Every element is unique in its own way, but silver’s characteristics make it exceptional among all the substances found in the periodic table of elements.
For example, silver is malleable and ductile, making if perfect for jewelry and silverware. Because it is one of the world’s most reflective substances, silver has a uniquely beautiful shine. In fact, silver’s atomic symbol is Ag, from the Latin argentum, taken from the Greek ὰργὀς meaning ‘shiny.’
Silver is also one of the world’s best conductors of electricity, allowing its use in electronic components such as wires, switches and printed circuit boards. The combination of ductility and electrical conductivity makes silver perfect for micro-electronics devices such as smartphones, where it can be bent and squeezed into tiny spaces without breaking.
Silver also exhibits the unique property of penetrating bacteria cell walls – while not harming mammalian cells – and destroying the ability of the microbe to reproduce. This allows silver ions to be employed as a biocide, which is growing increasingly important as overuse of chemical antibiotics is causing some bacteria to become immune.
As if this isn’t enough, silver has been prized for centuries as an investment and storehouse of wealth and used as a medium of exchange in much the way that gold has been used. However, because of its lower value, silver is more available to a greater number of people who choose to keep physical silver instead of paper currency.
Where does silver come from?
Silver is found in the earth’s crust on its own in a pure form known as ‘native silver.’ More commonly, it is a mined as a secondary metal mainly found combined with gold, copper and lead, from which it must be separated.
Silver Supply & Demand
The Silver Institute works with the GFMS Team at Thomson Reuters, a leading research company that is based in London, to prepare and publish a comprehensive report on the previous year’s silver supply and demand trends, with special emphasis on key markets and regions.
This annual survey also includes current information on prices and leasing rates, mine production, silver trade, above ground stocks, and investment.
When people think of uses for silver the first thing that comes to mind is jewelry, followed by coins, but the largest single component of physical silver demand actually is industrial applications.
Over 50 percent of all silver consumed is for industrial use including electronics, medicine, water purification, solar cells, chemical catalysts, and others. Although photography once used a lot of silver, digital photography has cut into that application.
The remaining demand is taken up by jewelry, coins and silverware.
In 2016, total worldwide demand for silver totaled 1,027.8 million ounces, which was down about 11% from extremely high levels the previous year due to a decline in retail investment.
Industrial demand slipped nominally even though electrical generation from solar cells – which use silver – continues to grow around the world and even hit new record levels in 2016, with a 34% rise in demand. Still, it was not enough to offset falls across the other industrial sectors.
On a country basis, China consumes the most silver followed by the United States and Japan.
Silver is a crucial part of the production of ethylene oxide, a chemical compound used to produce many products like anti-freeze, formaldehyde and plastic, and demand in this sector rose slightly reaching a record high of 10.2 million ounces.
The largest declines in demand were from coin and bar investment, which declined 29% in 2016 to 206.8 million ounces, most of the fall coming from a drop in Indian consumption.
Due to stagnant economic conditions worldwide, jewelry fabrication fell 9% in 2016 to 207 million ounces, a four-year low. Drops were most pronounced in China and India.