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Antique gifts from relatives, parents or friends may include precious metal items, gemstones and certain rare items but we may be unaware of the actual worth of such items. Our prized antique can be made up of pure silver or coated, and it creates lots of difference in the value of such items.
Silver plating provides a way to get inexpensive but attractive items without paying heavy money.
Some copies of real metal plated with the coating look amazing and one may find it difficult to tell the difference between the two. But such items cannot get resale value like the pure element. Those made from fine metal can be sold even if the original structure is destroyed.
Such items can be sold at the silver prices of commodity markets, which can be higher than the original cost of the item.
Silver is one of the rarest and most used elements, not only for financial investment but also for industrial applications. It is a non-renewable resource and has distinctive physical-chemical properties. It is particularly useful in electrical equipment, making a specialist catalyst and in the modern high tech applications.
Global silver production has been declining since 2016 but it is expected to recover from 913.5 mn ounces (Moz) in 2019 to 1029 Moz in 2023(Global data). It is expected that the growth in production from China and Russian mines will offset the declines of 2018.
Despite being subjected to value-added taxes or sales taxes in many countries, making it an uneven playing field compared to gold, silver continues to play an important role in an investor’s portfolio.
Physical bar investment has declined in North America but increased in India in 2018. Despite sentiments remaining subdued for a long duration of the last year, investors’ interest in physical bullion seems to be increasing, mostly driven by stock market volatility and volatility in the cryptocurrency space.
Investment funds also state that the allocation of precious metals will increase as major companies continue to generate higher free cash flow in the future.
In Europe, the physical bar investment declined in 2018 by 6 per cent amidst Brexit instability and the European demand contracted by 53 per cent in the last decade.
The key disadvantage with silver is the storage cost-to-value ratio that is considered higher for any such metal. Some investors like to invest in the ones stored in warehouses to avoid VAT.
The benchmark price of spot silver peaked at £22.73 an ounce in August 2020, the highest level since September 2012. It was at an all-time high in April 2011 as it touched £29.26 per ounce.
Many collectors buy silver antiques or items of historical value, and certain rare diamond jewellery is made on the silver rings that make it look sophisticated but people who love wearing such rings suffer from issues like the jewellery turns the fingers green, the colour is formed because pure silver rarely takes a liquid form, while, the alloyed or blended with other metals like copper, it turns green when it is oxidized or when it comes in contact with humid air.
The antique ones can be truly sterling and not just plating. Such items may be stamped with telltale hallmark where it may include the words like sterling, the numeric value of the coin and the lion hallmark.
A magnet can be used to determine the antique value where a plated product may contain metals having strong magnetic properties but silver has a weak magnetic effect.
The white metal is a good heat conductor and putting ice in it will make it cold immediately, almost in a few seconds but alloys may not get cold fast.
Different marks can provide an idea about the value of the antique. Sometimes silver metal is confused with pewter which is an alloy of copper, tin and lead. Several antiques are made up of pewter that provides a soft metal that can easily be melt and recast into various shapes.
Pewter does not tarnish when it comes in contact with air or water and silver metal gets an immediate coating of the oxidization. Mark on the metal piece that is real silver can be .925 and on pewter, it can be 800 or 900. Pewter can be dark and dull in comparison to the real metal.
Those with unrecognized sources may not have a reliable hallmark. The colour of the items can be shiny and the ones with alloys of other metals may be mentioned as silvery - which is a bright colour with a lustre.
In the last few months, the gains in silver prices created a new demand for antique which is gaining at art auctions search engines. The report by the Art Basel and UBS find there has been a change in the way investors are looking at it.
The US and China markets had an increase in the art market by 16 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, and the gain in the UK market was 8 per cent.
The market of antiques was struggling for a long time since the downturn and during 2014 when the internal market of art suffered losses. Analysts are supporting the trends saying it is a bargain at current silver prices which can be more than $22 an ounce and this is the beginning of the record sales.
Silver is rarely found in native nugget form, it occurs in the ores of argentite and galena. Once it is mined, it undergoes the processes of purification through electrolysis and amalgamation. The production process or minting takes longer designing and modelling stages.
