Teaching Students About Sterling Silver
Sterling silver is a metal alloy that has long captivated both artists and artisans alike, its remarkable malleability, durability, and reflective properties inspiring countless works of art and daily use items. As educators, it is our role to cultivate an understanding and appreciation for this versatile material in the minds of young students. By introducing them to sterling silver’s history, properties, and potential applications, we can help foster a lifelong fascination with this classic metal.
The History of Sterling Silver
To teach students about sterling silver, it is crucial to begin with its historical context. Believed to have been discovered around 4000 BCE in modern-day Turkey, sterling silver has since played a significant role in various cultures throughout history. The ancient Romans and Greeks utilized silver for coinage and household items such as tableware. Later civilizations, like the British Empire and America’s colonizers, also adopted sterling silver for similar purposes.
The term “sterling” comes from the Old Norman word “esterlin,” which later transformed into the Middle English “starling.” This term referred to little stars found on coins produced in response to England’s currency crisis of the 12th century. Sterling silver coins typically contained 92.5% silver and provided economic stability for England. Today, sterling silver is still an alloy composed of 92.5% silver; however, it mainly finds use for jewelry and functional objects rather than currency.
Properties of Sterling Silver
Teaching students about sterling silver’s unique properties opens their eyes to its many uses beyond surface-level beauty. As an alloy containing 92.5% pure silver with 7.5% other metals (usually copper), sterling silver boasts a combination of durability and malleability not found in pure silver alone.
1) Malleability: Sterling silver’s softness allows it to be shaped easily into various forms and intricate designs. This property is particularly important to the creation of silver jewelry, tableware, musical instruments, and more.
2) Strength: Due to the addition of other metals, sterling silver is more durable than pure silver, making it ideal for daily use items or delicate jewelry.
3) Tarnish-resistance: Sterling silver does tarnish over time with exposure to air; however, regular care and cleaning can maintain its shine well.
Sterling Silver in Art and Daily Life
To expand students’ understanding of sterling silver’s potential applications, it can be helpful to discuss both historical examples and contemporary uses:
1) Artistic creations: Master silversmiths like Paul Revere crafted fine pieces such as tea sets, candlesticks, and commemorative objects that showcased sterling silver’s creative potential.
2) Jewelry: Sterling silver serves as a primary material for many types of jewelry—from rings and bracelets to necklaces and earrings.
3) Functional Objects: Everyday items like cutlery, watch straps, coins, and various instruments continue to incorporate sterling silver in their composition.