Sterling Silver: What It Is, How to Identify It, and Everything You Need to Know

Leigha is a writer and artist living in Toronto, Ontario. She loves to mix and match…

Do you own any sterling silver jewelry? If you’re like most people, you probably have a few pieces. Sterling silver is a favorite choice of jewelry lovers worldwide for its beauty and durability. But what is sterling silver, exactly? And why is it so popular? 

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at sterling silver, including the different types of sterling silver jewelry and how to care for your sterling silver pieces. We’ll also discuss other metals in comparison to sterling silver, and answer some of the most common questions. 

Whether you’re new to the world of sterling silver or just looking to learn more about this precious metal, we have the ultimate guide for you!

What is sterling silver?

Sterling silver is the alloyed form of pure silver, preferable in creating and producing jewelry. This is because pure silver, like many other pure metals, is very soft and malleable – making it too difficult to use in most types of jewelry. 

To produce sterling silver, pure silver is fused with another form of metal – typically copper for jewelry, but other metals like zinc, tin, and nickel may be used, as well – through a chemical process. Sterling silver is primarily made from 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, although this can vary based on the location of its production.

What is 925 sterling silver?

925 sterling silver is the term used for the silver alloy mentioned previously, containing the specific ratio of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals. 

sterling silver wedding ring

Real sterling silver will generally have a 925 stamp to prove its authenticity. Most countries around the world, including the United States and Europe, enforce this composition as the standard for sterling silver. But, some countries use a different composition, such as France which uses 95% pure silver. 

The name and marking of 925 on jewelry just mean that a piece is verified sterling silver according to the accepted standards.

What jewelry is sterling silver good for?

There’s a reason sterling silver is so common in the jewelry world – the alloy is durable, lightweight, versatile, and classically stylish. It is great for any kind of jewelry, including:

  • Necklaces: Sterling silver necklaces provide lightweight wear for daily use while staying resistant to scratching or denting.
  • Rings: Rings are often made with sterling silver not just because it’s stylish but also because sterling silver is hypoallergenic and won’t irritate your skin.
  • Earrings: Sterling silver is a perfect material for earrings because similar to gold, it won’t irritate or cause infection.
  • Bracelets: The durability of sterling silver keeps bracelets looking classy without having to worry about wear and tear.

How Sterling Silver Compares to Other Metals

There are quite a few alternative and similar metals to sterling silver, so it can be tough trying to decide and distinguish between them all. In this portion, we will compare just a few similar metals, teach you what they are and how they might differ.

Sterling Silver vs. White Gold 

Both silver and gold are minerals found deep within the Earth’s crust. Sterling silver and white gold are alloys developed using these minerals, and each have distinct properties. 

Sterling silver is an alloy commonly made with 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper or other metals. The quantity of silver means that jewelry comes out with a brilliant shine and authentic feel.

White gold, on the other hand, is a gold alloy mixed with zinc or nickel. The minerals mixed with the gold change its normally yellow appearance to a quality similar to platinum. This also means that the gold ratio is not as high in white gold as silver is in sterling silver.

The Verdict: White gold is more durable and will not tarnish as sterling silver will. However, sterling silver is generally more affordable and brighter. 

💡 Related Post: Titanium vs Sterling Silver: Which Is the Better Investment?

Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel

While they look very similar, sterling silver and stainless steel have slight differences. Both materials have unique benefits that make them ideal for different purposes. 

Sterling silver is a precious metal well-known for its beauty and elegance. It is also relatively soft, making it easy to work with during the manufacturing process. However, sterling silver is also more prone to tarnishing than stainless steel.

Stainless steel is a much harder metal, making it more durable and less likely to scratch or dent. It is resistant to rusting and corrosion, making it a good choice for outdoor use or heavy wearing. Although, stainless steel does not hold the same prestige as sterling silver.

The Verdict: Choosing between sterling silver and stainless steel depends on personal preference and intended use. Still, stainless steel is more durable, although it lacks the prestige of sterling silver

What is rhodium-plated sterling silver?

