General Jewellery Learning Metals

What is the history of silver?

Silver heart locket necklace

What is the history of silver? 

You might think you know everything there is to know about the metal silver, but this material has many interesting properties that make it suitable for use in lots of different industries. Read on to find out where silver comes from, what it is, what it’s used for, and even some fun facts about the metal. 

What is silver?

Chemically speaking, silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag, and the atomic number 47. In reality, silver is a shiny, reflective, white metal, which is often used in jewellery, due to its high shine, and the fact that it is much more abundant than the other precious metals – making it much cheaper for the customer. Silver is very conductive, and has the highest reflectivity of any metal, making it useful for lots of things, including jewellery-making. 

Where does silver come from? 

  • Silver is found in many naturally occurring minerals, and in the Earth’s Crust in its pure form. 
  • Most silver is actually made as a byproduct of refining other metals, such as gold, copper, lead and zinc. 

Where was silver discovered? 

  • Silver was first discovered around 3,000 BCE, in the country now known as Turkey. 
  • Silver has been discovered in many places across the globe. 
  • Most of the world’s silver is found in America, Mexico, Peru and Chile. However, China, Australia and Russia also supply a large amount of silver yearly. 
  • Russia also supply a large amount of silver yearly. 

What was silver used for? 

  • Silver is used for many things, including well-known uses, such as coins and investment, and jewellery. 
  • However, silver is also used in plenty of other industries, that you may not realise. For example, silver is used in solar panels, water filtering, tableware, electrical conductors, mirrors, photography, x-rays, in the medical field and even in confectionary! 
  • Silver has been used in coins for many years – in fact, the first silver coins date back to 600 BC. It is still used to this day, and silver prices are quoted in ‘troy ounces’. 
  • Silver is used regularly in tableware and in wound dressings, due to its antibacterial properties, which makes it very hygienic. 

What are some fun facts about silver? 

  • The etymology of the word ‘silver’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘seolfor’, which means shiny and white, and the chemical symbol Ag comes from the Latin word ‘argentum’, meaning white and bright. 
  • The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used silver for many things, including coins, jewellery and weapons. 
  • In different cultures, silver means different things. In some parts of the world, silver is said to give good fortune and luck, wellness, and keep evil spirits away from the wearer. 
  • There’s only one word in the English language – chilver (the name for a female lamb) – that rhymes with the metal! 
  • The phrase ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’ tends to describe someone who grew up with a well-off heritage and background. This phrase dates to 1719, in the novel Don Quixote, as to have silver tableware was something commonly associated with only wealthy families.  

How do you clean silver? 

If you’d like to find out more about how to clean your silver jewellery, read our silver jewellery cleaning guide. And if you’d like to learn more about the history of other metals, read up on the history of gold and the history of platinum