Silver Market News

Although it’s the least valued precious metal, silver is still rather amazing in its own right. Many types of alloys are only possible with silver, which has advanced nearly everything from art to technology all over the world. As a precious metal, silver also plays a role in market economies. The blog posts in this section are all dedicated to silver and all the amazing things it does.

Silver-Coated Fabric makes Clothes Ultra-Warm

Scientists at Stanford University have unveiled a new clothing material made of cotton coated in silver nanowire. According to their research published in Nano Letters, this fabric is more lightweight and breathable than heavy winter clothing, but keeps the wearer just as warm.
   
The original goal of the researchers was to create a “system of personal thermal management” that could keep someone warm, while being much more energy efficient than the indoor heating systems we use every winter. Metal is an excellent material for reflecting the body’s thermal energy, but it doesn’t work as clothing. Instead, the researchers developed a textile that is coated with nanowires of silver.

The silver coating in the fabric works two ways to heat up the body. First, it traps and reflects 80% of body heat. Secondly, it can use Joule heating to also function like an electric blanket. Joule heating is the process that causes a conductor to release heat when an electric current passes through it. Because silver is such an excellent conductor of electricity, the entire cloth can use small amounts of ambient electricity to warm the wearer via Joule heating.

Although silver-coated clothing sounds expensive, the use of nanowires means that only a small amount of silver is needed – about $1 worth for a shirt and pants. Unfortunately, the fabric is not yet commercially available, and probably won't be for a few years.


Image attribution:

Personal Thermal Management by Metallic Nanowire-Coated Textile
Po-Chun Hsu, Xiaoge Liu, et. al.
Nano Letters 2015 15 (1), 365-371
DOI: 10.1021/nl5036572


The Silver Swan Automaton

When you think about it, the methodical field of science and the creative field of jewelry-making really rely on each other. Science can provide information (such as alloy properties or reasoning for why gem cuts affect light dispersion in different ways) that allows a jeweler to form pieces that are true to their artistic vision - while the design tenants of jewelry-making can give form, function, and beauty to scientific ideas. In 1773, British jeweler James Cox and Belgian inventor John-Joseph Merlin embraced these ideas and worked together to create the marvelous silver swan automaton.
   
The swan is life-size and made of solid chased silver that hides three separate clockwork mechanisms. It sits on a "stream" made of twisted glass rods, interspersed with silver fishes and surrounded by silver leaves. After the mechanisms are wound up, music plays and the glass rods rotate to give the illusion of flowing water. The fishes swim with the stream and the swan goes through a 32 second performance of preening, as well as spotting, catching, and eating a fish. Almost 100 years after the swan's creation, American novelist Mark Twain was so impressed by it that he described it in his book The Innocents Abroad: "I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes - watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as it he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweler’s shop [...]”

Today, Cox and Merlin’s creation is proudly displayed by The Bowes Museum in England. To help preserve the old and delicate mechanisms, the swan is only operated once each day at 2 pm. You can also watch the swan’s performance here.

Image Attribution

Platinum & Palladium Demand and the Auto Industry

Since PGMs are a necessary component of catalytic converters, pricing trends can sometimes be traced back to activity in the auto industry. Catalytic converters in every vehicle use PGMs as catalysts, which convert (hence, the name) the toxic substances from engine exhaust into inert or less toxic substances. This produces a cleaner exhaust that conforms to emission standards. Catalytic converters can use a number of different catalysts, but the most popular for automobiles are platinum and palladium.
   
Naturally, a greater demand for automobiles can directly increase the demand for PGMs. Earlier this year, CPM Group released a report predicting that global demand for palladium in automobiles would rise nearly 3% in 2016. Main factors contributing to the prediction included:
•    growing Chinese demand for small cars, due to new tax breaks for buyers
•    lower oil prices spurring U.S. demand
•    a steady demand for autos in Europe, combined with stricter emission standards

Although we can’t speak to the auto industry’s actual performance for 2016, the increased demand for palladium is obvious if you review the prices over the last 6 months. But with electric vehicles continuing to grow in popularity and decrease in price, it remains to be seen whether this correlation between palladium prices and the auto industry will last through 2017 and beyond.