If you’ve ever visited a jewelry store, you must’ve heard about “sterling silver.” Sterling silver is quite different from regular silver. They have different compositions, lifespans, prices, and quality.
In this article, we’ll help you understand the difference between sterling silver vs silver. We’ll also explain how you can identify them and how to decide which one is better for you.
What is silver?
Silver is a soft white metal found deep in the earth’s crust. It’s one of the precious metals that humans have used for thousands of years to make art, coins, and jewelry. Its luster, beauty, and reflectivity make it a very valuable metal in the world of jewelry, and almost all jewelry lovers want a silver piece.
Silver is usually found in nature combined with other metals like gold. Pure silver is singled out and extracted from these other metals through chemical treatments and electrolysis. Electrolysis is when electricity is passed through a compound to break it down.
Silver doesn’t react much with other chemicals. Under normal circumstances, it will not react with oxygen, water, or air. However, it’ll react slowly with sulfur compounds in the air. Reactions with sulfur typically cause silver to go black or tarnish.
A real silver piece contains 99.9% of silver itself. In this pure form, unmixed with any other element, silver is considered too soft for making jewelry.
Silver is sometimes mixed with other metals to make it more “usable.” Now, that’s where sterling silver comes in.
What is sterling silver?
Sterling silver is a form of silver that has been mixed with another metal, mostly copper or nickel, to make it harder and more suited for jewelry use.
Standard sterling silver contains 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% another metal. This mixing, known as alloying, makes the silver physically tougher and easier to work with.
Manufacturers can also mix silver with other metals in different proportions. For instance, argentium silver contains either 93.2% or 96% fine silver alloyed with copper and germanium. Other forms are silver plates, nickel silver, and coin silver.
Although sterling silver is harder than pure silver, it maintains the white, lustrous look of silver itself. You’ll find that sterling silver looks just as beautiful and reflective as pure silver.
But because sterling silver is different in composition from pure silver, jewelry made from both metals also differs in terms of quality, maintenance, and use.
Sterling silver vs silver: What is the difference?
|Composition||92.5% silver and 7.5% copper or nickel||99.9% pure silver|
|Quality||Relatively high quality. Because of the presence of other metals, it is more prone to tarnish. But with proper care and maintenance, it can last you for up to 30 years.||The highest obtainable quality of silver. Because it contains no other metals, it is less prone to tarnish than sterling silver.|
|Common uses||Widely used in making jewelry, trophies, and utensils like plates and coffee sets.||Used for making fine jewelry pieces like pendants and earrings.|
|Maintenance||Use it regularly to prevent dust from building up and ruining it, and store in a dry area. Metals like nickel and copper tarnish easily when exposed to water and air, so a dry area is best for your sterling silver jewelry.||Less frequent use to prevent damage because of its soft nature. Treat it as carefully as possible. Store in a dry, dark area.|
|Cost||Sterling silver costs $20.88 per ounce. If a piece of sterling silver jewelry weighs 1.14 ounces, it would cost about $23.80.||Costs $24.81 per ounce. An equivalent fine jewelry piece weighing 1.14 ounces would cost about $28. Silver costs more than sterling silver.|
|Allergenicity||Can irritate people with sensitive skin, especially when nickel is the contained alloy.||Rarely allergenic. It has a low potential for skin irritation.|
|Gemstone compatibility||More compatible with gemstones than fine silver. Less compatible with gemstones, compared to metals like gold and platinum.||Not very compatible with gemstones due to its soft nature.|
How to Identify Real Silver
First, you should know that sterling silver is not “fake silver.” It is made with real silver but contains a small quantity of another metal.
On the other hand, you may find fake silver in the jewelry market containing very little or no silver content. These tips will help you identify real silver when shopping for jewelry:
- Real sterling silver pieces usually have 925 written on them, identifying the amount of pure silver contained. You may also find marks like STG, STER, or STERLING. Pure silver is marked 999.
- A magnet will not attract real silver. So if you bring a magnet close to a piece of jewelry and there’s an attraction, it is not real silver.
- Silver is a strong heat conductor. If you place an ice cube on the jewelry and it melts quickly, it’s real silver.
- Use a white cloth to clean the jewelry. Real silver will leave black stains on the fabric.
Which is better: sterling silver vs. silver?
There are pros and cons to both sterling silver and silver jewelry, so it all boils down to which one you think is better for you. We’ll be giving you a clear, unbiased comparison of both jewelry types so that you can make an informed buying decision. Here are some factors that will help you decide whether to choose sterling silver or silver:
Choosing between silver and sterling silver comes down to your budget. Pure silver is more expensive than the alloyed form, sterling silver. This is because it contains more silver (and it’s costly to mine and process silver). If you’d like something with a lower price but very good quality, sterling silver is a great choice. But if you’d prefer expensive jewelry with higher quality, pure silver would be an excellent choice.
As mentioned earlier, sterling silver is easier to work with. So you’ll find different shapes and patterns of jewelry made from sterling silver, giving you plenty of options. Silver, on the other hand, has a small world. Only a few jewelry patterns are achievable using pure silver, so you don’t have a wide variety. So once again, it depends on your preference. Do you want lots of options? Or are you satisfied with a few unique ones?
Sterling silver is harder and more durable. You can use sterling silver jewelry every day for years without it breaking or losing shape. Pure silver, however, is very fragile. Frequent or rough use would damage it easily. So think about it: Do you need everyday jewelry that you can wear all the time, perhaps a ring or a bracelet? Or do you need a jewelry piece reserved for special occasions only? That can help you decide whether you need sterling silver or silver jewelry.
Both sterling silver and silver are of good quality. Whatever you decide on, you can be sure to have jewelry that you can count on for years (with proper care, of course). But sterling silver would tarnish more easily because it contains other metals of lower quality. So pure silver does have higher quality, and that’s another thing to consider.
Sisters, Not Twins
Although they have strong similarities, silver and sterling silver are not the same. We’ve laid out the differences between sterling silver and silver. It’s up to you to decide which one best appeals to you based on your preferences.
Keep the differences in cost, quality, and maintenance in mind, and you can be sure to make a good jewelry choice – one that you’ll enjoy in years to come.
Gold and gold-plated jewelry have a slightly similar relationship to silver and sterling silver. See how cleaning gold jewelry differs from cleaning gold-plated jewelry.
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