Silver is one of the first five metals to be discovered by humanity and ever since then it’s had a lot of value to us, both in terms of mythological significance and as a tradable commodity. While it often takes second-place to gold, it’s still a brilliant investment, so read on here to find out more about this precious element.
Silver is really shiny
You already knew that, but did you know that it’s actually the most reflective element of all? It reflects 95% of visible light, which is why silver is used in mirrors, telescopes and solar cells.
We’ve been using it for a long time
We first learned to extract silver from lead around 5,000 years ago, although several silver objects have been found that date back to around 4000BC.
Silver comes in several flavors
The metal can be found in its natural, elemental state – crystals and nuggets of pure silver can be found. Silver also comes in electrum, the naturally-occurring alloy with gold; it also exists in lead, zinc and copper ores.
Like gold, silver isn’t toxic to people and it can actually be used in food as a decoration. Most silver salts are poisonous, however, and silver is also germicidal.
It’s a great conductor of electricity
Out of all the elements, silver is the best electrical conductor, so all other elements are measured against it. Silver “scores” 100 out of 100, while gold scores 76 and copper scores 97. The high conductivity and relative cheapness of copper makes it the metal of choice for electrical wiring. Silver is also the best thermal conductor – if you live in a colder region of the world you’ll sometimes see thin lines on the rear windscreens of cars. These lines are composed of silver and small amounts of heat are piped through them to defrost the windows when it’s icy.
Most silver jewelry is 92.5% pure
The silver jewelry that you see in shops and on people is sterling silver – 92.5% pure. The remaining 7.5% is made up of other metals, most often copper.
Mexico and Peru are the world’s biggest silver producers
Mexico is the world’s foremost producer of silver nowadays, followed closely by Peru. Silver is also found and produced by Russia, Canada, Australia and the US, with more than two-thirds of the world’s silver coming as a by-product of zinc, lead and copper mining.
Silver’s price fluctuates
While silver is almost always worth a little less than gold, its price is always fluctuating with demand, the discovery of new sources and with new methods of extracting it from ores and other elements. However, in the Middle Ages and in Ancient Egypt, silver had a much higher value than gold.
The vital statistics
Silver’s atomic number is 47 and it has an atomic weight of 107.86. It’s stable in oxygen and water, but in atmospheric air it will tarnish because it comes into contact with various sulfur compounds to form a layer of black sulphides.