Did you know that you get different types of silver? It is true that silver is silver, but the way in which it is used or alloyed gives us different types of silvers such as fine silver, sterling and silver plated. But what exactly is silver?
Silver is one of our precious metals, one that has a lustrous white colour to it. We’ve been using it since prehistoric times to manufacture all kinds of things from primitive forms of money, modern coins, silverware, electrical components and of course… jewellery. It has been with us since the dawn of time and Ancient Egyptians once described their gods of having bones made from silver and skin from gold.
The Ancient Egyptians, Phoneticians and Romans all mined and used silver; but it was only after the discovery of the new world when its production boomed. After the arrival of Europeans on American shores, the Spaniards started making huge profits from silver mining already established by the Incas. It became synonymous with South America and so much so that a modern-day country still bears its name, Argentina, derived from the Latin term “argentum” – meaning silver (even though it is not particularly rich in silver).
The “Different” types of Silver
Silver, as an element, will always be silver. But we have started creating “different” types of silvers through the use of various methods and alloys. The four main types of silver we’ll touch on are sterling silver, fine silver, silver plated and solid silver.
As wonderful as the name may sound, especially when used as an adjective, sterling silver is not a pure silver. It is hallmarked as 925, meaning it has a purity of 92.5% with the other 7.5% coming from another metal such as copper. Copper was used to create the alloy to give the silver more strength and durability.
Silver plated is not really real, but rather a thin layer of silver (only a few microns thick) covering a base metal such as brass, copper or nickel. Silver plating does eventually wear and the contact of the base metal against someone’s skin may cause an allergic reaction – such as those who are allergic to nickel.
Fine silver is the purest form of silver. It carries the mark 999 meaning its finesse is 99.9% pure. It is too soft and delicate to be used in jewellery but rather traded as bullion and bullion coins, or for industrial purposes where is turned in to silver nitrate; such as the silver nitrate that is used to make conductive pastes.
Solid silver is an interchangeable term often used to describe silver that is pure and not plated. It is also used when describing silver coins or ingots and can equally be used to describe sterling silver.
How to Tell if Silver is Real
Many people believe that real silver does not tarnish, but sadly that’s untrue. Silver does tarnish and the rate a which it tarnishes depends on its purity – the less pure it is, the quicker it will tarnish. An acid test is one of the more reliable ways to test the purity of silver. A small shaving is taken and placed in an acid solution; a change in the colour indicates that the silver is less than 92.5% pure – meaning it is not sterling of fine silver. By far the most reliable way to test its purity is by using an XRF machine. An XRF (X-ray fluorescence) machine determines the chemistry of any given sample by firing X-rays at it.