Silver and sterling silver are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they do not always mean the same thing. Let’s take a look at how jewelry marked as sterling silver is different from items made of pure silver.
Pure silver, also referred to as fine silver, has actual silver content of 99.9%. Because of its high purity, fine silver is too soft to use in jewelry making and is often mixed with other metals to make it harder.
Sterling silver is an alloy created when copper is added to pure silver in order to make the resulting compound more durable and less soft.
Usually, sterling silver has a purity of 92.5%, meaning that 7.5% of the alloy is made of copper or another metal (usually nickel or zinc).
There is also the so-called coin silver, which is an alloy of lower purity: It usually contains 90% or less silver.
In Short Facts:
- Sterling silver must be at least 92.5% silver.
- US law does not require precious metal to be marked with a quality stamp.
- Some European countries do require marking. Many tourists in the US (and international online shoppers) will question goods sold without markings that indicate precious-metal quality.
- US law requires a maker’s mark in the form of a hallmark or registered trademark in addition to the quality mark if the goods are quality marked. The name of the artist or manufacturer may now be used for this.
Sometimes, however, you may see an item marketed as “sterling silver plated.” This often means that the piece is actually made of nickel, copper or another metal, not silver, and is simply plated with a layer of sterling silver, which will wear off after some time.
Sterling Silver is very easy to test. Silver-plated brass, nickel silver or low quality silver alloys will turn green when a drop of nitric acid is applied because of the high copper content. Sterling will turn a creamy color. When testing suspect goods, a small file can be used to cut through any plating or lacquer in a discreet area on the item.
Testing Silver for Purity
Silver is usually tested for purity using the so-called acid test: A small shaving is taken from the item and is put in acid to see if its color will change; if the acid’s color does change, this means that the piece has purity that is below 92.5%.
The Value of Sterling Silver
Sterling silver isn’t an “investment grade” element because of its lower purity and overall value when compared to fine silver, which has a purity level of 99.9 percent. Notwithstanding having little appeal for precious metal portfolios and retirement accounts, sterling silver has many commercial uses.
Cities have used the metal to craft a variety of household items, and even surgical equipment, dating as far back as 30 BC. Below is a list of some of the most common house items made with sterling silver:
- Silverware: Dinnerware producers constantly use sterling silver in building knives, forks, and spoons for the metal’s high polish. Ornate patterns are common.
- Musical Instruments: Silver components used in woodwind instruments, including saxophones and flutes, create a distinct resonance that some musicians prize highly.
- Jewelry: Pendants, brooches, and rings usually use silver as the precious metal that sets rare gems in place.
Because silver is too soft on its own to support everyday use, smiths regularly add other metals (usually copper) to lend it strength. Adding these other metals leads to an enhanced chance of corrosion as items remain exposed to open air.
That’s why old silverware made with sterling silver does tarnish as it ages. Salt shakers made with sterling silver typically show their corrosion faster than different items because their sodium chloride contents tarnish copper soon.
When you want to buy sterling silver in high quantities, it’s important to you, discuss the matter with an experienced financial professional. Only an individual licensed to give investment information associated with materials, including precious metals, can give you the correct data that you need to make a well-reasoned judgment.