5kg silver ingot

Silver, a chemical element with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47, is one of the oldest known metals. However it seems that its discovery by the first Egyptian dynasty around 3500 BC occurred after that of the two other metals of the same chemical family: gold and copper.

Historical Significance

White and shiny, this precious metal has been used since Antiquity. Its first extraction dates back 5000 years: silver metal was mined in Anatolia (Turkey) in 3000 BCE. Throughout antiquity, the first veins discovered contributed to enriching the civilizations of the Near East, but also Greece and Crete. Silver metal had a cultural role in Egyptian society of the first dynasty.

Around 1200 BC, the center of silver production was established in the mines of Laurium, in Greece, supplying the new empires in the region for several centuries, while Spanish mines supplied the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus Christ.

From 750 to 1200 AD, larger silver mines were discovered and exploited. These deposits, like those in Eastern Europe and Germany, helped increase resources at the time. Silver mining increased considerably in the 16th century with the discovery of the New World. The Spanish resold the ores found in Mexico and Bolivia to traders who were looking for this precious metal.

Like gold, silver has also been used as currency for many years. According to Herodotus, the first use of silver as a coin dates from the 6th century BC. Croesus, the king of Lydia, had ordered the minting of the first currency on electrum (alloy of gold and silver). Other coins minted in the 7th century BC have also been found in this region. In Greece, the large-scale production of silver coins made it possible to finance numerous military campaigns. Owl Drachmas were made from the metal extracted from the mines of Laurium, these pieces being used between the 5th century BC and the 1st century AD.

Silver continued into the Middle Ages and Renaissance, with large vast silver mines in Central Europe, particularly in regions like the Czech Republic and Germany. Then the discovery of the New World in the late 15th century further expanded silver mining, especially in South America. The Spanish Empire benefited the most from the silver trade, exploiting the Potosí mines in present-day Bolivia, which became one of the largest silver mines in history.

Over the centuries, the demand for silver metal has continued to increase. But since 2013, supply has no longer been able to cover this demand, even though global silver production of was 27,000 tons in 2018. According to experts, silver reserves could be exhausted in a few decades. This scarcity has prompted the recycling of precious metals. Thus, damaged jewelry, coins, silverware and other metals contained in damaged devices are recovered more and more, in particular gold and silver, with modern recycling technologies.

The scarcity of silver will surely have an influence on its value in the years to come.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Silver is a transition metal with atomic number 47. It is known for its highest electrical and thermal conductivity of any metal, as well as its high reflectivity and malleability. Silver is less reactive than many metals, which makes it resistant to oxidation and corrosion. However, it does tarnish when exposed to sulfur compounds, forming a black sulfide layer.

The high conductivity of silver makes it essential in the production of electrical components. Its thermal conductivity ensures efficient heat distribution, which is why silver is often used in high-performance electronics and thermal conductors. The metal’s reflectivity has applications in mirrors and solar panels, while its malleability allows it to be easily shaped into intricate designs for jewelry and silverware.

Silver Applications

silver applications

One of the earliest and most enduring uses of silver has been as currency. Silver coins have been minted for millennia, serving as a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a standard of deferred payment. The adoption of silver coinage facilitated trade and economic stability in many ancient and medieval societies.

In modern times, while silver coins are no longer in widespread use for daily transactions, silver remains an important investment commodity. Investors buy silver in various forms, including bullion bars, coins, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Silver IRAS. Silver is often seen as a hedge against inflation and economic uncertainty, much like gold. Its relatively lower price compared to gold makes it accessible to a broader range of investors.

Jewelry and Silverware

Due to its ductile nature and sensitivity, pure silver cannot be used in jewelry making. This precious metal is combined with other materials such as copper, gold or palladium in order to improve its ability to resist shock and deformation.

Solid silver refers to the silver used to make silver jewelry, which allows it to be distinguished from silver plating, regardless of the thickness or the galvanizing technique that was used. However there are different types of money.

Silver 999, also called Fine Silver, is composed of 99.9% pure silver. It is a very soft metal, which is used very little, if at all, in jewelry. It is mainly found in the form of ingots or coins. Silver 950 is made of 95% pure silver and 5% other metals like copper. Its pure silver content makes it a malleable metal and easy to work with to create silver jewelry. It is also resistant to corrosion, scratches and fading.

Sterling Silver is the other name for 925 silver, containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% metals such as copper, zinc, etc. This alloy makes the metal more solid, which allows to work on it more easily. It can be Gilded with 24K Gold. It is the silver most used to make jewelry. It can oxidize on contact with iodine from the sea, chlorine from swimming pool water, humidity, cosmetic products, perspiration or household products. But it is very easy to restore its shine. Finally Silver 800 is composed of at least 80% pure silver, with the remaining 20% usually made of copper.

Note that the hypoallergenic properties of silver make it suitable for those with sensitive skin.

Industrial Applications

Silver has many industrial applications due to its unique properties such as high electrical and thermal conductivity, ductility, malleability and corrosion resistance. Here are some examples of industrial applications of silver:

  • Electronics: the electrical, electronics and aerospace industries use silver alloys, in particular as an electrical conductor in electronic components such as circuit boards, switches, conductors, electronic connections and communications equipment
  • Photography: for making photographic films due to its ability to absorb light
  • Medicine: silver is used in medicine for its antibacterial properties. It is often used to make dressings, catheters, surgical instruments, etc. Silver is also used in surgery (plates and sutures) and in the dental industry (silver amalgams)
  • renewable energy: in the production of renewable energy due to its high conductivity. Silver is often used to make photovoltaic cells for solar panels, LEDS and rechargeable batteries
  • Jewelry and Decorative Arts: For making jewelry and decorative items due to its attractive shine and color

Medicine and Health

Silver has long been known for its antimicrobial properties. In ancient times, silver vessels were used to store water and other liquids to prevent spoilage. Modern science has confirmed the metal’s ability to kill bacteria and other pathogens, leading to its use in medical applications.

Silver sulfadiazine, a compound of silver, is widely used in burn treatments to prevent and treat infections. Silver nanoparticles are increasingly used in wound dressings, catheters, and other medical devices to reduce the risk of infection. The metal’s antimicrobial properties are also utilized in coatings for medical instruments and hospital surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

While silver’s benefits are numerous, its extraction and use also pose environmental and ethical challenges. Silver mining can lead to significant environmental damage, including habitat destruction, water pollution, and soil contamination. The use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury in the extraction process further exacerbates these issues.

To address these concerns, efforts are being made to promote sustainable and ethical silver mining practices. This includes stricter regulations, the development of eco-friendly extraction methods, and initiatives to recycle silver from electronic waste and other sources.