Silver is soft. It’s also ductile (you can bend and shape it quite easily) and malleable (you can bang it into shape). It is more conductive, both of electricity and of heat, and more reflective than any other metal. In the periodic table, it sits between gold and copper (another highly conductive metal).
Silver shines. In fact, the abbreviation by which it is known – Ag – comes from the Latin argentum which means “shiny.”
The “seven metals of antiquity” (the elements known to the earliest humans who knew how to work metal) were: gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury. Silver has been regarded as a precious metal since long before records began or human beings first started to write down what they thought of things and how they valued them. It was used in coins, in bracelets and necklaces belonging to high-ranking people, and in fact was often used to make objects that symbolized social and political rank. Later on, glassmakers in the Middle Age started using silver salts to produce the yellow and orange colors visible in stained glass. Strange, then, that it is tiny particles of silver that produce the blackest colors in photographic images.
Silver has so many other applications in the modern world; it’s there in solar panels, in water filters, as electrical contacts and conductors, as disinfectants and germ-killing agents in bandages – the list goes on. For many people, though, it is as jewelry that silver is best known. Its physical properties mean that it can be polished to a high luster. It is found in watches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and an almost unlimited number of other jewelry applications. It easily forms alloys with copper, gold and zinc. All of these have properties of productivity and malleability almost equal to silver’s own and so the alloys are worked into jewelry almost as easily as silver itself.