Noble, precious, ‘metal of the antiquities’ - there are a myriad of reasons why silver is one of the most sought after metals and a beautiful choice for jewellery.
As a “metal of the antiquities” it has been long recognised as a precious and magical metal. Through the ages silver’s properties, both tangible and mythical, have seen it used for medicine and currency as well as for elaborate ornamentation. While gold is often associated with status, silver has a strong historical association with wellbeing and healing. And for these reasons, humans have been extracting silver from the earth for millennia.
Also classified as a noble metal because it is so durable, silver resists corrosion and doesn’t easily react with acids. From a jewellery perspective, this means it is much less likely to react with your skin, and your skin is much less likely to react to it! With so many of us suffering from allergies and sensitive skin, silver’s hypoallergenic properties, make it a clear winner for earrings.
Silver is the whitest and most reflective of all metals. It can be polished to an almost mirror like state which feels beautiful to touch. After polishing it can also be finished with a satin look, which gives it a lovely moonlike lustre. And although silver is more reactive than gold, it won’t rust or permanently discolour. While it will tarnish, with a little care this can be minimised and its beautiful appearance can be restored.
While pure silver is a beautiful metal, its softness and brittleness mean it is not ideal for jewellery particularly when complex crafting is involved. As a result, jewellers tend to work with silver that has been alloyed with a very small amount of other metals to create “Sterling silver”. This improves its hardness and capacity for manipulation, as well as making it more durable when worn.
To be classified as Sterling silver, it must comprise a minimum of 92.5% pure silver by weight and a small proportion of zinc, copper or palladium. Metals that cause allergies such as nickel should not be used to alloy silver. Brave Edith jewellery is made to exacting standards including the quality and purity of the sterling silver we use, and all our sterling silver is nickel free.
To be sure your silver jewellery conforms to these standards, check that it is clearly stamped with a sterling silver fineness hallmark or quality stamp. In Australia the sterling silver fineness stamp is usually 925, although antique jewellery may be marked STG or Sterling. This acts as a guarantee that the piece contains at least 925 parts of pure silver out of 1,000 parts of metal. The easiest way to tell if a piece is sterling silver is to look for a quality stamp. You will find the 925 stamp on Brave Edith jewellery on the back of our earrings or necklaces or on a small tag attached to the clasp of our necklaces.
High quality jewellery will usually have the hallmark stamped alongside the maker’s mark which is another signifier of quality. A makers mark is akin to a designer’s logo which is applied to jewellery to indicate the authenticity of the design, while the hallmark is an indicator of the piece’s metal purity.
As with 925 stamps, you are most likely to find these stamps on the back of your jewellery or on necklaces, on a small tag attached to the clasp. In the case of Brave Edith, we use two maker’s marks, a Chinthe design on our larger pieces and BE initials on our more intricate designs. These are always placed alongside our 925 stamp.
Sterling silver is created through the process of “alloying” which is essentially the combining of two or more different types of metals. The actual process requires extreme temperatures, great care, skill and precision.
Firstly, to meet international standards it is crucial that the correct ratio of metals are combined. In the case of sterling silver, this is a minimum of 925 parts pure silver and usually 75 parts copper (although zinc or palladium may also be added). Secondly, the equipment must be carefully prepared so that it is clean and free of condensation. This is to ensure the final ingot is free of contamination which could otherwise lead to the ingot cracking.
In an artisan’s workshop, silver ingots are created by placing the copper and silver in a crucible along with a small amount of borax (an additive that keeps the alloy clean during the heating of the metals). The crucible is then heated to a very high temperature until both metals become liquid and combine. Again this is a process that requires precision, if the metal is either too hot or not hot enough, the process may fail. Once combined, the molten material is poured into an ingot mould and allowed to cool.
Once cooled, the ingot is removed from the mould and cleaned using an acid solution before undergoing a process of “degassing”. Degassing is essentially a form of forging that removes any small cavities of trapped gas out of the metal as well as shaping the ingot so that it is suitable to be put into a rolling mill so that it can made into silver sheet or wire. This process takes time, the more the sterling silver is worked, the harder it becomes until it becomes too hard keep forging. So throughout this process the sterling silver needs to be periodically heated, or ‘annealed’, so that it becomes soft again and can be forged and shaped further. Once the sterling silver is finally rolled into sheets or wire, it is then ready for all manner of beautiful sterling silver jewellery designs to be created.