Archeologists' tests indicate that humans have created objects and ornaments out of silver since 4000 BC, just after their discoveries of gold and copper. Silver is now the most plentiful of the precious jewelry metals. Like platinum and gold, silver is malleable, scarce, and noble (non-corroding). It also has a bright, lovely luminosity that makes it increasingly desirable as a jewelry metal.
In ancient times, silver was mined in areas surrounding the Mediterranean -- especially in the countries now known as Turkey and Greece -- as well as in parts of Asia. When polished, this lustrous white metal achieves an almost glassy shine, so it was used to create sacred items, jewelry, and the ancient luxury item we call the mirror.
In its pure state, silver was considered too soft to retain a crafted shape or design, so it was alloyed with other metals for increased strength. Today, silver is most frequently alloyed with copper. The best known alloys are Sterling (92.5% silver) and Britannia (95.8% silver). Another standard for jewelry is 80% silver. Pure or alloyed, silver tends to tarnish. The dark yellow or black patina can easily be removed with commercial cleaners or silver polishes.
Silver coins were minted and used as trade currency as long as four thousand years ago; but, silver was quite a scarce commodity until Spanish conquistadors discovered rich sources in Central and South America. Spain profited hugely from the exploitation of these mines, which produced far more than sources in Europe and Asia.
North America burst onto the silver scene with the 1859 discovery of the famous "Comstock Lode" in Nevada. During its productive years, the Comstock made the United States the world's largest producer of silver. In the 20th century, the US was upstaged from this position by Mexico and Peru, which still produce a significant percentage of the world's silver.
Many countries -- including England and the United States -- used silver as their currency standard for hundreds of years. In 1900, the US Congress passed the Gold Standard Act, permanently shifting the nation's financial focus from silver to gold.
Silver still has many uses in modern society. It is valued in industry for its conductivity and honored in medicine as a powerful antiseptic. The art of photography could not have been developed without this precious metal. Naturally, cooly shining silver is forever loved in fine and affordable jewelry designs.