Silver is a beautiful gift from Mother Nature that has been used for eons. The first recorded use in the Americas were more than likely native jewelry. The Inca, Navajo, and many other tribes used silver to adorn themselves and their ceremonial items. Today it is still found in Native American jewelry, especially in the West.
There are many types of silver and some things that are named silver that really are not. Here, I hope to help you understand a few of the different terms in use today.
First of all - there is the good old Silver Plate. I use more of this than I would like to simply because it keeps the cost down on the pieces I make. What cost me less, costs my customers less. A base metal is dipped in a solution containing pure silver and an electric current is passed through which makes a very small amount of silver stick to the metal. It will wear off with use. I have Silver Plate flatware for every day use and it has worn down to the metal. I much prefer Sterling! Alas - I have Champagne taste on a beer budget.
The most common term for use in silver today is Sterling Silver. To qualify for this classification, an item must be 92.5% silver mixed with other alloys, most commonly copper. Most pieces are marked with 925 in some manner. The piece shown above is made using Sterling wire. It is not marked simply because I haven't figured out how to do it yet. If anyone can tell me please do!
A newer silver you may be seeing is Argentium silver. It maintains it's luster much longer than Sterling. Still the same 92.5% of silver as in Sterling, it replaces some of the copper used with metalloid germanium. Items made with this alloy will not tarnish as quickly and usually will cost you more.
Coin Silver is a term heard quite often. It is an alloy of 90% silver and 10% copper. It is what our US coins used to be made of before they devalued them to the new alloys. Silversmiths quite often used Coin Silver to make vessels and other utilitarian items. I had some Coin Silver spoons once. They were very soft and dented easily.
Tibetan Silver is seen frequently in the jewelry world. It is very similar to Pewter and has the look of aged silver. It is a mix of copper, other alloys and some pure silver. The actual amount of silver can vary but it is usually very low.
Hill Tribe Silver seems to be everywhere. It has a higher silver content than even Sterling and can be as high as 99% silver. Beware, there are many fakes trying to pass Tibetan or other cheaper items as Hill Tribe. Know your dealer if you are buying Hill Tribe these days!
The final item I will address today is Nickel Silver which really isn't silver at all. It is an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel. It was popular years ago, but because of allergies you will find less of it these days. Who wants to wear zinc anyway?