Since the dawn of civilization, men and women have been captivated by silver's spell and splendor. Throughout the ages this mystical white metal has been used to mark historical milestones, celebrations, achievements and special occasions.

No one knows with certainty when the first silver gift was bestowed. But as early as 3,100 B.C., ambassadors from Crete were already bringing silver vases as gifts for Egyptian rulers. The metal's popularity has even influenced our languages and customs. A silver spoon has symbolized great fortune and privilege since the 17th century when the Spanish writer Cervantes cleverly acknowledged that not everyone was born with one in his mouth. The tradition of the "silver anniversary" dates back to Germany where it was customary to present a silver wreath to a woman after 25 years of marriage.

Sterling silver is a favorite medium for today's most creative and innovative designers due to its affordability and malleability - it can be shaped into almost any form imaginable. A special gift of silver is a touching and lasting expression of affection, friendship, celebration, congratulation or thanks.

Defining the Elements
Silver is an element that occurs naturally in the earth and is generally considered too soft in its pure form for practical use in jewelry, giftware or flatware. An alloy such as copper is usually added to make silver workable for jewelry.

Sterling Silver
Sterling silver is 92.5 percent (925 parts) pure silver and 7.5 percent (75 parts) alloy metal. Sterling is the primary material used for silver jewelry, giftware, holloware and flatware.

Coin Silver
Coin silver is 90 percent (900 parts) pure silver and 10 percent (100 parts) alloy metal. As its name implies, coin silver was used to produce U.S. currency during the 19th century. It is no longer a commonly used material.

Pronounced "vermay," vermeil is a French word describing sterling silver that has been electroplated with at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold.

Silver knives, forks, spoons and various serving utensils are commonly referred to by this term.

Silver tableware which is larger than flatware and is designed to function as containers and decorative pieces. This category includes bowls, vases, serving dishes, trays and candlesticks.

Decorative and functional objects such as picture frames, desk accessories, key rings and vanity items.

How to Buy Silver Jewerly and Gifts
The silver content and quality of all silver jewelry and gift items must be accurately represented. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established a set of stamps and markings to represent silver content and you should look for them when making a silver purchase.

Only jewelry that is at least 92.5 percent pure silver can be called or labeled "silver," "solid silver," "sterling silver," or "sterling." If one of these terms is stamped on the silver jewelry you are purchasing then the piece meets the U.S. government standards. Sometimes, a piece will be stamped with "925," ".925," or "92.5." These are also appropriate markings and they assure you that you are buying genuine sterling silver jewelry. Coin silver is labeled as "coin silver," "coin," "900," ".900," or "90," signifying that the piece contains at least 90 percent pure silver.

Any item that is silver plated must be labeled as "silver plated," "silver coated," or "plated with silver." In addition, the silver plating must be of sufficient thickness to ensure durability. Vermeil must have a sterling silver base and a plating of at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold. Only items meeting this definition can be labeled "vermeil."

Look for the manufacturer's trademark or hallmark on silver items. In addition to the quality marks described above, trademarks and hallmarks give you information about your silver purchase. Your professional jeweler can explain all of these markings to you in greater detail. Silver jewelry and gift items are priced based on their precious metal content, design and craftsmanship. A price based solely on weight and metal content does not reflect the work that has gone into the piece. Each piece of silver jewelry is unique and, if cared for properly, can last a lifetime.

When purchasing a piece of silver jewelry or a silver gift item look for quality construction. Inspect the piece carefully. Pay special attention to fasteners or clasps, making sure catches work easily but are secure. Pin backs and earring posts should be strong and firmly attached to the piece with no visible marks. Lay silver chain flat to make sure the links don't kink or bend. For gift items, make sure that hinges, locks, picture stands and other items are securely attached and function properly. If you're purchasing silver-plated items, inspect the piece to ensure that the plating is of the appropriate thickness and covers the entire piece.

Silver for Her
Silver has been referred to as the Queen of Metals and throughout history has been widely used for women's jewelry. Sterling silver is always an appropriate gift to commemorate an important event in a woman's life or to simply say that you care.

Sterling gifts for women might include artful objects for the home, those related to a hobby or career, or simple fun indulgences. Such novelty items as a make-up brush, silver bracelet or purse mirror make a great gift. Other ideas include an engraved heart-shaped pillbox to tuck into a purse or dangle from a silver chain, or a sterling egg timer for the chef who has every kitchen gadget.

And of course there's striking silver jewelry. The white-metal look continues to be popular and there are many silver designs to choose from. No matter the woman's style, there are many sterling silver items that will meet her taste.