The long-known and widely studied property of tarnishing and its alloys is related to the antiquity value as it has been used as a functional and decorative element in the last millennia, and its functional part is widely used in the coinage. Apart from electron conductors in the circuitry, the metal is also used for mirror surface and in telescopes or in other items for surface protection.
The items made from the element were used for many centuries to store things. These days the most popular form of silver is seen in the sterling coinage. In the earlier system of coinage 92.5 per cent of the element was used but now there are various compositions of alloys used to make the coins that may contain less than 50 per cent of the pure element.
Tarnishing is a feature that is common to both pure and alloyed forms, whereas, the coats reduce the functionality of the element.
The surface is not oxidized by atmospheric oxygen in normal conditions; it undergoes a chemisorbed process where a layer of molecular or atomic oxygen forms an oxide film which satisfies the thermodynamics of the element.
Mostly tarnishing leads to the formation of black sulphide layer Ag2S and silver oxide Ag2O – that is black and brown.
The higher level of protectiveness of such a layer is, mainly, due to the formation of the amorphous structure where there is no crystallinity. The layer is so thin that it has no colour.
Silver chloride can be formed spontaneously through reaction with chloride but in the absence of oxygen, the compound cannot be formed spontaneously through direct reaction, when the pressure of HCL is moderate. Such compounds can be formed in a marine environment where there is a higher concentration of chloride.
Silver is considered to be an excellent air purifier as it removes the sulphur compounds from the air. In most environmental conditions chloride ions and sulphur, ions lie in the thin film of moisture that can cover the metal surface through the airborne nanoparticle matter or from some kind of gas component, which can dissolve in the moisture. Gaseous phases cannot be ionic.
Such reactions can cause true passivation of the element and the growth of such reactions reduces the rate of further tarnishing. It can also remove COS and SO2. Hence, it can be used in electrochemically reversible air purifying systems that can be rechargeable. Certain such compounds are reversible and used widespread as electrodes.
Silver is denser than other precious elements and if the weight of items made from the white element is less, it means, it is made up of lightweight alloy rather than sterling silver but if the weight is more, it means, it can be lead plated with silver. Pure form is mostly cooler and shinier than plated items.
You can test an item made of real silver to see if it is fake or real by using a magnet. Since the white metal is paramagnetic, it can exhibit weak magnetic properties. If you have a strong magnet like neodymium, bring it close to the item and you can see if it sticks to it or not.
If it sticks, then it can be an alloy made from other metals and the article is not made of the pure silver composition.
In general, the process of tarnishing is a slow reaction as the tarnishing reactants come in contact with the metal at low pressure. However, when the metal is exposed to the continuous open atmosphere it can react with the sulphur-containing vapours even at a low concentration and low pressure.
All gaseous sulphur-containing compounds that are found in the environment have low partial pressure and the compound Ag2S is highly stable. It has extremely low solubility and it is highly stable. The fast kinetics of oxide compounds results in the formation of oxide first on the freshly bared surface as the oxygen and water vapour can be found in abundance in the environment.
The sulphide compounds can be formed on the already formed layer of oxide.
As electrons pass from Ag to O2, the oxide film grows and the surplus of white metal ions at the interface and the surplus of oxide ions at the oxide/gas interface drive diffusion of one ion across the existing film. When the layer of oxide thickens, the rate of oxidation decline as with the mass transport of ions across the film slows the transfer of electrons.
Even purest silver items do not contain 100 per cent of the element. The purest form can be 99.9 per cent silver and trace metals like copper. The composition of 92.5 per cent of pure white metal alloyed with 7.5 per cent of copper makes the most popular sterling silver, which has higher strength, durability and working abilities.
The easiest way to find out if a piece of jewellery is made up of real or fake element; you need to check the label that has an inscription that says “ster” or “sterling.” This means 92.5% of the silver can be found in the item, which is close to one of the purest.
Sterling silver plated items have silver hallmarks where it may provide information like the type of another element used in the alloy.
The fine metal contains a stamp of 999, 99.9 or .999 and sterling silver is marked 925, .925 or 92.5 in the US.
