Since the beginning of time, silver has fascinated people around the world. The metal has been the subject of various religions, a tireless tool of trade, a shiny sign of wealth, and a unique metal whose very special properties have made it stand out from its peers.
Here are 10 reasons why silver is the world’s most noble metal.
Silver in Magic and Mystery
Silver has been associated with magic because it never rusts, does not react with other substances, and keeps food and water fresh and pure. Many people used it in shamanistic rituals. It has been in fact associated with the gods because it did not seem to tarnish and wear over time like the other metals. Its special properties were associated with supernatural powers, where mystic literature claims that werewolves and vampires should be killed with silver. It is also believed to deflect harmful spirits and energy.
Silver’s reflectivity and color is symbolic of the moon. The Incan goddess, Mama Killa (translated as Mother Moon), is goddess of the moon and is said to cry silver tears. Silver has been therefore always been associated with femininity, as well as both the lunar and menstrual cycles.
Silver in Medicine and Food
Silver was recognized for its antimicrobial properties for food and medicine though ancient peoples had no knowledge of science or biology. Silver powders and tinctures were often applied to wounds to prevent spread of infection and sepsis.
In fact, silver of in olden days never darkened when exposed to the air until the march of the industrial revolution across the world introduced new chemicals into the environment. When food spoils, sulfur content often increases. That is why silver is used in food utensils and in containers storing water and food.
The Romans knew that putting a silver coin in a barrel of water would result in less men getting sick during travel. As such, silver was dubbed a noble metal worthy of the finest of soldiers, kings and gentleman alike.
Today silver is used as an antibiotic coating on medical devices to prevent contamination, used in wound dressings to prevent infection, included in creams to cleanse scrapes and wounds, and is even bottled in ionic solution to be used as an immune system booster.
Silver nitrate also was used success-fully to treat skin ulcers, compound fractures, and suppurating wounds, well before the time of Lister.
Silver has been used in surgical implements, such as bone prosthesis, reconstructive orthopedic surgery, as well as cardiac devices. Silver has historically been used in dentistry as fillings, mixed with mercury. The dangers of mercury have caused alternative filling material to be developed, but silver is still considered safe for dental use.
Silver’s Robust Uses
The noble metal silver has a vast set of uses in industry, for adornment, and for a wealth savings vehicle. Below is a detailed look at the many incredible ways in which society has found to utilize silver’s unique properties.
Silver in Electronics
Silver is mainly used for electronics and electrical wire and connections. 36 million ounces of silver is used in the automotive industry for electrical contacts in power windows and battery connections.
Silver is present in computers, mobile phones, televisions, DVD’s, long-life batteries, and many other types of technology. Silver is used in ball bearings that need to withstand high levels of heat within engines. Silver is used in flexible computer screens and LED lights. Perhaps the most popular use of silver is in solar panels, an industry which has exploded in popularity in recent years. The following chart has been put together through research performed here at Gold Silver Pros.
The number one use of silver in industry is in electronics. Silver’s unsurpassed thermal and electrical conductivity among metals means it cannot easily be replaced by less expensive materials.
Silver in Coins and Medals
Silver in Photography
According to Popular Photography, silver is what enabled photography to be used by everyone.
Created at the end of the 19th century, gelatin silver processing was the first time that the bromide and silver used to make light sensitive material, appeared in a single solution. It transformed what had always been a two step process into a single step, making photography more accessible for everyone.
…The solution was eventually applied to paper and film and in 1888 when the Kodak Camera was invented, photography became something in which the general population could participate.
This video from the Royal Society of Chemistry explains how silver chloride is used in photography. As light is shown onto paper with silver chloride, the chloride product darkens and turns into silver, which leaves an imprint on the paper that wasn’t there before.
Silver in Green Technologies
Because the price of silver is expected to rise in the coming years to meet its value as a key industrial metal, the Silver Institute is predicting that use of silver in solar panels will be halved by 2028 using copper and aluminum as substitutes.
Even though silver has the best conductivity, the demand profile for silver is pushing manufacturers to find alternatives for the solar industry. Regardless of this trend, the green product industry is expected to use more and more silver, projected to be as high as 140 million ounces by 2030.
And there are limitations on how much silver substitution can occur in the solar industry. CRU noted in their study that:
…there is a “physical limit” on the possibility of further reducing silver loadings in cell production, as efficiency losses outweigh the benefits achieved from cheaper raw materials such as copper or aluminum.
So we expect that silver will continue to be a very prominent player in the development of solar panels and other green technologies. In fact, according to a study by the Silver Institute,
global industrial demand for silver grew around 4%, from 5,768 million ounces in 2016 to 5,990 million last year. This spurt was mainly due to the record growth of the PV industry, which pushed demand for silver as a component of silver pastes for solar cells, from 79.3 million ounces in 2016, to 94.1 million ounces in 2017 – year-on-year growth of around 19%.
