What Is Sterling Silver?

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Silver is a very commonly employed metal that is used for a variety of different purposes. Valued for its aesthetic appeal, durability, and its ability to be worked into a vast assortment of objects, silver has become more than just a metal employed for jewelry. Its multi-purposeful nature has made it one of the most commonly employed precious or noble metals in the world. Sterling silver is a very common term employed by individuals to denote a specific type of silver. While most people erroneously assume sterling silver to be pure silver, but it is actually in fact a type of silver alloy composed of 92.5% pure silver with 2.5% of some other metal (traditionally copper). This need to alloy silver with other metals, most commonly a very small amount of copper, is mostly due to industrial reasons. Silver in its pure form is far too soft for general use, and will bend or otherwise deform easily, hence the need to be alloyed to a harder metal which will not drastically change its inherent aesthetic properties. Another reason for the need to alloy silver with a harder metal is to help improve its workability, making it easier to form, carve, etch, or otherwise shape into any desired object without damage that may result from the processes of the creation itself. Depending on the alloyed metal, a sterling silver (that is, possessing 92.5% of pure silver by mass) alloy can have distinct but minute differences in appearance, heft, or hardness, although the most common sterling silver alloy, and still the most popular is composed of 92.5% silver by mass, alloyed with 2.5% copper by mass.

Commonly employed for currency in many parts of the world both ancient and modern, the purity of sterling silver has long been standardized, with the origin of the alloy and of the eventual standardization beginning in continental Europe during the latter part of the 11th to the greater part of the 12th century, onwards. Some sources are contrary to this origination, as evidence of silver alloys of the sterling (silver and copper) variety has also been found in ancient civilizations.

While official assays of sterling silver were recorded in as early as 1100s, Saxons had already established a standard for the alloying of silver which dictated its state of purity prior to the reign of Henry II. It is this attestation of purity that actually led to the phrase ‘sterling’ silver. While many historians suggest that the word ‘sterling’ was originally derived from ancient Norman pennies with star designs (sterling then being a corruption of the Latin stella, meaning star), more thorough historians suggest that the term sterling originated from the Old English word ster, meaning ‘strong’, or ‘stout’, a probable reference to the Norman act of restoring the value of their silver coinage to a pure state in the wake of their monetary degeneration after the time of the Norman conquest of England.[1]

In a bid for an assurance or mark of authority, hallmarks were eventually developed not only to guarantee the purity of the silver itself, but also to distinguish it from other silverworks by other silversmiths. This was done during the time when the interest in silver was at its highest, with many guild halls vying for the best examples of workmanship and style, (hence, the term Hall-mark). Later, the hallmarks also began to denote the place of origin of the silver, or the specific guild, tradesman or craftsman that fashioned it. Although sterling silver was originally used for everything from coinage, cutlery, tea sets, mirrors, personal accessories, and jewelry, nowadays, its use has become somewhat limited, although the status of antique silverware as collectibles has appreciated (and will continue to do so) overtime.

What Is Sterling Silver? - References:

[1] http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=kd49AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA266
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_silver
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_hallmarks
[4] http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-sterling-silver.htm

Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com

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