Silver has long played an important role in human history, from acting as an early form of currency and eating utensils, to evolving right alongside modern technology.
Not only is silver a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing precious metal, but it also has potential as a highly valuable investment opportunity. This is especially true as the demand for silver goes up while the mining of it slows down. But where exactly does silver come from, and what makes it so valuable for so many uses, both ancient and modern?
Mining and Purification
In the U.S., silver mining experienced its own “silver rush” in the mid-1800s when the Comstock Lode was discovered in Nevada.
While gold is mined from the earth in visible flakes or nuggets, most silver is mined through the unearthing and purification of other minerals such as gold, copper, and sulfur compounds. Silver deposits form naturally amongst super-heated sulfur compounds in the Earth’s crust, hence why it’s only found mixed with other natural minerals. Sulfur is also the only element that has a visible effect on silver, and is the reason silver tarnishes over time due to trace amounts of sulfur that occur naturally in the atmosphere.
Refining and Manufacturing
In the past, silver was gathered via a method referred to as the “patio process”, which used mercury to isolate the precious metal from other minerals. Naturally, once the dangers of regular contact with pure mercury became better understood, this process was retired in favor of safer methods.
Now, pure silver is extracted from ore through the Macarthur-Forrest process, or simply the “cyanide process”. With this method, cyanide breaks up the combination of materials in the ore, separating silver from the copper, sulfur, and other compounds before it’s filtered or skimmed off the top of the batch near the end of the process. From there, it can be washed, melted down, purified further if necessary, and finally manufactured into the products we know and use today.
Unique Uses of Silver
While most consumers are familiar with silver for its aesthetic properties, there are myriad important and useful applications for the precious metal both in accessories as well as in the way of investment, technology, and medicine. As a valuable and multi-faceted element, silver has proven itself to be just as useful in modern applications as it was in ancient societies.
Pure silver coins were more common in ancient history as forms of daily currency. In current society, they mainly pose a valuable investment opportunity to coin collectors as well as general collectors of precious metals. Especially with recent declines in silver production, but a consistent (and growing) rate of demand, silver is considered a highly viable investment opportunity for people interested in starting investment portfolios with precious metals.
Jewelry may be the most common form of silver people recognize. Due to its natural softness, however, most jewelry makers utilize silver alloys such as sterling silver to make the material stronger and more long-lasting. Sterling silver, specifically, consists of approximately 93% silver with the additional 7% made of other harder materials such as copper to help improve durability.
There’s a reason tableware is commonly referred to as “silverware” in the U.S. For centuries, tableware was made of silver due to its lack of a chemical reaction to food and its antibacterial properties.
Eventually, however, silver became too rare and expensive for utensils to be made in large quantities, especially for people of lower classes who couldn’t afford more than singular utensils for themselves. Silver-plated utensils soon grew in popularity over pure silver ones, allowing less wealthy families to still set their tables with appealing tableware without spending a fortune.
While silver coins, jewelry, and tableware might be the most commonly thought of uses of silver, those applications make up only a fraction of the overall silver being processed for manufacturing in various industries.
One of the biggest industries utilizing silver in tech products is solar energy, specifically for solar panel production, which is projected to only continue growing in the future. Nevada being home to one of the largest silver mines in the world also helps to propel the argument for manufacturing solar panels and other forms of renewable energy, as transporting this silver for renewable tools means less foreign oil imported and shorter distances a product has to travel.
Due to its high thermal and electrical conductivity, silver is highly sought-after within many industries in tech outside of renewable energy, as well. This increased demand for silver in technological uses will only continue to drive the overall value of the precious metal, justifying why so many people are looking to silver as a financial investment that has the potential to pay out well in the future.
Silver poses a great opportunity for people looking to invest in precious metals, whether that be through collecting coins, bullion, and jewelry, or including silver and gold investments in 401(k) plans. Silver is also recently touted to be more valuable than gold, platinum, and even diamond, due to the supply and demand economic changes. Specifically, “…margins from silver sales were significantly higher than those from diamonds, gold, or platinum. Silver’s 43% margins compared to 19% diamond, 17% bridal, 16% gold, and 5% platinum.”
While silver might be most recognized in the form of coins and jewelry, in reality, it’s a multi-faceted precious metal with myriad applications both in ancient and modern times. Whether it be in precious jewelry or in modern inclusions in technology that make our lives easier, silver will surely continue to be a valuable metal in our everyday lives.