Silver for Him
For men, silver can be the ultimate symbol of confidence and distinction. Once exclusively reserved for the nobleman, silver is now a perfect gift for all men. Sterling silver cuff links, available in traditional geometric shapes or "theme" styles featuring images taken from sports and hobbies, are a must for almost any man. Silver tie bars, I.D. bracelets, signet rings and belt buckles are all widely available in many styles and make great accessories for the contemporary man's wardrobe.

There are also many novel silver gift choices to commemorate a retirement, a promotion or to simply to say "I love you." Ideas include comb-and-brush sets, engraved key rings, lighters, flasks, pocket knives, desk accessories, travel clocks - even a razor-and-toothbrush set. Silver is a gift no man will forget because a well-chosen sterling accessory is a lasting remembrance of any emotion, event or occasion.

Silver for Children
Silver can make the perfect gift for children of all ages and teach them to make fine jewelry and gifts an important part of their lives. Playful rattles and teething rings can be the perfect first gift for a child. As they grow, you can add a brush and comb set, an engraved drinking cup or toothbrush, or a favorite animal or cartoon character immortalized in silver.

A silver "tooth fairy" box to hold lost baby teeth is another great gift idea. For older children and teens, silver jewelry can hold special sentimental value, creating heirlooms for future loved ones. Of course, silver picture frames are a wonderful way to preserve and display images of the most important moments in a child's life.

Silver for the Wedding
For centuries silver gifts for the bride and groom have created family keepsakes and lifetimes of romantic memories. According to folklore, it is lucky if the wedding gift arriving first is made of silver. Gifts that blend tradition with everyday function and individuality are on many couples' wedding wish lists. Consider giving a silver pitcher to be filled with a bouquet of flowers or a monogrammed silver tray to serve hors d'oeuvres or display perfume bottles.

Sculptural napkin rings or a silver bowl to be filled with candy or potpourri are functional and beautiful gift ideas. Miniature silver replicas of musical instruments, antique period furniture and animals also make affordable and desirable collectibles for future anniversaries. Of course, traditional silver gifts of flatware, serving items and candlesticks are always appropriate and appreciated.

A key ingredient in any wedding is the bridal party. Traditionally, each bridesmaid receives an identical gift, as do the ushers. Honor attendants are usually acknowledged with something a little more special. Again, silver can be the perfect choice. And of course, a sterling silver picture frame is the perfect item to elegantly display a wedding portrait throughout the years.

Caring for your Silver
The beauty of sterling silver jewelry and gifts is part of this metal's ageless appeal. Properly caring for your silver collection is a sure way to keep sterling looking its shining best.

As with any fine jewelry or gift item, each piece of sterling silver should be stored individually, either in its own soft pouch or in a separate compartment in a jewelry or storage box. If you toss your jewelry into a dresser drawer and allow pieces to rub against each other, scratches will result.

Keep your silver in a cool, dry place. Sterling silver, like other precious metals, can oxidize with time. It is a good idea to store silver in a tarnish-proof cloth or in drawers lined with tarnish-resistant strips. If sterling does become tarnished, it is easily restored to its original gleam by using a paste, liquid polish, or a treated polishing cloth intended for use on silver. Or you may simply wash the jewelry or silver object with warm water, rubbing in a little soap or toothpaste, rinsing and then patting dry with a fine soft cloth. Avoid using tissue paper or paper towels as they can scratch silver. Your professional jeweler should be able to provide you with silver-cleaning materials as well as directions for their proper use.

The best way to prevent tarnish is to actually wear your sterling jewelry or use your silver items often. However, don't wear sterling silver in chlorinated water or when working with household cleaners such as bleach or ammonia. Treat your silver well and it will actually develop a lush patina and will reward you with a lustrous look.

Where to Buy Sterling Silver Jewelry and Gifts
To make sure you get silver jewelry and gifts that you will be happy with now and for years to come follow a simple rule: buy from a professional, someone you can trust. Choose a retailer who has been serving the community and has an established reputation.

Ask if the jeweler is a member of  the Alabama Jewelers Association.  These jewelers are knowledgeable and provide a wide selection of fine jewelry and gifts which will make selecting your sterling silver items a pleasure. Your AJA jeweler will not only help you with your purchases, but will also be there in the future to answer all your questions and help you with repairs, cleaning and custom design.

For the AJA jeweler nearest you, contact the Alabama Jewelers Association
P.O. Box 12850, Suite 600-373, Alpharetta, GA  30004
(770) 751-8622-phone or (770) 206-2352

Sterling silver baby cup and frame photos by Reed & Barton Silversmiths.
Sterling silver jewelry photos by Bayanihan.

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