Along with gold, silver is one of the most sought-after metals. Investors, industrialists, artists and others enjoy its many unique properties such as malleability, conductivity, strength and reflectivity. It also has many beneficial applications in medicine, photography, decoration and technology.
The mining of silver began between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago in Anatolia, or what is now modern-day Turkey. As early as 700 B.C., early Mediterranean civilizations were using the brilliant white metal as currency. Over the next several centuries, the epicenter of silver mining shifted from Greece to Spain to Germany to Eastern Europe.
The Spanish conquest of the Americas in the 16th century dramatically transformed silver production. From 1500 to 1800, a mere three countries controlled an 85 percent share of the world’s silver market: Peru, Mexico and Bolivia.
In 2013, the top 10 silver producers, in descending order based on output, were Mexico, Peru, China, Australia, Russia, Bolivia, Chile, Poland, the U.S. and Argentina. About 671 million troy ounces of the precious metal are mined annually. In recent years, the price of silver has fluctuated between $19 and $24 an ounce. That amounts to approximately $13 billion generated a year.
Silver’s melting point is 1,763°F whereas its boiling point is a blistering 4,013°, which is hotter than the inside of an active volcano.
Silver has many important, far-reaching technological and electronic applications. It’s used in everything from cell phones, computers and semiconductors to automobiles, water-purification systems and—because it is the best conductor of heat of all elements—spacecraft solar radiation tiles. Silver and aluminum, the world’s strongest alloy, is used in the construction of Apache helicopters and C-17 aircraft.
About 30 percent of silver consumption in the United States goes toward photography production, which requires silver nitrate.
Silver is the second-most malleable and ductile element following gold. Just an ounce of it can be stretched into 8,000 feet of wire.
The white metal also has powerful antibacterial properties, which have been known since at least the days of the ancient Phoenicians, who kept water and wine in silver vessels to ensure freshness. Today, silver is found in bandages as well as surgical instruments, stethoscopes, catheters and other health care tools. Unlike other antibiotics, silver prevents bacteria from developing resistance to it.
There are many ways to invest in silver, including bullion, coins, medallions, ETFs, mutual funds and accumulation plans.
Sources: silverinstitute.org, livescience.com, siveruserassociation.org