Modern Silver Jewellery – The Process of Sterling Silver

Most of us will own, or at least know someone who owns, a piece of sterling silver jewellery, from modern silver jewellery to a sterling silver necklace. But, have you ever thought about the journey that the silver takes before it ends up as that beautiful, stylish item?

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Silver mining

The first thing is finding the silver and getting out of the ground. Silver is rarely found or mined as it is, rather being found in lead, zinc, and copper ore deposits. In fact, two-thirds of the silver resources in the world are found in association with these metal ores, with the remaining third being found in deposits of gold.

Silver is either strip mined from the surface, or if the deposits are large enough, from underground pit mines. Both involve the use of heavy, industrial equipment with the latter sometimes involving the use of explosives.

Mexico is the world’s biggest silver producing country. Peru, China, Australia, Chile, Bolivia, Russia, Poland, USA and finally Argentina make up the remaining top 10.

Separation

Once out of the ground, the mined silver needs to be separated from the metal which it is found with. This is achieved in many different and scientifically complicated methods, depending on the ore.

For example, to separate silver from zinc, a method called the Parkes process is used. In this method, the ore is heated until it becomes molten and then allowed to naturally cool. As it does a crust of zinc and silver forms on the surface. This crust is then removed and distilled to remove the zinc from the silver.

To extract silver from copper, an electrolytic refining process is used. Here the ore is placed in an electrolyte solution in an electrolytic tray, which contains a positive and negative electrode. When electricity is passed through the solution, silver accumulates, almost as a slime, at the positive electrode while copper is deposited on the negative electrode. The silver is then collected, roasted, leached, and then smelted to remove any further impurities.

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Adding the ‘Sterling’

By comparison, adding the additional, durable metal to silver to create sterling silver is fairly simple. Once pure, the silver is melted down into its liquid form and mixed with another melted metal, usually copper to form sterling silver. 92.5% by mass is silver and the remaining 7.5% is made up of the additional metal.

Creating the Jewellery

Once the silver sterling has been created, there are many ways of turning it into jewellery including sculpting, where the silver is heated and bent into shape, moulding, where it is melted and poured into a mould, and cutting, where the jewellery shape is cut from strips of sterling silver.

Although this is a very brief and fairly basic overview, you may look at your modern silver jewellery or necklace in a different way now – it’s takes a truly global effort to get it from the ground to your jewellery box.

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The London Silver Company offers one of the finest ranges of sterling silver jewellery and gifts in the UK, encompassing wedding, christening and other celebratory gifts as well as jewellery including everything from necklaces to tie pins and bracelets to modern silver jewellery.

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