Since the 1500s, the mining of silver has been ongoing in many countries throughout the world, with references back to Biblical times. Early on it was recognized as a valuable metal, possibly because of its shiny appearance. Because of its versatile nature, silver can be found in many items, including silverware, dental fillings, electronics, home decorations, medicines, coins and also in the form of jewelry.
Several hundred years ago, people that worked with and made items from silver were called silversmiths. They learned techniques of melting down silver and forming it in to objects that were often traded for value. Silver was easily found throughout the world, and although different groups of people had no knowledge of silver-smithing techniques in other parts of the world, their techniques were almost identical. European settlers were surprised to see that natives in Mexico were using similar techniques that they used back in Europe.
As time progressed, silver was often associated with wealth, and it became popular for people to wear jewelry made of silver as a sign of status. Often, silver, as well as gold decorations, statues, cutlery and crowns were made from silver and given to royalty, which helped to increase its status as a precious metal.
Eventually the processes used to make silver jewelry were streamlined and silver jewelry became more and more accessible for regular citizens. The problem, of course, with fine silver, which is 100% pure, is that it’s soft and susceptible to damage. There is actually two solutions to this problem with can be used in the production of silver jewelry. The first way to make silver less susceptible to scratches and damage is to mix it with a harder metal.
Silver that is 92.5% pure, and then mixed with copper, is called sterling silver. Sterling silver is most often used in silverware, but is also used, for example, to make a sterling silver bracelet that is durable, yet still retains the beauty of fine silver.
Another process that improves the durability of silver is a process called electroplating. This is a process where an object made out of copper, or other hard metal, is coated with silver. This of course makes a durable piece of jewelry, often seen in Mexican sterling silver jewelry and the cost is quite low. Electroplating has been used in the production of silver jewelry since the 1800s.
This process has been tweaked over the years with new technology and new, very inexpensive electroplate silver jewelry has been created. Unfortunately, this very low cost electroplating technique includes a very thin layer of silver and the quality is not as high as it once was. This does not mean that good quality electroplate jewelry does not exist; it just means that sometimes, a very low cost piece of silver jewelry may be cheap for good reason.
In the 19th and 20th century various styles were used in the creation of everything from buildings, to clothes, and, of course, jewelry. You may be familiar with the terms Edwardian, Victorian and Art Deco, which were periods of fashion that were represented by certain styles. During this time, silver was used in different ways to express the various stylistic differences. The Victorian period was known for ornate silver jewelry, such as silver necklaces for men, that looked very regal and formal.
For whatever reason, it was more about value and wealth than actual style. Jewelry was worn solely to show off one’s wealth. As you move onto the later periods, specifically the Art Deco period, silver was used in what many would call “costume jewelry”. This was jewelry that did not have significant value, but was made to be very visually appealing. Prior to this time, jewelry was worn as way to portray wealth and significance, where style was not as important.
As we enter the 20th century, a major shift happened and people of average means started to wear jewelry. They were not concerned about portraying wealth, but rather wore jewelry as an accessory to enhance an outfit. This was the time period that saw jewelry brought into the mainstream.
Over the years, different gifts have been associated with various milestones. Silver has long been associated with gifts for a 25th wedding anniversary. In many cases, husbands give their wives a piece of silver jewelry, such as a ring, bracelet, earrings or necklace, as a means of signifying this momentous occasion.
Whether you’re buying jewelry for yourself or for a loved one, silver jewelry deserves another look. Although not as popular as gold, there are many examples of stunning silver jewelry available at almost every price level.