Silver Limited Substitutes
Due to the relatively scare nature of silver, industries will continue to look for silver substitutes where they can, even though most substitutes fail to replicate all of the important features that silver provides us. Per the US Geological Survey, silver substitutes are being developed in the following technologies.
In photography, digital processing and silverless black and white technologies are actively being developed and refined. Surgical pins are being made of stainless steel, titanium, and tantalum. Many of us have already substituted stainless steel instead of silver for flatware, mainly for price considerations. In some cases, nonsilver batteries are being developed to reduce the amount of silver needed for battery technology. Aluminum and rhodium are replacing silver in mirrors and reflective surfaces.
On the same token, silver is being developed as a replacement for more expensive palladium and platinum for automotive catalytic converters for off-road vehicles.
Silver’s Production Profile
Silver has an interesting production profile because most of the silver produced in the world is not from primary silver mines, but instead where silver is the byproduct of some other product that is being sought after.
In fact, about 30% of annual supply comes from primary silver mines while about 36% is produced at lead and zinc operations. Further, 20% of silver production actually comes from mines where copper is the primary product. Six of the top 20 producers are actually primary silver miners. Overall, there are 12 primary silver mines in the world that have provided data on operations. Those poly-metallic ore deposits in which much of silver is recovered make up about 2 out of every 3 ounces of silver produced on a yearly basis.
The following three charts come from data researched by Gold Silver Pros .
As you can see from the chart above, Mexico and Peru produce the most silver annually with Mexico over 5000 metric tonnes and Peru over 4000. Many other countries also produce a lot of silver, with China, Russia, Poland, and Kazakhstan leading the way.
Silver scrap made up 1150 tons in 2017, which is about 1/5 of overall production for the year.
Silver Reserves by Country
What is more interesting is seeing which countries produce more of their overall silver reserves. The next two charts will look at which countries have the largest reserves, and which ones produce the most as a percentage of these reserves. The last point is particularly interesting if you are wanting to invest in silver companies and are trying to figure out which districts are operating the more prolific mines and which ones are being more conservative with their production.
The next chart calculates production over reserves to find the highest percentage of actual production on an annual basis.
Two countries that stick out like a sore thumb with lower overall production as a percentage of silver reserves are Poland and Australia. These silver resource-rich countries are being conservative with silver mining. This can be based on a lot of factors such as cost of production, mining permit process, etc.
From that standpoint, however, most silver mines are currently profitable. Readers of our subscription service here at GoldSilverPros.com know from my December Monthly Subscriber Digest that the average cost of mining silver is $10.54 US at ending of 2017, according to data from the GFMS and Thomson Reuters. That means many more silver mines could be profitable were the price of silver to rise, which the same December Member Digest shows how this is likely to happen in 2019.
Silver’s Declining ore grades and mill yields are falling, suggesting that silver production will become more costly, pushing up the floor of the potential silver price. Per a study performed by MDPI out of Basel, Switzerland, ore grades and mill results have been falling for some time suggesting that we may have, at least temporarily, reached the end of cheap and abundant silver reserves.
When both the ore grade quality in the ground, and the resultant yields from the mining process are both falling, a strong signal is being given that silver is less abundant and about to get more expensive. Considering all of the wonderful uses of silver outlined in this article, where substitutes have only been marginally successful in replacing silver in certain uses, it is very likely we are about to see more expensive silver prices in the very near future.
Silver’s Use as Money
Perhaps the most historically important use for silver is as money. The following list shows the historically important role silver has played for over 6000 years among the world’s many different nations, societies, and cultures.
What we have shown is that silver has served an integral role in societies since the dawn of modern civilization. Silver’s current uses are varied, and its demand is strong. The unique attributes which make it an everlasting part of our society have made silver into a truly noble and majestic metal.
Here is the recap of the 10 reasons why silver is the world’s most noble metal.
- Silver is a part of age old religious traditions across the globe.
- Silver’s unique luster has made it one of the most popular components of many culture’s adornment during ceremony.
- Silver can be used to keep food and drink safe to consume.
- Silver has a long list of medicinal uses which are increasing each year as we come up with new uses for it.
- Silver was instrumental in establishing the world wide personal photography movement, which is the basis for the popularity of photographic services now spreading across the Internet.
- Silver is critical for development of green technologies designed for a cleaner and more efficient environment.
- Silver is essential to the many electronic devices we rely on today for our everyday enjoyment and productivity.
- Silver is essential to automobiles and therefore autonomous movement of people.
- Silver can be used as an alternative money substitute when economies experience extreme conditions such as in Argentina and Brazil. Indeed, silver was the very first monetary metal and has existed in this context for over 6000 years.
- Silver is used in coins and medal for wealth preservation because it is expected to grow in use and value.
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