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Precious Metals in Jewelry Making Part 3: Silver Standards

Our last few blog posts went over all of the ways gold is incorporated into jewelry designs. From preparing the precious metal, to forming it into jewelry pieces, the variety of techniques is vast. But, gold is not the only precious metal of choice when is comes to designing dazzling jewelry – silver has been a significant part of jewelry designs for centuries.

Similar to gold, pure silver is quite soft and easily damaged by everyday-wear. Therefore, it’s usually alloyed with another metal to increase its durability. But unlike gold, the selection of popular alloys is very limited – silver is almost always alloyed with copper. Interestingly, silver purity levels aren’t measured by karat, but by parts-per-thousand. Throughout history and around the world, silver has had many uses besides jewelry. Over the years, different regions have set minimum levels of purity for an item to count as “made of silver,” as opposed to just “containing silver.” That is why you’ll hear about many different types of silver in jewelry making. These types don’t indicate different alloys of silver, just different purity levels. Common examples are:

•    Ultra Fine Silver (999.9) – used for minting special bullion coins, like the Canadian Maple Leaf
•    Fine/Pure Silver (999) – used for bullion bars and silver plating
•    Britannia Silver (958)
•    French 1st Standard (950)
•    Mexican Silver (925)
•    Sterling Silver (925)
•    Coin Silver (900) – previously used by the U.S. to mint silver coins
•    Scandinavian Silver (830)
•    German Silver, Egyptian Silver (800)

Of all the standards, sterling silver is the most popular for jewelry making. At that purity level, the silver is strong enough to stand up to daily-wear while still maintaining much of pure silver’s natural brilliance. Sometimes, the luster is improved by electroplating the sterling silver with a layer of pure silver. Rhodium can also be used as a plating material – just like with white-gold.

Next time, we’ll go over platinum and palladium and see how they adapt to jewelry designs.

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