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Home » Minerals » Silver


Silver


The soft, white, native metallic element with a diversity of uses.



What is Silver?



Silver is a soft, white metal that usually occurs in nature in one of four forms: 1) as a native element; 2) as a primary consituent in silver minerals; 3) as a natural alloy with other metals; and, 4) as a trace to minor constituent in the ores of other metals. Most of the silver mined today is a product of the fourth type of occurrence.

2013 Silver Production
Country
Metric Tons
Mexico 4,500
China 4,000
Peru 4,000
Australia 1,900
Chile 1,400
Russia 1,400
Bolivia 1,350
Poland 1,200
United States 1,160
Canada 700
Other Countries 2,200
The values above are estimated silver mine production in metric tons from USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries

Silver is known as a "precious metal" because it is rare and because it has a high economic value. It is valuable because it has a number of physical properties that allow it to be used by people in many ways.

Silver has an electrical and thermal conductance that is higher than any other metal. It has a higher reflectivity at most temperatures than any other metal. It has an attractive color and luster that resist tarnish and make the metal desirable in jewelry, coins, tableware and many other objects.

These are just a few of silver's valuable properties. When performance is more important than price, silver is often the material of choice.


Physical Properties of Silver

Chemical Classification native element
Color silvery white
Streak silvery white
Luster metallic
Diaphaneity opaque
Cleavage none
Mohs Hardness 2.5 to 3
Specific Gravity 10.0 to 11.0
Diagnostic Properties color, specific gravity
Chemical Composition Ag
Crystal System isometric
Uses jewelry, tableware, coins, electronics, photographic films, ornaments


Silver as a Native Element Mineral



Silver is rarely found as a native element mineral. When found, it is often associated with quartz, gold, copper, sulfides of other metals, arsenides of other metals and other silver minerals. Unlike gold it is rarely found in significant amounts in placer deposits.

Native silver is sometimes found in the oxidized zones above the ores of other metals. It persists there because silver does not readily react with oxygen or water. It does react with hydrogen sulfide to produce a tarnish that is often an alteration to the silver sulfide mineral known as acanthite. Many specimens of native silver that have been exposed to the atmosphere have an acanthite coating.

Most native silver is found associated with hydrothermal activity where the native silver occurs as vein and cavity fillings. A few of these deposits are large enough and rich enough in native silver to support mining. In most cases the economic viability of the deposit depends upon the presence of other valuable minerals. The mines are usually underground operations that follow the veins and cavities where the native silver occurs.

Native silver is usually without a characteristic crystal habit. When it forms in the open spaces of pockets and fractures some interesting crystal habits sometimes develop. The crystals are rarely the cubes, octahedrons and dodecahedrons expected of an isometric mineral. Instead the silver's habit is usually thin flakes, plates and dendritic crystal clusters formed in the narrow spaces of joints and fractures. Filiform and wire-like habits are also seen.


Minerals that Contain Silver



The number of minerals that contain silver as an essential constituient is surprising. The right column of this page contains a partial list of silver minerals that includes 39 different species. Each of these is a distinct silver mineral. All of them are rare but a few such as acanthite, prousite and pyrargyrite can be found in sufficient quantities to warrant mining. Silver minerals can be sulfides, tellurides, halides. sulfates, sulfosalts, silicates, borates, chlorates, iodates, bromates, carbonates, nitrates, oxides, and hydroxides.


Natural Silver Alloys and Amalgams



Most gold found in placer deposits is alloyed with small amounts of silver. If the ratio between gold and silver reaches at least 20% silver then the material is called "electrum". A significant amount of today's silver production is a refining byproduct of gold mining.

Silver also forms a natural alloy with mercury. This silver amalgam is sometimes found in the oxidation zones of silver deposits and is occasionally associated with cinnabar.




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Crystals of native silver on calcite from the New Nevada Mine, Batopilas, Chihuahua, Mexico. Specimen is approximately 11 x 7 x 6 centimeters in size. Specimen and photo by Arkenstone / www.iRocks.com.




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Minerals that Contain Silver

Acanthite Ag2S
Aguilarite Ag4SeS
Allargentum Ag1-xSbx
Andorite PbAgSb3S6
Arcubisite Ag6CuBiS4
Argentite Ag2S (when above 177°C)
Argyrodite Ag8GeS6
Arquerite (Ag,Hg)
Berryite Pb3(Ag,Cu)5Bi7Si6
Boleite KPb26Ag9Cu24(OH)48Cl62
Bromargyrite AgBr
Canfieldite Ag8SnS6
Chlorargyrite AgCl
Chrisstanleyite Ag2Pd3Se4
Crookesite Cu7(Tl,Ag)Se4
Dyscrasite Ag3Sb
Empressite AgTe
Fettelite Ag16HgAs4S15
Freibergite (Ag,Cu,Fe)12(Sb,As)4S13
Freieslebenite AgPbSbS3
Gabrielite Tl6Ag3Cu6(As,Sb)9S21
Hessite Ag2Te
Iodargyrite AgI
Jalpaite Ag3CuS2
Krennerite (Au0.8,Ag0.2)Te2
Marrite PbAgAsS3
Miargyrite AgSbS2
Moschellandsbergite Ag2Hg3
Pearceite Cu(Ag,Cu)6Ag9As2S11
Petzite Ag3AuTe2
Polybasite [(Ag,Cu)6(Sb,As)2S7][Ag9CuS4]
Proustite Ag3AsS3
Pyrargyrite Ag3SbS3
Samsonite Ag4MnSb2S6
Stephanite Ag5SbS4
Stromeyerite AgCuS
Stützite Ag5-xTe3 (with x = 0.24 to 0.36) or Ag7Te4-
Sylvanite (Ag,Au)Te2
Uytenbogaardtite Ag3AuS2
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