Silver is one of the first metals to be used by humans. It is also the most reflective of all the metals and can be polished to a higher sheen than platinum. In fact, the chemical symbol for silver, Ag, is derived from the Latin word argentum, meaning 'white and shining.' It is extremely malleable and resists oxidation from exposure to the atmosphere. Silver also has the highest thermal and electric conductivity of any substance. Silver is widely distributed in nature, but the total amount is quite small when compared with other metals. Unlike gold, silver is present in many naturally occurring minerals.
Silver ornaments and decorations have been found in royal tombs dating back as far as 4000 BC, and silver has been used, along with gold, as money for centuries. Today, over 90% of the silver mined is not used for jewellery, but in industrial applications. Compounds of silver are used to make mirrors, electrical contacts, dental fillings, coins and electroplating. Over 40% of all silver mined in the United States is used as silver nitrate and silver halide in photographic developing.
Silver can be polished, matte, brushed, satin, sandblasted, oxidized (blackened using chemicals) or antiqued. Silver is often said to have a patina, or worn appearance that is achieved through frequent use and handling. In its pure form silver is almost as soft as gold, and is therefore usually alloyed with copper. Alloys of silver with copper are harder, tougher, and more fusible than pure silver and therefore, are used for jewellery. The proportion of silver in these alloys is stated in terms of fineness, which means parts of silver per thousand of the alloy.
Sterling silver contains 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metals, usually copper, so its fineness is designated "925". It also may say "Sterling" on the back of the piece. There are lesser grades of silver.
If your jewellery becomes tarnished over time, use a soft silver polishing cloth or silver polish cream to gently clean the silver parts. Do not use abrasive cloths or cleansers, or immerse your pieces in tarnish-removal solutions.