The word is derived from the Old English word “stiere”, signifying “firm, strong, and immovable”. Hmmm – I like the sound of that! A different explanation given by Walter de Pinchebek circa 1300 is that sterling silver was known first as “Easterling Silver”. The term “Easterling Silver” is understood to have been used to denote the grade and quality of silver that had originally or formerly been used as the local currency in a particular area of Germany, known as “The Easterling”.
WHAT DOES THE WORD “STERLING SILVER” MEAN?
So what does “Sterling Silver” actually mean? Sterling silver refers to an alloy, or mixture of metals. It is a combination of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. This is referred to as 925 sterling silver.
So what is the reason for combining the two metals to form sterling silver? Why not use a 100% pure silver? Well, jewellers prefer not to use 100% pure silver, basically because pure silver is too soft. It will not keep its shape and it also has a very white tinny look to it, hence the combination of the silver with another harder metal to form or produce sterling silver.
The downside of heating sterling silver is that it forms fire-scale which is a black cloud in the silver that needs to be polished and sanded out. So, even though silver jewellery is much cheaper than gold jewellery, there is a hell of a lot more effort that goes into its production.
WHY DOES SILVER TURN BLACK?
So what is the main reason for sterling silver turning black? This process is called tarnishing and it is one of the essential properties of sterling silver. Ultimately, through oxidation (being in contact with air) and exposure to some other materials, including sulphur, sterling silver will ultimately tarnish. Also a person’s own alkaline/acid constitutions can do this.
I know some people who can wear a piece of jewellery for a short amount of time and it can end up being almost black after a week! Some refer to this tarnish as ‘patina’ and a lot of people even prefer the radiant/lustrous color of patina.
There are many ways to remove patina or tarnish. If the tarnish is not the look you are going for, a cloth that is made purposely for cleaning sterling silver has chemicals that are gentle enough to remove the patina without damaging the piece.
Creams and harsh dips are never suggested because they are too harsh, abrasive and can scratch and damage your jewellery. Through a chemical process I actually patina some of my pieces on purpose as I feel it suits certain designs.
WHY DOES PELAVA WORK WITH STERLING SILVER?
Silver is an exceptional metal, which allows jewellery designers and artists to craft beautiful pieces. Silver has unique properties that enable it to be more easily polished than any other metal. This is possible because silver has the highest level or degree of optical reflectivity among all the metals with a reflection of 95% of any visible light.
One out of the most interesting characteristics of silver is its malleability which varies depending on its raw form. For handmade work, sterling silver comes in sheet or wire form, which means it is easier to manipulate.
For casting, sterling silver comes in pellets or an ingot, which allows the metal to be melted down and used in the casting process. Originals for casting are made out of a different variety of hard to soft waxes, depending on the design. This is quite a long process and is called lost wax casting. The carving of the wax is quite therapeutic and one of my favourite pastimes… Nothing like an evening in the studio with a wine and some great tunes creating something cool!
The finished product often turns out different to the original concept, but more often than not I’m happy with the end result. I call this ‘accident on design’ or AOD. We all experience a few little AOD moments in our lives – hee, hee!
It is quite satisfying to create something dimensional out of a bar of sterling silver and the end result, after a lot of sanding, grinding and polishing, is a range of designs that can be sold as beautiful, bold and artistic pieces of jewellery.
pelava designer jewellery is made using sterling silver in combination with a variety of bright resins, ceramics, glass and gemstones.