What is Silver? Definitions, Facts & Uses


What is Silver?

Silver is a shiny, lustrous, and white precious metal. It's conductive, malleable, and ductile like gold. Silver does not react easily to air and water, but reacts with ozone, hydrogen sulfide, or air with sulfur. Silver has the symbol Ag, atomic number 47, and an atomic weight of 107.8682 u. Silver has a broad range of economic, industrial, chemical, medicinal, and scientific applications.

Forms of Silver

Pure silver, also known as fine silver, is 99.9% pure silver. It's very soft and is not commonly used for daily wear items due to its malleability. It is used in silver bullion.

Silver bullion refers to silver in the form of bars, coins, or ingots of fine silver. They are kept as a store of value or an investment rather than used for commercial purposes.

The silver bar is the most common form of silver bullion and is produced by various mints. They can come in a variety of sizes, from one ounce to 100 ounces or more.

Silver bullion coins are often produced by national mints and can serve as legal tender. They usually contain a troy ounce of silver, and the purity is at least 99.9%. For instance, there is the American Silver Eagle and the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf.

Silver rounds are very similar to coins, but they are not legal tender. They are often produced by private mints and usually contain a troy ounce of silver with a purity of 99.9% or more.

Silver Ingots are like silver bars but are larger. Ingots are used for larger volume silver storage.

Types of Silver

Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver combined with other metals, usually 7.5% copper. The copper makes the alloy durable and suitable for items of regular use like jewelry. Sterling silver jewelry is sought-after for its affordability, durability, and hypoallergenic property. It is also called 925 silver or 925 pure silver.

Coin silver or junk silver typically refers to an alloy consisting of 90% silver and 10% copper. This composition was commonly used for silver coins in the past.

Britannia silver is an alloy that contains 95.84% silver and 4.16% copper or other metals. It's softer than sterling silver. It was introduced in Britain as a higher standard than sterling for wrought plates.

German silver is a white, shiny alloy composed of 60% copper, 20% nickel, and 20% zinc. Despite the name, it is not a silver alloy. But it is cheaper and mimics the properties of real silver, like color and malleability. It is also called "nickel silver" in the US.

Silverware refers to dishes, cutlery, and other utensils made of or coated with silver.

Silver-plated refers to items that are made of a different metal and then coated with a thin layer of silver. Silver-plated items are less expensive. But the silver surface can wear away over time, revealing the underlying metal.

Colloidal silver is a solution of silver nanoparticles suspended in water. It's been used for various health-related applications since ancient times. However, its use is controversial and the FDA ruled in 1999 that it is not safe.

Silver compounds

Silver Nitrate (AgNO3) is one of the most important and commonly used compounds of silver. It is a white solid and water-soluble. It was used in photography to make negatives and prints. It’s no longer used because of digital photography but still finds use in infrared photography. It is also used in making mirrors, fireworks, and batteries. It is also used to prevent blindness in newborns.

Silver Chloride (AgCl) is a white, crystalline solid used in photographic emulsions.  It’s also been used as an antiseptic, in eye drops, as a topical medication, and antidote to mercury poisoning.

Silver Bromide (AgBr) is a light-sensitive silver compound used in film and infrared sensors.

Silver Sulfadiazine (AgC10H9N4O2S is an antimicrobial topical cream. It is used to treat wound infections, especially in burn victims.

Silver Oxide (Ag2O) is a compound used as a reducing agent. It is used in batteries.

Uses of silver

Silver is an important metal and has many uses. As a precious metal, it is mainly used in jewelry-making and finance. Silver is popular for jewelry because of its luster, versatility, and affordability. Different types of silver are used to create all sorts of jewelry. These include necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, brooches, charms, and more.

