Silver amulet container, Iran

Silver has long been the preferred basic material for traditional jewellery in the region. It was mined, for example in in Taza, Tazelaght and Zgounden in Morocco, but was also obtained by melting down coins such as the Maria Theresia Thaler or the pillar dollar. Because silver is relatively soft, it needs to be mixed with another metal to form an alloy to strengthen it. On its own, silver is vulnerable, tarnishing quickly and corroding easily. But by adding another metal, usually copper, tin or zinc, it is strengthened considerably. This means that the silver content of traditional jewellery varies per item. Only pieces that have a silver content of 70, 80 or 92.5 percent can be hallmarked, the latter being hallmarked as sterling silver.

Obviously a piece’s price varies according to its silver content; the lower the content, the lower the price. Occasionally silversmiths have been known to use low-grade silver with a high percentage of copper for another reason. Not only did it lower the price for the buyer, but it prolonged the life for the maker; its relatively low value meant that it would be less quickly sold and melted down, preventing destruction of what was often a beautifully crafted piece. In certain areas, silver was gilded – partly or wholly, in particular by the Bedouin of the Arab Peninsula and the Berber of the Maghreb.

Read more about cleaning your silver here.