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The most common silver alloy found in the United States is Sterling Silver (.925), but there are a number of different silver alloys in usage around the world. Silver alloys are designated by the proportion of silver in the alloy, as measured in 1000th s. The highest grade of silver is 999/1000 (or .999). This is because trace impurities occur naturally in the silver molecules. The impurities, usually copper, but can be other metals, are relatively insignificant and it would cost too much money to remove them.

Below is a list of the more common alloys of silver. They are all legally called "Silver". The only legal requirement for Silver alloys is, if it is going to be sold to the public, they must be quality stamped, before sale.
.999 Fine silver Contains .001 trace metals
.9584 Britannia 95.84% silver - 4.16% copper
.925 Sterling 92.5% silver - 7.5% copper
.900 Coin 90% silver - 10% copper
.830 European 83% silver - 17% copper
.800 European 80% silver - 20% copper
As stated earlier, fine Silver, along with pure Gold, is a non-reactive metal. Generally, people who have problems wearing Silver are probably allergic to the copper in the alloy.

Prior to the European Industrial Revolution tarnished on Silver wasn't a major problem. Along with the Industrial Revolution came new air pollutants that caused Silver alloys to tarnish quickly. Pure Silver doesn't really tarnish. What we see is actually the oxidation of the copper in the alloy. This oxidation is also known as patina.

Personally, I feel that White Gold and Platinum are cold, dead metals. Where as, Silver, with its' rich warm patina, seems to be alive. Many people prefer to dip their Silver pieces in "Tarnish Remover" and eliminate all of the beautiful, warm patina. I prefer, especially with textured Silver pieces, to rub them with a cleaner impregnated cloth. This allows the surface and high points to shine, while the textures and crevasses retain the warm patina, giving the Silver piece depth and character.

Next week we will explore the processes developed to give people precious metals, but at a much lower price -PLATED AND FILLED PRECIOUS METALS.