Five Main Categories of Silver and How They're Used
Throughout history, Silver has become one of the premier precious metals and throughout the years, has become a part of our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. From lifestyle and fashion uses, like dining, home decor and jewelry to more practical uses like electronics, automobiles and medicine, Silver is known for its use across a wide spectrum of industries. Although there are many different kinds of Silver with varying names and historical uses, we’ll cover the four main categories, from lowest grade to highest grade.
Silver-plated pieces are made by covering a base metal -- usually copper, brass, or nickel -- with a very thin layer of pure silver. Because silver-plated items are known for having minimal silver content, they are usually extremely low-cost. As you know, with most low-cost items, you should be prepared to “get what you pay for''. Silver-plated pieces are no different and will wear off very quickly if exposed to water, sweat or salt air. They will also tarnish if not properly stored. The most common silver-plate uses are found in jewelry, serving trays, dining wear, and home decor items like candle holders and door knobs.
European & Coin Silver
The term European Silver is used to describe what is known as 800 silver, which contains 80% silver. Coin Silver, otherwise known as 900 silver contains 90%. Both of these silver standards are non-sterling and were most widely used in the U.S. in the 1800’s. Hence the name Coin Silver, this 900-standard silver was used as currency until 1964 (pretty recent, huh?) If you’re a vintage lover, be on the lookout as you may still find dining sets and coins made of European & Coin Silver.
Most commonly referred to as .925 Sterling Silver, this silver is what most jewelry is made of to meet today’s heightened standards. This metal is made of 92.5% Silver and 7.5% copper for strength and durability. Any marking on silver pieces with .925 or above indicates the piece is true “Sterling”. Want a little extra knowledge? Here’s a fun fact for you historian-types! Germany paid Britain for their goods and merchandise with what they called Easterling coins. These 92.5% silver coins were adopted as the standard currency of that day. After some time, the term Easterling was shortened to Sterling and that’s how most say “Sterling Silver” became what it is today.
Mexican Silver has a silver content of 95% or above. *Ding ding ding* If you’re a Charles Albert collector, you’ll recognize that this is the standard of metal that we use to craft our silver designs! Here’s our story: Almost every Charles Albert piece is hand-crafted and produced in Taxco, Mexico. When Charles first stumbled across the use of 95% silver over 25 years ago, he jumped at the opportunity to offer his Retailers a step above the competition. He then adopted the name “Fine Sterling Silver” to properly represent a silver of this grade. From that point forward, we’ve been known for our high-quality Fine Sterling Silver designs. Although Mexican Silver is mostly used for artisanal jewelry, it can also be found in vintage silverware and home decor.
Similar in property to Mexican silver, Britannia has a silver content of 95.8% or above. Although this standard of silver is not used much in today’s jewelry, it was initially introduced to replace the standard of 92.5% Sterling Silver. Britannia silver was introduced in Britain in 1697 as a way to oppose those who were melting Easterling coins to create and re-sell silverware. After many complaints of this new standard, 925 Sterling Silver was once again permitted to be used while Britannia Silver became an optional higher-grade alternative. That being said, if you find a piece of 958 Silver, now you’ll know the backstory.
More about our jewelry:
For a piece of silver to officially be named “Sterling Silver”, it must contain 92.5% genuine silver. Charles Albert coined the term “Fine Sterling Silver” as an ode to the fact that our silver contains 95% genuine silver and 5% strengthening agents such as copper. In some regions, 950 Sterling Silver is also known as Mexican Silver. We believe it gets its name from this country because of the higher level of silversmithing produced in Mexico, along with the fact that many areas of Mexico work with 95% Silver. Taxco is also well known for their metalsmithing, silversmithing and artisanry.
On that note, did you know that all of our pieces, both Sterling Silver and Alchemia “Zero Karat Gold”, are hand-crafted in Mexico? Our founder has worked with some of the same workshops for over 30 years and has found a core group of Artisans who care about the quality of work while remaining open to mastering new techniques in order to stay in line with the vision of crafting timeless and unique jewelry. Some may even call these designs wearable art.