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Silver Rings, Shining in the Sunlight
Did you know that silver rings can kill vampires? That's what the rules for most online games say, anyhow, as long as you hit 'em often enough and avoid those sharp teeth. If you're an overgrown immortal mosquito, silver rings will most definitely not be the precious metal of your choice, though the jury's still out, thus far, on how silver affects Goths and other wannabe undead.
All kidding aside, as the traditional second-fiddle precious metal (always secondary to gold, sadly), silver is one of the most commonly used metals for jewelry and was once a favorite for coinage, where it was diluted to 90% to make the government's seigniorage (the revenue derived from issuing money) that much sweeter. In jewelry such as silver rings, two types of silver purity are used: fine silver, which is at least 99% pure, or (much more commonly) sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure -- or 925 mills pure, to use jewelers' parlance. In sterling, the balance of the alloy is usually copper. Fine silver is rarely used for large items of jewelry, as it's too soft; without an alloying metal like copper, it can distort from its own weight, just like gold.
Because silver is a white metal, it can be easily confused with similar metals, such as nickel and even stainless steel. Silver is much more ductile (bendable) than those metals, but you don't really want to test that out by ruining your jewelry. Silver also makes a high-pitched ringing sound when dropped on a hard surface, such as a table, that can often be distinguished from the lower, duller ringing sounds produced by other metals. This is an especially effective way to check the veracity of silver rings. In addition, silver reacts with sulfur dioxide in the air to produce a dark-colored, sooty tarnish. If you sniff it and it smells faintly like rotten eggs, you've got something silver (or at least silver-plated) on your hands.
By law, of course, silver jewelry should be marked. Look for stamped letters and numbers that read "925", "STER.", or "STERLING"; find them, and you've got something of sterling quality. On silver rings and bracelets, the mark will be on the inside of the band; on earrings or necklaces, it may be on the catch or shank. Often the inscription is tiny, so you'll probably need a hand lens to read it.
Uses of silver rings
You may think of silver rings as little more than a cool way to ornament yourself, but sometimes they serve as jewelry with a purpose. In the ancient Babylonian city of Sippar, now in Iraq, silver rings were used as money. This went on for 2,000 years. Later, as silver rings passed into favor as jewelry, they took on the variety of meanings that we enjoy today. Although the most expensive and treasured rings are made of incorruptible gold, some silver rings serve as promise rings, engagement rings, and wedding rings, all of which are freighted with their own baggage of meaning. On the purely ornamental front, we've seen the diversification of silver rings from fingers to toes, where silver seems to be the preferred previous metal. Silver rings have also started to appear in more, ahem, adventurous types of jewelry, from great big nose rings to those ear spools big enough to poke a finger through.