Here at Walker Goldsmiths we make our Sterling Silver from scratch. Silver is one of the noble metals along with gold and platinum, the chemical symbol is Ag, which stands for argentium. Silver is the most conductive (of both heat and electricity) substance at normal temperatures and pressures, it is the standard that all others are measured against. Silver has been valued for all of human history more for its beauty than its rarity, as many cultures valued silver over gold. Silver is sometimes used as pure silver and referred to as fine silver. Fineness is a measure of the parts using 1.000 as pure or fine, and since there may always be a trace of something else (gold, platinum, copper, tin or zinc) fine metal is rarely referred to as 1.000, or one thousand fine, it is always a decimal as .999.
An alloy simply means a mixture of metals. All alloys have at least some different properties than the original parent metals. As an illustration there several thousand different kinds of steel each suited for a different industrial or domestic use. The two things they all have in common are iron and carbon. When there is a higher percentage of carbon the steel will be able to harden and hold an edge better than a steel with less carbon.
For a silver alloy to be sterling it is mandated by law that it is 925 parts silver and 75 parts something else. Traditionally the something else has been copper, but copper causes a variety of problems including firescale and tarnish. There have been several new alloys for silver invented in the last decade or so that diminish the problems of copper as an alloy. Some of them have trademarked names like Sterlium, Argentium and S88. Each of these alloys contain the element Germanium along with several other elements such as copper and tin. These are all what are called firescale free alloys which means that all the problems that we used to have with copper sterling are gone. Walker Goldsmiths uses S88 alloy because I like to alloy my own silver and roll my own sheet for bracelets, pendants and earrings. We also use this alloy for all of our Potlatch collection rings, earrings and pendants because we get less tarnish on the finished product. I may be a control freak, I may be crazy or I may just enjoy the whole process of making my Sterling Silver from scratch.