has mostly been used for coins, the decorative arts, flatware, and jewelry.

It has been used for coins since ancient Greece, but is seldom used to make coins for everyday commerce today. Commemorative coins are still struck from the metal for collectors and investment purposes. During the Renaissance the displaying objects in private homes and churches reflected the wealth ands prosperity of the owner. This eventually led to the popularity of silver dinner ware. In the middle 19th century silver flatware and other implements of the table made of the metal were in high fashion. Artisans have used the metal to create body adornments since ancient times, and along with gold it remains a popular metal for jewelry.

As the pure metal is far too soft to use to make tableware and jewelry, it is usually combined with another metal to create an alloy called sterling silver. The usual alloy of sterling silver consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% of copper. This alloy is more durable than pure silver, but still retains its workability and value.

Sterling silver has many qualities that make it the metal of choice for jewelry. It easy to work with, the metal itself has value that is enhanced by the craftsmanship and artistry used to create jewelry. Plain bands of sterling silver are used to make rings, earrings and bracelets. Fine sterling silver wire is used to make highly ornate brooches, pins and other jewelry. Sterling silver is used as settings for precious and semi-precious stones in rings, earrings, bracelets, and all types of jewelry. The beauty, durability and affordability of silver are the reasons for its current popularity, and these same reasons will no doubt keep it a very popular metal in the future.

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