Minerology of Silver

Silver is often described as a white metal, although if one compares it to a white piece of paper or a piece of white chalk, silver clearly is not the same colour.  It would be more accurate to call it a very bright metallic colour.

Silver can be found in nature and mined as a pure metal, or as ore, mixed with other elements (as a mineral).  Some 39 different minerals of silver have been identified.  Silver is often found mixed with small amounts of gold, arsenic, and antimony.  One such common natural alloy is known as Electrum and is sometimes classified as a variety of gold.  It is actually composed of between 45% to 90% gold, and the rest is silver with trace amounts of copper and other metals and has been used since ancient times.

Silver is classified as a noble metal because it is very resistant and will not combine with air or water and cannot be dissolved by most solvent acids (including acua regia which dissolves gold).  However, it does have significant affinity to sulfur and sulfides, which caused a dark tarnish on exposed surfaces.  Small amounts of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the atmosphere (an unfortunate by-product of the industrial age) can also cause tarnishing of silver.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States produced 1,050 tonnes of silver in 2012, with a global production of 24,000 tonnes.  Mexico was the largest producer with 4,250 tonnes, followed by China with 3,800 tonnes and Peru with 3,410.  The U.S. imports of silver were 51% from Mexico, followed by 23% from Canada.  The estimated uses of silver in 2012 in the U.S. were 35% in electrical and electronics, 25% in coins and medals, 10% in photography, 8% in jewelry and silverware, and 22% in other uses.

The 2013 World Silver Survey (sponsored by The Silver Institute) shows that the global demand for silver rose only slightly in 2012 to 1,048.3 Moz (million troy ounces), with silver mines producing around two-thirds of the metal.  The highest uses are in industrial, followed by jewelry, coins and medals, and photography.  Demand for silver in photography continues to decline globally due to the proliferation of digital photography.


Chemical symbol



2.5 to 3 (as per with the Mohs hardness scale of 1-10)


Highly reflective metallic.  Dark yellow to charcoal on tarnished surfaces.



Specific Gravity

9.6 to 12 (depending on purity)


Dissolves in nitric acid (HNO3) to form the water soluble silver nitrate (AgNO3), and also reacts with sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to form silver sulfate(Ag2SO4)


Naturally occurs in volcanic basalt rocks and veins caused by intense underground heat or hot water.

Crystal habits

Naturally forms intricate wire and plate structures, grains or large crystals, and Cubic, octahedral, and dodecahedral crystals occur.


Commercially mined from various ores such as argentite (Ag2S), chlorargyrite ("horn silver," AgCl), and galena (a lead ore often containing significant amounts of silver). Since silver is often found in conjunction with these or in alloys with other metals such as gold, it usually must be further separated through amalgamation or electrolysis.


For a video with an excellent overview of the silver mining process, please see the following YouTube video.

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