Silver in Finance and Investing

  • Silver has been synonymous with money since ancient times. It’s been used as a crafting material for coins for many centuries. Today, silver is no longer used in coins but traded as a commodity and held in reserve by central banks as bullion. Some silver coins can have value above their silver content if they are uncirculated coins or limited editions.
  • One of the most direct ways to invest in silver is through physical silver bullion. Silver bullion's price follows the spot price of silver, with a premium added for minting and distribution. You can hold the assets in a silver IRA to grow and diversify your retirement portfolio.
  • Silver ETFs are a popular choice for investors. Like gold ETFs, these commodity funds hold physical silver and are traded on stock exchanges. They provide an easy way for investors to gain exposure to silver without having to store and insure physical bullion. Examples are the iShares Silver Trust and the Aberdeen Standard Physical Silver ETF.
  • Silver futures are contracts traded on commodities exchanges. The most important are the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and Commodities Exchange (COMEX).
  • Another way to invest in silver is through stocks of companies that mine the metal. The value of these stocks often moves with the price of silver. But it's also affected by the performance of the individual company.
  • Another option is Mutual Funds and ETFs that hold a portfolio of mining stocks. This gives exposure to the silver industry without the need to analyze individual companies.
  • Silver certificates allow an investor to buy silver without physically storing it. They represent a certain amount of silver held by a third party, usually a bank.
  • Some fintech companies offer digital silver, where each unit represents physical silver stored in a vault. The digital nature of this investment allows for easy trading and ownership division.
  • In finance, silver is often seen as a "safe haven" asset that investors turn to in times of economic uncertainty, much like gold. However, it also has significant industrial uses. Economic growth, industry demand, and technological innovation can influence its price. Silver price is more volatile than gold because of industry forces.

Silver uses in industrial applications

  • Silver is valuable in numerous industrial uses. This is because it is a superb conductor of electricity and heat combined with its superior ductility and malleability. It's widely used in electronics, soldering, brazing, and electroplating.
  • Silver has a significant role in renewable energy. It's used in the manufacture of photovoltaic cells which are used in solar panels. Its high reflectivity and efficient conduction of electricity improve solar cell efficiency.
  • Silver catalyzes the production of two important chemicals: ethylene oxide and formaldehyde.
  • Silver ions can disinfect water, making it safe to drink. This has led to its use in water purifiers, especially in areas without access to clean water.
  • Silver salts were important in photography because of their sensitivity to light.  But their use has declined with digital photography.
  • Silver is used in the production of mirrors due to its high reflectivity when polished. It is also used in some types of window coatings to reflect sunlight and keep buildings cool.
  • Silver is used in producing superconductors, especially high-temperature superconductors.
  • Silver can be used in specialist bearings as a lubricant. Especially for applications where lubrication is difficult or where operating temperatures are high.
  • Silver nanoparticles have many applications in the field of nanotechnology. This includes conductive inks for printed electronics, biosensors, and in antimicrobial coatings.
  • Silver is used in making musical instruments like flutes and saxophones. This is because of its malleability and its ability to produce a pleasing tone.
  • Silver ceramic lines are used in rear window defogging systems in many automobiles.
  • Silver iodide is used in cloud seeding. This increases precipitation and decreases temperatures.

Silver uses in computers and electronics

  • Silver is often used in printed circuit boards (PCBs) to create conductive paths for electricity. The paths are formed by a thin layer of silver that is printed onto the board.
  • Many electrical switches use silver contacts because it does not corrode. It also ensures a reliable, low-resistance connection. This includes those used in home appliances and industrial equipment, 
  • Silver nanowires can be used as a replacement for indium tin oxide in touchscreens and flexible display technology.
  • Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags often use silver in their antennas. These are used for things like inventory tracking and contactless payment cards, 
  • Silver oxide batteries store more energy than alkaline batteries of the same volume. This makes them a popular choice for small devices like watches and hearing aids.
  • Silver is often used for electromagnetic shielding in cables and connectors. This reduces interference.
  • Silver solder, an alloy of silver, copper, and other metals, is used for joining metal parts in electronics. It provides strong, conductive joints.
  • Silver is also used in multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC). These tiny devices control electrical flow in electronic devices like smartphones and computers.

Silver uses in dentistry and medicine

  • Silver amalgam, which is an alloy of mercury, silver, tin, and sometimes copper, is commonly used for dental fillings.
  • Silver is antibacterial. This makes it useful in wound dressings, medical equipment, and antiseptic solutions.
  • Silver is used in water purification systems. It can kill bacteria and prevent the growth of algae and slime.
  • Silver is sometimes used in clothing for its antimicrobial properties. Silver-infused fabric can help to reduce odor and prevent bacterial growth.
  • Silver staining is used in microscopy to detect certain structures or organisms.

