What Is Sterling Silver and How Did It Get Its Name?
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and copper. But sterling silver is mostly silver. Fine silver or pure silver, is generally too soft for producing functional objects; therefore, the silver is usually alloyed with copper to give it strength while preserving the ductility and appearance of the precious metal.
Other metals can replace the copper, usually with the intention of improving various properties of the basic sterling alloy such as reducing casting porosity, eliminating fire scale, and increasing resistance to tarnish.
These replacement metals include germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as a variety of other additives, including silicon and boron. Alloys such as argentium silver have appeared in recent decades.
The word, sterling, has been used to refer to high quality silver since the 1200s. At that time, traders from eastern Germany had been buying and selling goods in England, using, as money, pieces of silver of very high purity.
The English called these traders Easterlings, in time, the name was applied to their silver as a sign of solid worth. English speech quickly turned Easteriing to sterling. Today, silver stamped with this word must contain 92.5 percent silver.