What is Silver?
Silver is a precious metal that is actually rarer than gold. It is a chemical element with the symbol “Ag” that is soft and white. It also has a natural luster. It is usually found in nature in its pure, native form, but it can also be found in alloys with gold and similar metals. Silver is produced from lighter elements, through a form of nuclear fusion and is obtained usually when copper, gold or lead are refined. Commercially used silver has nearly 100% purity.
Silver is a very ductile and malleable metal that is slightly harder than gold. It emits a white luster that brightens on polishing. Silver tarnishes when exposed to air or water that contains ozone or hydrogen sulphide, and develops a blackish layer (which can be cleaned up chemically).
Silver is found in high quantities in the ores of copper, lead, and copper-nickel in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, China, Australia, etc. Peru, Bolivia and Mexico began mining silver in 1546, and continue to dominate the silver production even today. Some of the world’s most important mines include: Cannington in Australia, Fresnilla in Mexico, San Cristobal in Bolivia and Antamina in Peru.
Silver has been hugely influential in affecting currencies and money over time. Many countries used silver as the basis of their monetary systems. In fact, money and silver have nearly the same word in around 15 languages. The British pound was once worth one pound of sterling silver and the U.S. dollar was also backed by silver before the Civil War.
Surprisingly, Silver is still considered legal tender in Utah, but no country backs its currency with silver anymore. However, the Royal Canadian mint still makes collectible silver coins, and the U.S. also mints silver coins (collected for bullion value) known as the “Eagle.” And with the decline in people’s confidence in fiat currencies, people have begun flocking to silver in recent times.
Silver coins and bullions are preferred by many investors, and are sold by many mints and mines. These coins or bars usually have 99.9% purity, and are thus labelled “.999.” Silver’s demand will rise if people lose further faith in currencies like the U.S. dollar. In emerging markets, while some other previous materials may appear too expensive, silver continues to be an affordable option for investing. It also acts as a useful hedge against inflation and moves in the same direction as gold prices.
Sterling silver, an alloy of silver and copper, is used to make jewelry and highly-coveted silverware. Sterling silver is harder than pure silver. Sterling silver jewelry is sometimes coated with fine silver to give a shiny glow to the product. Silver is also used in colored gold alloys.
Silver has the highest electrical conductivity amongst all metals, however since it is extremely costly, it is not used to conduct electricity. Pure silver has the highest thermal conductivity amongst all metals, as well as a very high reflectivity.
Silver is a prominent metal for industrial applications. It is used in solar photovoltaic panels, electric contacts, conductors, radio-frequency engineering, concentrated solar power reflectors, water purifiers, dental fillings, photographic films, telescopic mirrors, solder alloys, antifungal disinfectants, clothes and even windows.
Silver is the ideal catalyst for oxidation reactions, and is used to produce formaldehyde as well as ethylene glycol (used for making polyester). Silver stains are useful in microscopy, while medicinally, silver is used to dress wounds, as an antibiotic and in catheters. Silver nanoparticles are used as antimicrobial in a number of healthcare, industrial and domestic applications.