To understand the history of jewelry, especially that of semiprecious metals like sterling silver, we must examine the history of silver (the metal), too.
While we are now more familiar with classic expressions of modern jewelry, like sterling silver charms, silver has an exciting history that spans thousands of years of human civilization.
Elsa Peretti, who passed away earlier this year, was a pioneer in the jewelry industry. She revolutionized the jewelry landscape with her distinctive Bone Cuffs – frequently made of silver, including curvy Bean forms and Open Heart motifs. Torun Bülow-Hübe, a silversmith, had a similar impact: her unique contemporary interpretation of the white metal helped catapult her to stardom. Bülow-Hübe’s silver Möbius necklace, which includes a silver drop pendant, is a classic piece.
Designers of the twenty-first century are now taking up the mantle. Silver is popular among jewelry makers because metal is trendy, attractive, and unassuming. The silver woman is a distinct type of woman who is more concerned with the jewelry’s inventiveness, shape, and form than with its financial value.
Sterling Silver Charms: Classic Artistry Meets Modern Fashion and Sensibilities in the History of Jewelry
Sterling silver charms are enigmatic and timeless in the world of modern jewelry – it is within reach of everyone. Thus, it is often a favorite accent or focal point of DIY crafters and seasoned jewelers alike. In addition, sterling silver charms are a part of the modern history of jewelry in the United States, which began roughly in 1837, with the entry of Tiffany & Co. in the country. Tiffany & Co was the brainchild of Charles Lewis Tiffany.
Tiffany’s put the United States on the map regarding the jewelry, and the company became famous for crafting stunning commissions for persons like Abraham Lincoln’s wife. It would later become recognized as the setting for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In 1847, Pierre Cartier created Cartier SA in France, and Bulgari was founded in Italy in 1884.
The contemporary production studio was formed during this time as well. Despite the shift away from artisans, the modern revival of do-it-yourself jewelry crafting has contributed much to different artistic movements in other states and towns in the United States. In addition, access to high-quality sterling silver charms, such as those carried by Xinar for over twenty years contributes to the continuing evolution of jewelry in the country.
What is the Lost Wax Casting Process in the History of Jewelry?
Most sterling silver charms found in Xinar’s extensive inventory of modern jewelry-making supplies are made with the lost wax casting process. There is also a unique stamping process used for making jewelry findings like conchos (die stamping process). On the other hand, the die stamping process is used for gold-filled beads and silver beads alike.
Many people don’t realize how challenging the process is for making silver charms. These tiny, impeccable bracelet charms result from the hard work of master silver casters, who are tasked with carving the designs to create the master mold first.
Today, 3D printing technology has made the work faster, but skilled silversmithing and casting are still required to create the classical silver charms worthy of people’s workbenches. Once the metal master is finished, a master mold is then manufactured to pour the molten silver.
A wax duplicate of the master mold is created, which is encased in a fine plaster cast. The wax is melted off afterward, which accounts for the name of the process – lost wax casting. Finally, the cast is placed on a centrifuge that spins molten silver (1600° Fahrenheit). The resulting charm is despurred before it’s passed down the line for polishing and finishing. That is a lot of work to put a five- or ten-dollar silver charm onto someone’s wrist or neck.
What is the History of Silver?
We begin the history of silver far beyond the timeline of modern America – to 3000 BC.
Silver has a lengthy history, with archaeological evidence indicating that it has been used for at least 5000 years. The first traces of silver mining may be found in Cappadocia, in eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and Greece, dating back to 3000 BC. The Minoan and later Mycenaean civilizations developed in Crete, mainland Greece, and the Greek islands, and this mining became a lucrative resource. Silver was utilized to manufacture jewelry and as a medium of exchange in these places, and silver artistry was centered there.
The silver mines at Laurium were highly productive, assisting in producing the Athenian Tetradrachm coin, which became the primary currency of the eastern Mediterranean during the classical period—coupled with the tribute paid by their friends in the Delian league, these coins bestowed even more money upon Athenian inhabitants, who used it to preserve their empire and fund vast artistic initiatives.
A vast silver vein strike in the mines around 483 BC was used to fund the creation and growth of a strong navy of 200 war triremes, which Themistokles persuaded to be established, laying the foundation for Athenian naval strength.
Themistokles argued that the navy would assist Athens in its long-standing competition with the island of Aegina and the continuing conflict with the Persian empire. In the naval battle of Salamis, this navy destroyed the Persians and helped to establish the Classical Athenian empire.
