You’ve probably come across many options of jewelry regarded as pure silver jewelry. What does it mean to have jewelry made of pure silver? Is real silver ideal for jewelry making? Does this kind of jewelry tarnish?
The definition of pure silver
Pure silver, and not sterling silver, can be defined as one of the pure elements that are part of the periodic table. It carries the symbol Ag, also known as fine silver, and it’s the purest form of silver since it’s made of 99.9% pure silver (in elemental form). The remainder contains trace elements that make up the 0.01%. Even so, this jewelry is still known as fine or pure silver.
One of the things that stands out about pure silver is the fact that fine silver is extremely soft, and it can be difficult to shape into the best of jewelry or everyday items made of silver. As a result, pure silver isn’t used in jewelry making or even in the creation of everyday items made of silver. Because of the softness of pure silver, items crafted out of the pure form of silver are not durable, which means that products made out of fine jewelry would be bent, damaged, and misshapen easily. What this means is that all the fine jewelry made of fine silver are quite delicate and should be worn only very occasionally.
The composition of pure silver
As mentioned above, pure silver is made of 99.9% pure silver and 0.01% other metals, which often just impurities. The good news is that these impurities do not affect the quality or the features of the pure silver and would be sad to be inconsequential.
Because of the composition of pure silver, fine silver often features a marking or an authenticity stamp/ hallmark, which shows that the piece is actually made of pure silver. In most cases, the stamp on the fine silver pieces is 999 or .999, representing the 999 parts out of 1000 parts of purity for the pure silver. Either of these marks represents fine silver’s percentage purity of 99.9%.
Does pure silver tarnish? Why?
No. Pure silver does not tarnish. In its pure form, fine silver is non-reactive, non-corrosive, and resistant to tarnishing. It doesn’t react with oxygen or any other gasses in the air, meaning that pure silver will not fade, discolor or get that ‘dirty-looking layer that is common with most sterling silver jewelry/ pieces.
Sol, what is the silver that often tarnishes? The version of silver that tarnishes is sterling silver. This is the more durable version of silver, which is only 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. Sterling silver is what tarnishes because its elements will react with oxygen and sulfur, forming tarnish which is first dark grey, then bluish, and in case of heavy tarnishing, it turns black.
The pros and cons of Pure silver
- The purest form of silver
- Used in fine jewelry
- Very valuable
- Doesn’t tarnish
- Scratches easily
- Too soft
- Not durable
But, Why sterling silver (925 silver) tarnish?
Sterling silver is the impure but stronger and more durable version of pure silver. It is 92.5% pure silver, and the remainder is made of an alloy, often a mixture of copper and zinc. Thanks to the alloying, sterling silver is more durable, and it’s significantly more durable than pure silver, hence its use in most jewelry, silverware, coffee sets, plates, platters, and silver-plated jewelry and kitchenware.
Sterling silver is recognized by the sterling silver stamp, which often comes as 925, .925, 92.5, and in other cases, SS. These hallmark signs are used to indicate the percentage purity of sterling silver.
The main reason why sterling silver is often used rather than pure silver has to do with the fact that the addition of metal alloys to the pure silver results in a more durable version of silver that is also more durable and able to take more of the daily beating and a bit of mishandling.
It’s still imperfect, though, and the first thing that stands out from sterling silver is the fact that this metal actually tarnishes. In the right conditions, for example, exposure of the jewelry to moisture and/or heat, the sterling silver jewelry will react with the water and different elements in the air like sulfur, resulting in a chemical reaction, which results in color changes on the surface of the sterling silver pieces. The product of the chemical reaction is often gray or bluish, but it will turn into black specks over time, hence the annoying discoloration that most people hate about sterling silver. Tarnishing and the rate of reaction/ corrosion is higher when the piece of jewelry in question is exposed to different wet or humid conditions, meaning that perspiration is just as bad as a hot shower or a trip to the beach or a sauna treatment – warmth and air increase the rate of corrosion or tarnishing for sterling silver.
Oftentimes, the corrosion involves and is hastened by the reactivity of copper, zinc, or any other metal alloy added to silver in the creation of sterling silver. And in extreme heat or humidity, the reactivity of sterling silver is extremely high, which is why sterling silver tarnishes.
In addition to the corrosion, metal abrasion also contributes to the tarnishing of the jewelry. Essentially, the cosmetics you use, along with all other chemicals in your environment that get in contact with your jewelry cause abrasion of the sterling silver, resulting in tarnishing and the characteristic black-colored specks associated with sterling silver. Calamine and zinc oxide, for instance, are two strong compounds that will react with your sterling silver jewelry causing tarnishing. To avoid abrasion, you might want to wear your jewelry after applying makeup, lotions, and all other skin or body care products.
Why is 925 silver more common than pure gold in jewelry making?
In addition to being cheaper than most other white metals, sterling silver is often used in jewelry making because of its durability (in comparison to pure silver. Alloying pure silver with other metals such as copper or silver increases the hardness of sterling silver, meaning that sterling silver is an ideal choice of metal for jewelry making and also for housewares such as silverware.
Besides the increased level of durability and strength, alloying silver and the creation of sterling silver is also the reason for the bright and shiny metallic finish for which sterling silver is known for. The only catch is that sterling silver still tarnishes, meaning you need to handle it with the extra case, cleaning and polishing it on a regular. Thanks to silver polishers, you will be able to clean the sterling silver jewelry well and often, and you won’t have to worry about the jewelry looking gold.
So, why is there more 925 sterling silver jewelry than pure gold pieces? Well, like pure silver, pure gold is quite soft and pliable, perhaps even softer than pure silver, which means that it’s not ideal for use when making any kind of long-lasting jewelry. And in as much as pure silver is also tarnished and corrosion resistant, the gold jewelry made of pure gold would scuff and bend easily. There is also the issue of gold jewelry being a lot more expensive and inaccessible to most people who’d be interested in fine jewelry.
Should you buy pure silver jewelry?
Well, only if you are buying the jewelry for investment purposes or if the jewelry is to be worn very occasionally, hence used in making fine jewelry that would later serve as family heirlooms.
Pure silver is valuable and boasts a nice finish, but it’s not durable or resistant to scratching. It is, however, tarnish-resistant and a good metal to invest in. Read more jewelry metal posts here or here! See you guys in the coming posts!