To the untrained eye and even some experts, silver-plated and solid silver jewelry look exactly the same.
But if you want to get full value for your money when buying jewelry or selling the pieces you’d had in your home for some time, you’d want to know how to test and differentiate these two types of silver/ sterling silver jewelry. So, how do you do that?
How to tell if something is silver plated or solid silver
Before we look at the differences between silver-plated pieces of jewelry and the ones made of solid silver or sterling silver jewelry, how about an introduction of these two types of jewelry.
Well, solid silver is too soft to be used to make jewelry, and it has to be alloyed with 7.5% copper to form 92.5% silver which is better known as sterling silver. With this in mind, most of the solid silver jewelry is actually sterling silver.
The jewelry, flatware, and other kinds of silver pieces are actually made of sterling silver. The silver-plated jewelry, on the other hand, is made from plating of sterling silver over metals like brass, bronze, or copper, among other non-silver metals.
So, how do you test for silver jewelry or differentiate between the silver-plated and the solid sterling silver pieces of jewelry?
1.Check the authentication mark.
The first thing you should look out for in real silver is the authentication mark that is only used for genuine sterling silver pieces. As mentioned above, genuine sterling silver is crafted out of 925 solid silver and 7.5% non-metals like copper.
The hallmark on sterling silver jewelry is S/S, Sterling 925, 9.25, or Sterling. On sterling silver jewelry, the hallmark will be found on the clasp.
On flatware, the hallmark is on the underside of the pieces. If the piece of jewelry has no hallmark and it is called sterling silver, there are chances that the piece is not made of real silver. Genuine sterling silver would also have the lion hallmark.
On the other hand, the silver-plated pieces may be hallmarked too, but with marks like EPNS for electroplated nickel silver or EP for electroplating.
What if the stamp is fake? While this is a huge risk that you’d face when dealing with fake sterling silver pieces, there is a low possibility of the sterling silver hallmark being fake. This is the case because it is illegal to falsify the sterling silver stamp, and jewelers wouldn’t want to be in trouble for this when they can say that the pieces are plated.
2.Check the numbering
Solid sterling silver jewelry is also graded, and you can tell more about the quality or the standard of the silver piece by checking the numbering.
Essentially, 999 is the number used to refer to the purest possible form of silver, and it is also called pure/ fine/investment-grade silver..958 Solid silver is also called Britannia silver which was produced between 1697 and 1720.
There is also .950 Sterling silver which is commonly found in the antique silver pieces from France, and .925 Sterling Silver which is used in jewelry making.
Finally, there is the .835 Silver that is known as the common European silver blend.
3.Check the coloring
Genuine silver/ sterling silver jewelry is, essentially, not as shiny as the plated jewelry, which often is too bright and not cool-toned as the genuine pieces.
If the jewelry in question is too bright or soft colored, then it is plated. If the jewelry has some parts that are torn away or flaked, and you can see the color differences, it’s highly likely that the jewelry you are looking at is plated and not genuine silver.
The other point to note about the coloring is this – if you rub the jewelry using a white or light-colored cloth and it leaves black specks on the cloth, the jewelry is likely made of genuine sterling silver.
The discoloration is from the fact that the real silver and sterling silver will be oxidized, and it will tarnish on exposure.
The tarnish would then rub off on the cloth when you rub it lightly. This hardly happens with silver-plated pieces, especially after the piece of jewelry has been polished a number of times in the past.
While precious metals like gold, and even non-precious copper, are non-magnetic.
This is the case with silver, which means that if you grabbed magnets and placed them on pieces made of sterling silver, it wouldn’t be drawn to the piece.
However, if it’s made of other metals like nickel, it would be magnetic. That said, you should know that the solid silver or the sterling silver pieces are slightly magnetic, and they have very weak magnetic properties, as compared to other metals like cobalt, nickel, iron, etc.
In case the magnet sticks to the silver piece strongly, it means that its core is ferromagnetic, and it isn’t an actual silver piece.
Note that the silver-plated and the fake silver pieces of jewelry are made of other metals that are mostly ferromagnetic, and they’d be attracted to the magnet. So, if you are not sure about the composition of the metal, just run the magnet test.
5.The Polish Test
You could also test for the authenticity of the sterling silver by running the polish test.
After checking the magnet over the jewelry or checking the hallmarks, you may also want to run the polish test. To do this test, get a soft white cloth and polish it.
As mentioned above, real or solid sterling silver will be oxidized when exposed to the air, and it will get tarnished.
So, when you run the tarnished jewelry, there will be a black residue on the white cloth. If there is no residue, the piece is not solid sterling silver.
Polishing the sterling silver jewelry is a great way of testing for real sterling silver.
6.Flakes/ Acid Test
You can also differentiate between solid sterling silver and plated silver using the flake or the acid test.
Silver-plated pieces may have a layer of real silver on them, and you can tell if the base is solid sterling silver is genuine or not by getting the flaked piece. Just scratch it with a gentle metal or your nails to see the metal underneath.
Next, take some of the flakes and put them in nitric acid. If, after dipping it in nitric acid, the flakes retain their color, then you’d be looking at solid sterling silver.
In case of color changes, the jewelry is not made of solid sterling silver.
7.The Odor Test
This is the other test that you could use to test for and detect the presence of authentic silver in jewelry.
This is important because sterling silver is an odorless metal. So, to test it, just go ahead and smell it, and if it has a noticeable odor or smell, then it’s not made of solid sterling silver. If it has an authentic sulfur smell or a metallic fragrance, it is not a sterling silver piece.
It could be silver-plated, and the slight scent means that it is not made of solid sterling silver. The only catch is that this test only works if you have a strong sense of smell.
8.The Ice Test
The ice test is the other way of testing for genuine sterling silver and telling it apart from plated silver.
You’ll need a block of ice for this test. First, take the block of ice and put it on top of the silver piece. Of all the metals, silver has the highest thermal conductivity than other common metals and metal alloys, even at room temperature.
So, if it melts within seconds/ minutes, it’s made of solid sterling silver, and if it doesn’t, then you’re dealing with a fake.
9.X-Ray Flourescence (XRF)
This is the most reliable test for solid sterling silver, and the best part is that it will not cause any damage to the solid silver pieces.
If you are looking at a piece that is purported to be made of pure silver and the magnet test isn’t as conclusive, you could also try sliding a magnet on the piece.
Since silver is paramagnetic and the strong rare earth magnets produce eddy currents by acting as an electromagnet, you will notice some braking effect on the magnet and the subsequent slowed down the descent of the magnet.
If this isn’t the case, then it’s not a real silver piece.
This test requires the purchase of the silver testing kit online. Scratch a small, inconspicuous spot on the jewelry, then add a drop of acid to the filed area.
If the color change is pinkish-red, it’s made of fine silver, bright red is 925 sterling silver, brown represents brass, blue is nickel, and green is 500 silver.
The rate of tarnishing is extremely high when silver pieces are exposed to bleach. If there is no reaction on the piece or if the reaction is slow, then it is silver-plated.
Tiger is a fashion&jewelry lover. He is also a fashion jewelry manufacturer that help thousands of small business to grow and also do business with some big fashion jewelry brands. He is a truly metal expert and he will share some information you are looking for.