With its shine and brilliant white luster, silver is one of the more luxurious metals and is used in both everyday products and luxury goods.

Silver is found in collectable coins, jewelry, and flatware. On its own, silver is very malleable, meaning it is soft enough to easily shape into different forms. While this property makes it a versatile metal to be molded into intricate designs, it also makes it harder for these objects to hold their shape, especially if subject to continuous wear and tear. Silver objects often scratch or dent more easily than those made from other metals such as stainless steel.

Did you know? Copper is generally preferred as an alloy partner with silver, because it hardens the metal without discolouring it. But, other metals may be used instead.

In order to get around this problem, silver is combined with a second, more durable (and often less costly) base metal, creating an alloy, or mixture, of the two elements. One common alloy is sterling silver, which is a specific blend of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Fine silver, on the other hand, must contain at least 99.9% silver. The copper (a base metal) helps to stabilize and solidify the silver so that it retains its shape with frequent use. In order to ensure that items sold as ‘sterling silver’ are genuine, they are stamped with a hallmark, which provides such information as the purity of the silver alloy and the identity of the maker.

One of the downsides of sterling silver is that it is susceptible to tarnishing (or discoloration). This is the result of silver reacting with a small amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the air to form a thin black layer of silver sulfide (Ag2S).

Did you know? The origin of the term ‘sterling silver’ is somewhat disputed, but it is thought to originate from the 12th century when a silver penny, the standard currency throughout Europe, was referred to as a sterling. Its purity was, you guessed it, 925 parts per thousand (or 92.5%).

While tarnishing can impact the appearance of a sterling silver object, there are many easy ways to polish silver and remove tarnish. Though some websites claim that common household products like baking soda and toothpaste can be used for this purpose, other experts say that these substances are too abrasive.

To be safe, consider using commercial silver cleaning cloths and polishes that consist of mild detergents and abrasives along with stain inhibitors. These can be purchased at any jewellery or hardware store and will leave your silver looking shiny and new.

Learn More!

What is sterling silver?

The chemical composition of sterling silver

Andrew H

I am a native of Vancouver, with a B.Sc. in pharmacology from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and am currently doing my Ph.D in cardiovascular physiology at UBC. I am an avid photographer, hockey fan (Go Canucks!) and hiker, having hiked the 77 km West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island twice, among other conquests. In addition, I am a frequent player of video games, owning several different systems. My favorite games, while numbering too many to mention, include God of War, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Galaxy.


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