silver’s unique properties include its strength, malleability and ductility, its electrical and thermal conductivity, its sensitivity to and high reflectance of light and, despite it being classed as a precious metal, its reactivity which is the basis for its use in catalysts and photography. This versatility means that there are few substitute metals for silver in most applications, particularly in high-tech uses in which reliability, precision and safety are paramount.
Demand for silver is built on three main pillars; industrial uses, photography and jewelry & silverware. Together, these three categories represent more than 95 percent of annual silver consumption.
Today, the demands of modern technology have revealed the remarkable range of electrical, mechanical, optical, and medicinal properties that have placed silver as the key metal in many applications.
Density @ 293 K: 10.5 g/cm3
Melting Point: 961.93 C (1235.1 K)
Boiling Point: 2212 C (2428 K)
Classification: Transition Metal
Crystal Structure: Face-centered Cubic
Characteristics: soft, ductile, tarnishes
Silver occurs in the metallic state, commonly associated with gold, copper, lead, and zinc. It is also found in some 60 minerals including: argentite (a sulfide), cerargyrite (a chloride), many other sulfides and tellurides. Relative abundance in solar system is -0.313 log and abundance earth's crust is -1.2 log.
Sparkling tableware, shining jewelry, and living spaces brightened by silvered mirrors are the obvious contributions of silver to our daily lives. It is, however, the silver behind the scenes that makes our modern world function efficiently. Inside switches, silver contacts efficiently and safely turn on and off the powerful electric current that flows into our homes, our lamps and our appliances. It is silver under the keys of computer keyboards, behind automobile dashboards,and behind the control panels of washing machines or microwave ovens that switch on or off at the touch of the finger. And inside the 220-volt line circuit breaker boxes in our homes or inside the 75,000-volt circuit breakers in power stations, silver performs a safe and steady task of switching on or off our most dependable servant, electric power, throughout our lives In more contemporary times, when the first telegrapher tapped out his code in 1832, silver was the electrical contact that made the current flow. Earlier that century, when Joseph Nicephore Niepce created the first photographic image obtained through a camera-like device in 1813, it was silver nitrate that made it possible. Finally, when the German obstetrician, Dr. F. Crede made his medical breakthrough in 1884 to halt the disease that caused blindness in generations of children at birth, it was silver that killed the virus.
A major watershed of silver production was the discovery of the New World in 1492, after which time major silver mines in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru were opened leading to a rapid rise in the annual world production of silver. This rise, coupled with improved techniques for extracting silver from ore, broadened both the quality and quantity of ore that could be exploited. Later improvements, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, vastly enhanced the base of silver production and accelerated the exploitation of silver as a byproduct of base-metal mining. Only about 25 percent of cumulative world silver production occurred before the 1770s. Records remain somewhat incomplete for the periods before 1900, however they play a critical part in determining cumulative historical production.
Uses of Silver
Silver’s unique properties include its strength, malleability and ductility, its electrical and thermal conductivity, its sensitivity to and high reflectance of light and, despite it being classed as a precious metal, its reactivity which is the basis for its use in catalysts and photography. This versatility means that there are few substitute metals in most applications, particularly in high-tech uses in which reliability, precision and safety are paramount.
The ease of electrode position of silver accounts for silver’s widespread use in coating. The plating thickness of some items, such as fuse caps, is less than one micron although the silver then tarnishes more easily. Coatings of two to seven microns are normal for heavy duty electrical equipment .
"Silver's tendency to tarnish does not affect its electrical performance," says a report of a 20-year exposure test of thousands of electrical contacts at 4,000 locations in different environments ranging from business offices to severe industrial locations such as petroleum refineries. The tests conducted by the Battelle-Columbus Laboratories, Columbus, OH, show that silver tarnish films are soft and readily wiped off with use; therefore in the field they perform well on tarnish because they are tough and offer high resistance.
Silver plating is used in a wide variety of applications from Christmas Tree ornaments to cutlery and hollowware.