23 interesting facts about silver

Economic and Cultural Facts about Silver 

  1. Mexico is the world‘s largest producer of silver. In 2022, the country's silver mining industry produced 6,300.00 metric tons. China is second with 3,600 metric tons, followed by Peru at 3,100 metric tons. China overtook Peru which previously was the 2nd largest producer of silver.
  2. India is the biggest consumer of silver at 2,200 metric tons, followed by the United States at 1,500 and China at 1,000.
  3. The country with the largest reserves of silver is Peru at 98,000 metric tons, followed by Australia at 92,000 and China at 71,000.
  4. "Silver" is synonymous with "money" in at least 35 languages. Here are 5 examples: French (“argent”), Hebrew (כסף - "kessef"), Irish (airgead), Scottish Gaelic (airgid), and Spanish (plata)
  5. US coins made before 1965 were minted with junk silver. Kennedy half dollars minted in the United States between 1965 to 1969 contained 40% silver and 60% copper also known as “clad silver”.

Physical and chemical facts about silver

  1. Silver is the most reflective metal. It is a critical piece used in solar panels, optical instruments, and mirrors. It can reflect up to 95% of visible light.
  2. Silver is also the best electric conductor among all elements. On a scale of 0 to 100, silver measures a perfect 100 in electrical conductivity. Copper measures 97 and gold is 76.
  3. Silver is used to make rain through silver iodide used in cloud seeding.
  4. Silver melts at 961.78°C (1,763°F) and boils at 2,162°C (3,924°F).
  5. Pure silver nuggets or crystals have been found in nature. Silver also forms a natural gold alloy called electrum. It is also found in copper, lead, and zinc ores.
  6. Pure silver metal is not toxic to humans. It is used as food garnishing. However, most silver salts are toxic. Silver is germicidal - it kills bacteria and other microorganisms.
  7. Silver is ductile like gold. One ounce of silver can be hammered into an 8,000-foot-long wire.
  8. Silver can be made into a sheet as thin as a human hair – 0.0001 millimeters.
  9. Some silver compounds are very unstable and can explode at the slightest touch, exposure to light, or even spontaneously.

Historical facts about silver

  1. Silver is one of the first five metals - along with gold, copper, tin, and lead - to be discovered by man. Archaeologists have found ancient silver artifacts. One such artifact is a silver bracelet from Varna, Bulgaria dated to 6200 BC.
  2. The silver shekel was one of the first forms of money made from precious metal.
  3. Silver was highly treasured over gold In ancient Egypt. This is because silver was rarer and had more practical uses. It was used in jewelry, coins, and mirrors which were very valuable in Egypt. It is also important as it was believed to be magical and considered a gift from the Egyptian god Thoth.
  4. The oldest currency still in active use today is the British pound sterling. It was developed in the 7th century AD by the Anglo-Saxons and based on a Roman pound of sterling silver.
  5. The first coin minted by the US government in 1794 was a silver US dollar. It was designed by Robert Scot and minted by the Philadelphia Mint.
  6. In 2022, a 1794 silver US dollar was sold for $12M. It was called called the Flowing Hair Silver Dollar. It was sold by businessman Bruce Morelan to GreatCollections, an auction house based in Irvine, California. It is now the most valuable silver coin in the world. It is also the most valuable silver item now. It surpassed the 18th-century Thomas Germain silver soup tureen which sold for $10M in 1996.
  7. The largest silver coin in the world is the 2016 Ivory Coast 1,750 oz Silver Elephant Coin. It was minted by Geiger Edelmetalle in Germany and has a diameter of 650 mm (25.59 inches) and a weight of 1,750 troy ounces (55.34 kg). The coin is made of 99.9% fine silver. The coin was issued by Ivory Coast and is a limited mintage of only 15 coins.
  8. The largest silver nugget ever found was discovered in Smuggler Mine, Aspen, Colorado in 1894. The silver ore nugget weighed 2,340 pounds (1,060 kilograms) but it was too big to be taken out of the mine. The miners had to break it into 3 pieces and the largest piece weighed approximately 1840 pounds (835 kilograms).

Before Investing in Silver

Silver is an important precious metal with many uses outside of jewelry and finance. It is one of the precious metals allowed in a precious metals IRA. Like gold, it serves as a hedge against inflation and serves to diversify retirement savings. But investing in silver carries risk. Before starting, invest time and learn about precious metals investing with Augusta Precious Metals. It is one of the most trusted silver IRA companies in the United States.

About the author 

Ronald Cagape

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