FINE SILVER JEWELLERY / STERLING SILVER
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.
Fine silver (99.9% pure) is generally too soft for producing large functional objects; therefore, the silver is usually alloyed with copper to give it strength, while at the same time preserving the ductility and beauty of the precious metal. Other metals can replace the copper, usually with the intent to improve various properties of the basic sterling alloy such as reducing casting porosity, eliminating firescale, and increasing resistance to tarnish. These replacement metals include germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as a variety of other additives, including silicon and boron. A number of alloys, such as Argentium sterling silver have appeared in recent years, formulated to lessen firescale or to inhibit tarnish, and this has sparked heavy competition among the various manufacturers, who are rushing to make claims of having the best formulation. However, no one alloy has emerged to replace copper as the industry standard, and alloy development is a very active area.
Tarnish and corrosion
As the purity of the silver decreases, the problem of corrosion or tarnishing increases.
Chemically, silver is not very reactive — it does not react with oxygen or water at ordinary temperatures, so does not easily form a silver oxide. However, other metals in the alloy, usually copper, may react with oxygen in the air.
The black silver sulfide (Ag2S) is among the most insoluble salts in aqueous solution, a property that is exploited for separating silver ions from other positive ions.
Sodium chloride (NaCl) or common table salt is known to corrode silver-copper alloy, typically seen in silver salt shakers where corrosion appears around the holes in the top.
Several products have been developed for the purpose of polishing silver that serve to remove sulfur from the metal without damaging or warping it. Because harsh polishing and buffing can permanently damage and devalue a piece of antique silver, valuable items are typically hand-polished to preserve the unique patinas of older pieces. Techniques such as wheel polishing, which are typically performed by professional jewelers or silver repair companies, are reserved for extreme tarnish or corrosion. See also Tarnish, Removal.
Sterling silver. (2009, August 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:12, August 10, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sterling_silver&oldid=307239407