Silver belongs the basket of eight precious metals – the others being Gold, and six platinum group metals. For over 6 decades, Silver has been known and prized for its colour, luster, non-corrodible nature, and the relative ease with which it can be worked. In addition to these attributes, silver is also sought after owing to its decorative applications, and the way it has been transformed into a predominantly industrial metal. Being soft and malleable, silver can be transformed into many items like jewelry, handles for daggers and swords, utensils and tableware. Industrial use of silver accounts for over two-thirds of its total consumption, however, the same did not arise until 19th and 20th centuries. Nearly two hundred years after silver was used as money, it was removed from the monetary circulation cycle towards the 1960s. This was implemented mainly due to increase in industrial demand of silver; as mining activity could not keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for coin operated vending machines. In the present day, silver coins are officially minted with the sole usage being commemoration events and not as money. Although silver deposits are found scattered across the Mediterranean spanning from Spain through Greece and Romania to Afghanistan; significant silver mining didn’t start before 4000 BC. Early in history, silver, like gold, was a durable store of wealth and was used as money. Since the 1970s, its monetary use has largely disappeared, and it has become almost entirely an industrial metal. Investment demand and producer hedging now absorb less than 3 percent of the world’s supply of newly mined silver. Silver jewellery is regarded as an investment in some countries. Other small items of investment include the bullion coins, commemoratives, and small bars of fine silver discussed above in the subsection “Coins and Medals.” About three-fourths of the world’s mined silver is a byproduct of base-metal and gold mining at several hundred mines.
India is primarily a silver importing country, as the production of India is not sufficient to satisfy the ever-growing domestic demand. The production of silver in India in 2012 stands out at the figure of around 2.1 million ounces placing it at the 20th position in the list of major silver producing countries. The import of silver in India hovers over 110 million ounces that shows the huge size of Indian domestic demand. However, this import level fell sharply as a result of the decline in demand due to rise in silver prices and inconsistent monsoon on which the income of the rural sector depends. But, even this sharp decline could not affect India’s reputation of being one of the largest consumer countries of silver in the world. India stands third after United States and Japan among the leading consumers of silver in the world.
Silver, like gold, has been used in three principal ways—a fabricated product, an investment good, and, until the 1970s, a monetary metal. Of the silver supplied to the world market yearly, more than 97 percent is destined for fabrication and the remainder, for investment and producer hedging. Although fabricated silver is used in the same products the world over, the pattern of use differs from country to country and region to region. In most countries, the industrial uses constitute an important sector of the market, often the most important sector. The two other prominent sectors—photography, and jewellery and silverware—vary greatly in relative importance. Coins and medals constitute a very minor sector in most countries. Most silver, certainly most in the industrial uses and photography sectors, is consumed in the industrial countries. The use of silver for jewellery and silverware in a country appears to be determined more by social custom than by degree of economic development. Silver is used in the large majority of its commercially important end uses as an alloyed or unalloyed metal. Major applications of silver are listed below.
- Jewellery and Silverware
- Coins and Medals
- Industrial uses – Bearings, Brazes, Soldering, Catalysts
- Dental and Medical applications
- Electrical and Electronic applications – batteries, conductors, etc.
- Purification of drinking water
- Automotive industry – as silver-coated glass to reflect sunlight so as to reduce load on the air-conditioning system
- As an alloy in control rod materials in “pressurized water type” nuclear power reactors