All About Sterling Silver

All About Sterling Silver

When you order jewelry from Waystone, your stone will be set in sterling silver. Its chain, clasp, or findings will be made with sterling silver as well.

You may be wondering why sterling silver is your only option, rather than inexpensive base metals — or another precious metal like gold! While we may offer gold at some point in the future, we found sterling silver to be the perfect material for the Waystone process.


What's the Difference Between Pure Silver and Sterling Silver?

First things first — what is sterling silver, anyway?

Sterling silver is an alloy of pure silver and copper. This makes it more durable and more affordable than pure silver, while remaining hypoallergenic and easy to work. It's still considered a fine jewelry metal, and will last a lifetime (though it will tarnish over time; more on that soon).


Where Does Silver Come From?

Much of it comes from right here in the U.S. — specifically, the American Southwest!

I have a special spot in my heart for our local silver. Waystone is currently based in Denver, but my family has lived in the American Southwest for four generations. I have always loved the jewelry of the Southwest, characterized by silver and stone, which is usually turquoise.


A Bit of American Jewelry History

Southwestern jewelry has an interesting history. The people of the Southwest have been making jewelry since antiquity, but only incorporated silver into the jewelry starting in 1870. That’s not very long ago for an ancient civilization.

While the Native Americans of Central and South America were crafting items out of gold, silver, and copper for millennia, the Native Americans of what would become the U.S. didn’t include metal smithing in their craft skill set.


Atsidi Sani, the First Navajo Silversmith

A Navajo man known as Atsidi Sani learned iron smithing from a Mexican smith in about 1850. He hand-made horse bridles for sale for many years. Then, in 1866, silver was discovered in the aptly-named Silver City, New Mexico. That wasn't the end of it; in 1877, another lode of silver was discovered in New Mexico.

Atsidi Sani had the right skills at the time silver became readily available in the region. Little is known about him, but he must have had a creative streak as he started making and selling jewelry. He taught the skill to other Navajo, and then the Zunis learned the skill from them. Then the Hopis learned. Then many other pueblos learned the skill.


Popularized by Rail

The Native craftspeople applied both traditional designs and wonderfully creative new designs to the jewelry. This jewelry trend could have flowered and passed, but in 1876 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad reached New Mexico. The railroad opened the market reach of the jewelry makers and brought travelers to the region that collected and spread the love of the jewelry.

A confluence of skill, materials, artistry, transportation, and timing created Southwestern jewelry’s enduring success.


The Perfect Metal for Jewelry

While we love that silver has a rich history in this part of the country, it also has the advantage of being well-suited to jewelry making.

It's not only attractive, but sterling silver is a pleasant material to work. It’s not too hard and not too soft. It's easy to anneal, which is a process where the metal is heated in order to make it easier to work. After annealing and working sterling silver, it hardens to make jewelry that's durable and lasting.


Sterling Silver Does Tarnish

One characteristic of silver is that it tarnishes. You can love that characteristic or dislike it. Personally, I love silver when it is just slightly tarnished.

To me, tarnish evokes the look of antiquity and of being of the earth. Given that our jewelry is made with natural stone, the tarnish makes silver a nice complementary material for Waystone. And if you don’t like the look of tarnish, fortunately it cleans off easily. We'll even include a polishing cloth with your jewelry.


In the end, your stone is the real star of your jewelry. The sterling silver is the beautiful complement. If you've never made jewelry out of your own stone, you'll be thrilled to see the results! Try the jewelry customizer now or get tips on how to pick out a stone.

Have another metal that you'd like to see at Waystone? Send us a message to share your ideas or suggestions!

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