Precious metals are valued for their beauty, durability and relative rarity. Besides gold and platinum, silver has earned loyal followers for eons. This shiny white metal takes a highly reflective polish. As of this writing, the spot price on silver hovers close to $23 per ounce. Nothing to sneeze at. Still, for modern designers it provides a glamorous yet affordable way to create entire collections that can be a bit costly (with couture names behind them) yet still be accessible to most consumers.
Breakfast – and anytime at Tiffany
Tiffany & Co., first elevated silver as its iconic status symbol in 1851 as the first American jeweler to institute using .925 silver as its sterling silver standard. Later on, this became adopted throughout the US as well.
Modern Sterling Influencers
Trending and influential brands like Gucci, John Hardy and David Yurman create and promote the luxe feel of sterling nowadays in their desirable collections.
Before the silver boom in the US during the mid-19th century, very little silver production occurred in America. But that doesn’t mean it was an unknown commodity. The Spaniards invading Aztec and Toltec civilizations in Mexico discovered loads of the metal which had been highly prized by their societies for centuries.
Surprisingly, the early British-American colonists were making some form of silver by mid-18th century in Massachusetts and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard. It was mixed differently than modern silver we know, however. This early silver was alloyed with small quantities of lead ore, or galena.
The Comstock Lode
Things took a turn for the richer in 1859 with the discovery of a massive deposit along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Range. The Comstock Lode (the largest silver discovery in the US) ran along part of California and over the border into Nevada.
Named for early prospectors Henry Phinney and Henry Comstock, their discovery ignited a stampede for the precious metal. An awe-inspiring emigration ensued, producing sizable boom towns like Virginia City, Carson City and Silver City. The Central Pacific Railroad was extended throughout this newly created region to provide goods and services required for these pop-up towns.
A similar rush preceded the silver rush. From 1848 to 1855, California’s Gold Rush made millionaires (which was a lot of money then) out of daring prospectors. That gold rush alone brought 300,000 people to California. The influx of miners in search of silver drove another 25,000 people into the area.
While the Comstock Lode extracted over $700-million in gold and silver between 1859 and 1919, it didn’t last forever. Eventually, the mines started playing out. By 1880, all of Nevada’s mines, with the one exception of Delamar mine were in a steep decline. Delamar was said to have produced 100 million ounces of silver and 1.6 million ounces of gold during its run. In brief, gold and silver built the West.
An American Metal
Today, designers and collectors alike are reigniting a well-deserved adoration for the gleaming metal. Not only is it a gorgeous precious metal that can take a mirror-like polish, but some collectors prefer the soft patina it displays when it’s aged – without shining it up. It’s hefty and substantial. And for Americans, it has a uniquely personal story that we can be proud of.