Sterling silver is a popular choice for jewelry and other items because of its beautiful shine. However, sterling silver can tarnish over time, particularly when it comes into contact with chemicals or other materials. To help protect sterling silver and keep it looking its best, many manufacturers apply a thin layer of rhodium

Rhodium is a precious metal similar to platinum in appearance and highly resistant to tarnishing. It also holds a bright white color, meaning when it’s applied to sterling silver, it enhances shine. 

The Verdict: If you can combine both sterling silver and rhodium, go for it! Although it is more expensive than sterling silver, rhodium-plated sterling silver is an excellent choice for those who want their jewelry to have a long-lasting shine. In addition, it is hypoallergenic and perfect for people with sensitive skin. 

💡 Requires TLC: Because rhodium is so rare, it is important to be careful when cleaning and storing rhodium-plated sterling silver jewelry. It will require special care to maintain its beautiful finish.

How to Identify Real Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a beautiful, versatile metal that can be used for just about every type of jewelry. But how can you tell if a piece is truly made of sterling silver? There are quite a few tests you can do from home to ensure your piece is authentic, but here we will name just a few.

The 925 Stamp

One foolproof way of testing that your sterling silver is real is to look for the sterling silver mark. In most countries, sterling silver must be at least 92.5% pure silver. So the sterling silver mark will always include the number “925” – this is an excellent indicator of authenticity.

The Magnet Test

If there’s no sterling silver mark or the marking is unclear, another quick and easy way to test sterling silver is with a magnet. Silver and copper, in their purest forms, are not magnetic. With the composition of sterling silver generally being 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper, sterling silver itself is not magnetic. 

Use a magnet with the jewelry you’d like to test. If the jewelry attaches to the magnet, this is a clear sign that it is not genuine sterling silver.

The Cloth Test

The third method of testing if sterling silver is real is to rub it with a polishing cloth. Real silver will tarnish over time, so rubbing sterling silver with a polishing cloth will blacken the material as it removes and picks up the tarnish, while fake sterling silver will come away clean. 

The Ice Test

If you’re still unsure about any of the other methods, a final test that can be done to prove the legitimacy of your sterling silver is by using an ice cube.

Interestingly, silver has one of the highest thermal conductivity measures of any known metal. This means that when it comes in contact with ice, the ice will melt! 

Place your piece of sterling silver underneath an ice cube, and if you find the ice melts quicker than it normally would, this is proof that the piece is authentic sterling silver.

How much is sterling silver worth?

The current price of sterling silver is $21.56 per ounce. Still, the value of your sterling silver jewelry depends on several factors, so it is good to do a bit of research on the piece to get a better understanding of its worth. Luckily, we can give you some basic information to make the process easier. Here are some facts to know about the price of sterling silver:

  • Since sterling silver is not pure silver, it is less expensive, but it still has a very high value on account of its silver percentage. As a result, most women opt for sterling silver engagement rings to pricy metals like gold.
  • The price of sterling silver depends on the current market value of silver, as well as the weight, quality, and the ratio of silver in your sterling silver piece. For example, a sterling silver bracelet will be worth more than sterling silver earrings because it is a larger piece that contains more silver. 
  • When sterling silver is combined with other precious items, such as gemstones, this can increase the value of the jewelry.
  • Sterling silver’s value can also depend on manufacturer and branding. While two brands might both sell 925 standard sterling silver, the value of their pieces could be affected by things like brand popularity and prestige. For example, a brand like Tiffany & Co. will carry more expensive sterling silver jewelry than Cartier.

Overall, sterling silver jewelry can vary greatly, and not all of these factors may apply to your piece. The best course of action in finding the worth of your sterling silver is to look into the specifics on your own.

How to Clean Sterling Silver 

Sterling silver is a beautiful but delicate material. Over time, it can become tarnished and lose its luster. However, sterling silver is not difficult to clean and can last for many years if it’s properly cared for. Here are just a few tips on how to keep your jewelry shining:

woman cleaning sterling silver using aluminum foil

Daily Maintenance 

Sterling silver should be cleaned daily to keep it looking its best. This can be done easily using just a bit of soap and water. 