The Laurium mines thus had a direct and significant impact on the formation of the Athenian empire and the subsequent Golden Age of Athenian democracy. The Laurium mines were the world’s largest individual source of silver output for over 1,000 years, ending about the 1st century AD. Beyond Asia Minor, Sardinia, and other Grecian areas, Laurium manufacturing was focused primarily on Asia Minor, Sardinia, and other Grecian locations.
Silver has had a significant impact on a multitude of global economies, including the US. Below is a brief timeline of how silver evolved over the centuries, up to the modern time.
2500 BC: In the first reported complex processing procedure, the ancient Chaldeans (modern-day Turkey) used a ‘cupellation’ process.
1600-1200 BC: Following the collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, silver production relocated to the Laurium mines (near Athens) to support the budding Greek culture.
550: The first silver coins were made in the eastern Mediterranean in the year 550 BC.
269: Silver was established as part of the Roman Empire’s standard coinage in 269 BC, and it was widely utilized across the trading world.
206 BC-220 AD: Silver coins were included in China’s official currencies during the Han Dynasty, but the royal family only used them.
The Moorish conquest of Spain interrupted silver mining. However, in the first 1,000 years of the Christian era, Spain dominated silver mine production.
708: During Emperor Genmyo’s reign, the first silver currency was struck in Japan. However, because of low production levels, it was quickly replaced by copper.
750-1200: In Central Europe, several significant silver mine discoveries were made, particularly in various districts in Germany, especially Saxony, Rammelsburg, Schemnitz, and Goslar.
775: The Saxon kingdoms issued silver “sterlings,” 240 of which were produced from one pound of silver, probably around the same weight as the last troy pound.
1279-1368: Silver ingots were frequently utilized as a payment type during China’s Yuan Dynasty, which lasted from 1279 to 1368. Silver ingots became the significant money in circulation during the Ming Dynasty, which lasted until 1911, when the Qing Dynasty, China’s last dynasty, ended.
1500-1800: From 1500 to 1800, the discovery of the New World by Columbus was a crucial milestone that led to the establishment of numerous mines in Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru, which accounted for over 85 percent of global silver output and commerce.
1545: Potosi, Bolivia, and the Cerro Rico silver ore mine, dubbed the world’s largest silver deposit, are discovered. In 1615, production reached its pinnacle.
1500-1600: In late 16th and early 17th century Spain, the eight reales coin, or “piece of eight,” was the most prevalent silver coin. For the first time, trade became a global activity, and it became the international currency.
Between the late 16th and late 19th centuries, Spanish silver coins known as “pieces of eight” were in circulation.
1500-1800: Mexico and Peru produced around 85% of the world’s silver, with total output estimated to be between 70,000 and 150,000 tons. According to some estimates, about 40% of the silver ended up in China.
1792: Alexander Hamilton, then-Secretary of the Treasury, proposes a gold-and-silver-based monetary system.
The first official US silver dollar was struck on October 15, 1794, conforming to the Coinage Act of 1792.
1858: The discovery of silver ore in Nevada sparked a wave of enthusiasm across the United States comparable to the California Gold Rush ten years prior.
1862: The United States Congress passed a bill making paper “greenbacks” legal tender for all public and private debts, except for tariffs. However, this legal bind did not render specific stipulations in contracts requiring gold/silver payment unenforceable.
1873: The Coinage Law of 1873 demonetizes silver, removing it from its infinite legal tender status and allowing it to be freely coined.
1875: In 1878, the Resumption Act of 1875 established the United States as the de facto monometallic gold standard. This signaled an increase in gold demand and a decrease in silver demand as a global monetary reserve, resulting in a drop in market prices.
1890: The Shelman Silver Purchase Act authorizes the issuance of 4.5 million ounces of silver per month.
On October 30, 1893, the Shelman Silver Purchase Act was repealed to re-establish the gold standard, following a drop in Treasury gold reserves from $320 million in 1888 to $189 million in 1893.
1900: The Gold Standard Act of 1900 abolished bimetallism and tied the United States currency to gold.
1933: On March 6, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a four-day bank holiday to prevent major panics and bank runs by prohibiting gold and silver hoarding and export. On Day 3, the “Emergency Banking Act” was approved, shutting down institutions that had to be declared “financially secure” before being reopened.
1934: Under the Silver Purchase Act of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order No. 6814, confiscating and nationalizing silver and prohibiting private ownership of quantities exceeding 500 troy ounces.
1946: The Silver Purchase Act of 1946 made the United States government the world’s largest buyer of silver. The government was also obligated to sell at a set price under the Act.
1965: Silver was removed from quarters and dimes, and the silver content of half dollars was lowered to 40%.
