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Silver has been fashioned into jewelry ever since its discovery about 5,000 years ago. Silver was first mined in present-day Turkey in 3000 BC. Greece became the world’s largest producer of silver beginning in about 1200 BC, followed by Spain in 100 AD. With the discovery of the New World, silver jewelry reached a new height of popularity, as large silver deposits were discovered in Mexico and Peru. These countries remain the world’s largest silver producers in the 21st century, and thus the initial sources of much of the silvery jewelry worn today.
Pure silver is too soft to be used alone in jewelry, so it is alloyed with other metals in the jewelry-making process. The most popular silver jewelry mixture is sterling silver, which is a blend of at least 92.5 percent pure silver with 7.5 percent copper. The addition of copper helps to harden the silver, creating more durable, functional silver jewelry. However, copper does cause the tarnishing common with silver jewelry. More recently, platinum has been alloyed with pure silver to create a harder, more tarnish-resistant silver jewelry that is also more expensive.
Since silver is more reflective than gold, silver jewelry can be polished to a remarkable shine. A patina, or shiny glow mixed with darker areas, is often visible on silver jewelry that is worn frequently without polishing. Many people like the glow of the patina on silver jewelry, while others simply polish it off to restore the uniform shininess of silver jewelry. Popular silver jewelry pieces include wedding bands and gemstone rings and necklaces. Silver goes well with all gemstones and can be worn in simple designs for casual wear or in elaborate designs for more elegant settings.
Since silver jewelry has a tendency to tarnish, it does require special care to keep its appearance clear and shiny. Silver jewelry should be stored alone in treated tarnish-prevention cloths in a cool, dry place. Tarnished silver can be restored with a silver cleaning cloth or paste, commonly available where silver jewelry is sold.
Silver jewelry should not be stored with other pieces of jewelry because harder pieces can easily scratch and damage the softer silver jewelry pieces. Popular wisdom recommends toothpaste to polish silver jewelry, but only silver-specific cleaners should be used on silver jewelry. Toothpaste is quite harsh for use on a precious metal and can actually damage silver jewelry when used repeatedly over time.