The most plentiful of precious metals, silver, is also the most widely used. It was the money standard until the 19th Century in most countries, and almost every 21st Century home has some silver jewelry, silver-plated candlesticks, photographic film, silver coin, etc. Silver must be alloyed for hardness; the best-known alloy is sterling silver, that’s any alloy 925 fine or 92.5 percent silver (plus 7.5 percent base metal). Though used most in money or castings, sterling silver jewelry is a growing fashion trend. Jewelry marked “Alpaca Mexico” is generally less pure than sterling — most often around 900 fine. “Jewelry silver” is a specific alloy, 80 percent silver 20 percent copper.
Silver’s one drawback is tarnish, but a new alloy, Platifina (from the Spanish for “fine silver”) is 925 silver 10 platinum 65; it is extremely tarnish resistant. “Silver-plated” indicates a very thin layer of silver over base metal. Like gold-plate, the silver can be just a few microns thick, meaning it can chip and will wear off eventually, but, again, replating is less expensive than buying new jewelry. A warning–some silver isn’t silver at all. “Nickel silver” (also known as German silver or alpaca silver, along with a few other trade names) is any alloy of copper with nickel or zinc, and sometimes antimony, tin, lead or cadmium. It is silver tone, not silver alloy, and was a low-priced silver substitute in the 19th Century, mostly as a base layer for silver-plating. Because some of these metals are toxic, its use is now heavily restricted. In the US, the principal use of nickel silver is the nickel (5-cent coins are 750/250 copper/nickel). By law, these alloys cannot be marketed in the US as silver.
Palladium Sterling Silver
Palladium sterling silver is a relatively new alloy with a bright future in jewelry. Sterling silver itself is an alloy consisting of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent base metal, which includes copper. In the palladium sterling silver alloy, palladium replaces part of the copper content. Palladium is one of the precious metals in the platinum group and is prized for its strength and resistance to tarnish. Although silver is a beautiful, shiny metal, its tendency to tarnish is a drawback for anyone who must maintain a large amount of silver jewelry and decorative items. The addition of palladium to sterling silver makes the resulting alloy five times more resistant to tarnish that sterling silver alone. Additionally, palladium sterling silver has a brilliant sheen that is similar to white gold but costs much less.