1973: The Hunt Brothers, sons of late Texan oil tycoon Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr, started controlling the silver market in 1973.
1980: On January 18, 1980, silver reached an all-time high of little under $50 per ounce, at a period when gold prices soared in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By the end of the year, silver prices had fallen to around $15 an ounce.
1988: The Hunt Brothers were charged with conspiring to corner the silver market, and a Peruvian mineral business was fined $134 million in compensation. The brothers declared themselves bankrupt.
Warren Buffet purchased 130 million ounces of silver in 1997 and 1998.
2010: Spot silver prices soared to 30-year highs, with more than 80% gains, outpacing gold.
2011: Spot silver hit a new high of $48.84 per ounce, while silver futures in the United States hit $49.82, the highest since 1980.
Jewelry History: The Stunning Turn to Sterling Silver
Silver is a unique material in many respects. It has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of all metals and is the most reflective of all metals. Many earlier English terms have Germanic roots, including our word for silver. The color of the river Lycia in modern-day Turkey is considered to have inspired the name silver. The resemblance of the noun in so many ancient Indo/European language groupings, where the term ‘Arg’ means ‘White or To Shine,’ indicates how long a man’s bond with silver has been.
Although no one knows precisely when silver was discovered and manufactured, archaeologists have found the remains of silver smelting operations reaching back to 4000 BC. There were only seven metals known to the man until 1400 AD Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron, Tin, Lead, and Mercury (Mercury was supposed to be a form of Silver, and its Greek name ‘Hydrargyrum,’ meaning Watery Silver, later evolved into the English ‘Quick Silver’) are the ‘Seven Metals of Antiquity.’
Silver is rarely discovered by man in its pure, metallic state. Instead, silver had to be identified and extracted from ores, which most likely happened when copper deposits were heated. Even today, most silver is created as a fractional by-product of smelting other metals, such as lead, with a few ounces of silver produced for each ton of lead. Such a valuable commodity like silver, of course, necessitates security and control.
Testing and labeling precious metal products is not a new concept; it dates back to the beginning of recorded history of jewelry. Do you recall Archimedes? The bath business was about him devising a way to assess the purity of gold using objects based on their weight to volume ratio.
In 1300, King Edward I passed a law requiring that all silver objects be assayed .
The origin of the term ‘sterling’ standard is unknown; however, it is supposed to be taken from name of the English silver penny, which was known as the Starling because of its sparkle. As a result, Starling silver was coin quality, with a purity of 925 parts per thousand.
It has nothing to do with the iridescent bird of the same name. I’m afraid starling means ‘Little Star’ in Middle English. If you recall your history of jewelry lessons on 1066 and the Bayeux tapestry, Halley’s Comet came just before the war and was considered a most auspicious event. was After William ascended to the throne of England, stars were imprinted on the silver coins he issued.
The Goldsmith’s Company was granted a charter by King Edward II in 1327, marking the start of the Company’s legal existence. The company was based in London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, giving rise to the English phrase “hallmark.” This is a notable part of the history of jewelry.
Braybrook & Britten still take our silverware to the same spot to be tested (assayed) and marked nearly 700 years later. Our manufacturers keep, which has been approved and registered at Goldsmith’s.
Although some nations allow silver finenesses lower than 925, all silver objects in our collection are either 925 Sterling or the slightly higher 958 Britannia standard. We go even farther, using the complete set of old London or Edinburgh hallmarks on our silver whenever available.
Although silver has been popular in recent years as fashion jewelry, it has its origins in royalty and refined jewelry design. Kathryn Bishop delves into the fascinating history of this valuable metal.
Silver has become the go-to metal for mass-produced, low-cost jewelry in recent years. Brands have grown accustomed to employing silver in the most inventive ways since it is inexpensive and easy to deal with. Some have used the metal to create chunkier, bolder motifs, while others have used it to create comparatively small, collectible charms. As a result, silver has enjoyed a solid demand and market for the most part.
Interestingly, silver may be on the verge of regaining its reputation as a genuinely desirable metal, a move that would be aligned with its history in the United Kingdom, where it was traditionally the metal of choice for exquisite jewelry before gold and platinum dominated the market.
The standard for sterling silver dates back to the 13th century when King Edward I of England enacted legislation requiring all silver items to meet a purity standard of 92.5 percent – or 925 parts pure silver per thousand – and to be marked with a leopard’s head. However, even as silver’s popularity in jewelry design grew in the 19th century, the British government refused to mandate jewelers to place any hallmark on their work. As a result, vintage pieces are frequently lacking purity or makers’ markings.