  1. Start by mixing a few drops of mild dish soap with about a cup of warm water in a bowl. 
  2. Use a soft cloth to dip into the soapy water and then gently rub it over the sterling silver. Be sure to avoid scrubbing too hard, as this can cause scratching. 
  3. Once you have polished the sterling silver to your satisfaction, rinse well with clean water to remove any soapy residue. 
  4. Dry it thoroughly with a soft cotton towel to avoid any moisture trapped between the sterling silver and your skin and prevent water spots. 

Removing Tarnish

For more hard-to-remove stains and tarnishing on your beautiful piece, a simple at-home solution can be used.

  1. First, line the inside of a large bowl or pan with aluminum foil and place your tarnished sterling silver jewelry in the lined dish.
  2. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of both the baking soda and salt over the jewelry.
  3. Using about 1/2 a cup of white vinegar, slowly cover any pieces in the dish, letting the mixture bubble for a few seconds.
  4. Pour 1-2 cups of boiling water over the layer of jewelry. If more water is needed, feel free to add enough to ensure the sterling silver jewelry is completely submerged.
  5. Soak your pieces for as little as 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the level of tarnish.
  6. After letting the sterling silver soak, remove it from the solution and rinse with clean water.

Be sure to pat the jewelry dry with a soft cloth, and if you’d like, the pieces can then be buffed with a polishing cloth for extra shine.

Frequently Asked Questions

While we might have gone over a lot on sterling silver jewelry already, you might still have some lingering questions. These are some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to sterling silver jewelry.

Is sterling silver good?

Sterling silver is popular for a reason — because it’s a great material used in all kinds of jewelry! Whether or not you decide to purchase sterling silver jewelry is up to your personal preference.

Sterling silver is a bright, lightweight, and durable material, perfect for everyday use or special occasions. Its composition of 92.5% pure silver makes it a valuable item, and its commonality ensures a relatively inexpensive piece that can be maintained for years with proper upkeep.

Is sterling silver fake silver?

Sterling silver is not at all fake silver. Genuine sterling silver, also known as 925 silver, gets its name from its composition of 92.5% pure silver. 

The other 7.5% of sterling silver is made up of alloyed metals, usually copper, to increase the strength and durability of the metal. This is because silver in its purest form is too soft and malleable for everyday jewelry.

Does sterling silver tarnish?

Yes, unfortunately, sterling silver is prone to tarnish over time, especially if it’s not cared for properly. The good news is that tarnish is not at all permanent and can be minimized through daily cleaning techniques and proper storage.

Is sterling silver hypoallergenic?

Silver is a hypoallergenic metal. And because genuine sterling silver is made up of 92.5% pure silver, it retains most of its properties and is often hypoallergenic.

Can sterling silver get wet?

For the most part, sterling silver can get wet without becoming stained or damaged. However, water can cause sterling silver to oxidize and tarnish more quickly than if it were to stay dry. 

The quality of the water sterling silver is exposed to also has a different effect on it. The chemicals used in chlorine pools, for example, could harm the composition of sterling silver and cause it to change color. 

Be sure to clean and dry your sterling silver jewelry after coming in contact with water. This will keep it from becoming discolored or tarnishing too quickly. 

Does sterling silver turn green?

Due to sterling silver’s usual copper component, the material does have the possibility of turning green through oxidation. There is no need to worry if your skin is stained green, since the discoloration is completely harmless. 

Happily, there are simple methods of preventing discoloration. Daily cleaning practices and proper care diminishes the risk of sterling silver becoming or staining green. Plus, it can help your piece to last longer.

How long does sterling silver last?

As with many jewelry pieces, sterling silver will last longer with proper love and care. In general, though, the lifespan of sterling silver ranges based on the piece itself. Rings made from sterling silver, for example, can last from 20 to 30 years if worn consistently. They can last even longer with proper care and maintenance, and if only worn once in a while.

Take Advantage of New Knowledge

Now that you know all about sterling silver and why it’s so popular, take advantage of this new knowledge. Sterling silver is a beautiful material that can be used in all types of jewelry. And, with a little bit of care, it will stay looking its best for years to come.

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