Jewellery that has a low purity is not considered comparable to the sterling silver markings as per US standards.
In most parts of Europe sterling, silver markings indicate 92.5 per cent composition, and still, it is marketed as pure.
German versions have some of the lowest like 80 per cent and Russian sterling silver markings have 90 per cent.
There are different ratios of different metals used by the sellers and even the standards vary from one region to other. One should always enquire about the purity to the seller before paying for it.
The mark of IS means – international silver plated and the item can have stamps like 800, 900 or 925. Such items contain 90 to 80 per cent of the white metal. It can also be called coin silver.
The purest form of the solid silver is too soft and it cannot be made into jewellery as it can easily get damaged or change shape quickly or gets scratched, and it is not recommended for jewellery.
People prefer to buy the metal for the white shine that comes from rare metal alloys. The purest form is lustrous and hypo-allergic but it is non-durable, while, sterling easily tarnishes and is difficult to maintain.
Some such items are made up of other metals and then silver-plated where the plating wears off after some time. Before buying one should carefully examine the craftsmanship of the item. If the craftsmanship is of poor quality, it can be a fake.
Solid silver is paramagnetic and it can generate eddy currents. It works like an electromagnet which creates a braking effect on the slow descent of the magnet. The metal can be tested by angling it at 45 degrees and sliding down the surface of the bar. In case you want to test an item, you can take it to the jewellers who can perform its tests for free.
To check a coin, see the date, quality, denomination, diameter, thickness, edge type and weight to compare it with the standard specifications.
In case you need to test a silver coin, check the weight engraved on the item. The weight of the coin should be same as mentioned on it. Use a calibrated scale to get an exact measurement up to two decimal points. If the coin weighs more than the weight written on the coin, it can be fake. The uncirculated bullion coins mostly measure the same as written on it.
Ensure the historical facts are proper. Like a coin of 1 dollar that was introduced in 1986 should have the same diameter, thickness, edge type and weight as per the standards.
Pure silver gets tarnished on the surface as it forms the compound silver sulphide which is a stable compound. Such tarnish may also contain other compounds of silver like oxide or chloride. The process is strongly influenced by the components of the environment. The sulphide is formed on the surface in normal atmospheric conditions where the normally passivating oxide is formed which is converted slowly into a sulphide. An alloy may not tarnish.
One should check the stamps to know about the items, although, most antiques do not have silver hallmarks.
In such case, you can conduct the ring test where pure solid silver gives a strong ringing sound when rubbed (on the silver surface) or dropped, but if it is rubbed with other elements it will not make a ringing sound, but, if it is dropped on a flat surface, it makes a dull sound, which means, it is made up of an amalgamation of other elements.
There are certain testing kits available online that provide chemicals to check the purity of metals but the use of some strong chemical solutions on precious metals can damage it.
Most solid silver articles are made up of 925 sterling and it certainly does not come cheap. One may have to make a lot of investment to get jewellery, ring or pendant made from solid silver, if you are buying articles from unidentified sources, then it is necessary to check its quality.
Many sellers offer fake sterlings rings, necklace, or earrings. There are many places where one can get fake imitations of such items. The ones with plating make use of minimal metal content and such items deteriorate very fast.
So the items that are 92.5 per cent or purer, is considered fine as the purest form and it can be used without another metal. In the case of alloys, copper and nickel can be incorporated.
One can use the bleach test to check authenticity. If the metal tarnishes on coming in contact with such oxidizing chemicals that turns it black, then it is real silver.
To test silver vessels or other items, put some ice cubes in the metalware. Since it is a high thermal conductor, the ice cube will melt faster.
Certain jewellery cleaning methods are based on the use of vinegar, which provides a safe effortless way to remove tarnish. Like lemon juice, vinegar is acidic and it can clean the tarnish and work as a cleaner. The common scientific test is based in the use of a drop of nitric acid chemical which has a higher copper content and it can discolour non-silver items.
Put a drop of nitric acid on a small part of the item, if it turns green, then it is not made of the genuine element.
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