Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver Chain(Which One is Better?)

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Both stainless steel and sterling silver boast a shiny silvery look. Unfortunately, this shiny silvery finish is not only attractive but also the cause of confusion for many people. Unless you have taken time to study the differences between stainless steel and sterling silver in details, you might end up being one of the buyers who makes the wrong purchase decision based only on the looks of jewelry.

And with stainless steel and sterling silver chains looking so much similar, you want to be sure that you are buying the right jewelry for you.

In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know about stainless steel and sterling silver chains, and also how the two metals differ from each other.

For starters, other than the similarities in color, stainless steel, and sterling silver have several differences. For example, while sterling silver tarnishes, losing its natural luster after a short time, stainless steel doesn’t tarnish.

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For more about the differences between stainless steel and sterling silver, let’s first look at these individual metals in detail.


Stainless Steel

Stainless steel refers to a steel alloy containing nickel, chromium, and iron, among other metals.

Thanks to the steel construction, stainless steel has found uses in many areas of our lives; from kitchenware to jewelry, to construction and the biomedical industries.

Today, however, we focus on the use of stainless steel in jewelry, particularly in making chains.

It’s worth noting that the use of stainless steel in making jewelry comes from its durability, timeless beauty, as well as its monochromatic finish.

Also, the stainless steel used in jewelry making is different from what’s used in the construction industry. Stainless steel for jewelry is stainless steel grade 316L, also called surgical stainless steel.

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Stainless steel 316L is not only durable, but it’s also tarnish-free, and it doesn’t corrode.

If it’s free of nickel or if it has a minute concentration of nickel (even surgical stainless steel has some nickel), stainless steel is hypoallergenic. So, if you are looking for chain metal material that will not react with your sensitive skin, you may consider stainless steel.

Note, however, that you shouldn’t buy any stainless steel jewelry on the market, especially if the jewelry is low-priced because you could end up with stainless steel that is full of allergens and unsafe for use on the human body. Low-quality stainless steel will cause irritation of the skin.


Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is one of the most popular metals used in making jewelry today. An alloy of silver, sterling silver is not pure silver, but 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper (or any other metals, sometimes nickel and at other times, other metal mixtures).

Keep in mind that it’s quite impossible to use pure silver to make jewelry since pure silver is extremely soft and it cannot be molded into jewelry. The creation of an alloy is essential for the hardening of silver, as well as its durability. You can tell that you are holding a piece of sterling silver jewelry if you see a genuine sterling silver hallmark on the piece – in this case, check for a 925, .925, or 92.5% marks/ engravings inside your sterling silver pieces.

It’s also important to note that sterling silver isn’t the only silver alloy that’s used in jewelry. You will come across many other silver alloys including Argentium silver which has germanium to enhance the hardiness of the Argentium silver.

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  • Tarnishing

Overall, however, sterling silver is the most common type of silver alloy used in jewelry and it standout out from stainless steel in that it’s softer and it’s very much prone to tarnishing.

  • Appearance

Also, on the differences, stainless steel’s finish is more of a mirror-finish while sterling silver’s finish is glossier with no mirror effect.

  • Hypoallergenic

Also, sterling silver is not hypoallergenic, and individuals allergic to copper tend to react to sterling silver. Allergies are almost unheard of when it comes to stainless steel jewelry.

  • Affordability

Regarding cost, stainless steel is cheaper than sterling silver, and the latter has a higher resale value than the former.

  • Hardness and durability

Lastly, stainless steel and sterling silver differ in terms of their hardness, with stainless steel boasting a high level of hardness than sterling silver. Stainless steel is harder and stronger than palladium and platinum. On the MOH scale, stainless steel is ranked 6 while sterling silver is ranked 2.5. Therefore, stainless steel will last longer than sterling silver, especially since it’s also rust-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and tarnish-free.


Pros and cons of Stainless Steel


  • The chromium in the steel alloy makes sterling silver impervious to corrosion and oxidation
  • Stainless steel will not lose its natural shine or luster, and it will always look good
  • It’s hard, and it won’t be dented
  • It doesn’t tarnish
  • It has a beautiful finish


  • Its hardness and rigidity mean that you cannot resize pieces easily
  • If you are extremely sensitive to nickel, you will react even to surgical stainless steel


Pros and Cons of Sterling Silver


  • Sterling silver is a precious metal
  • It has an attractive, classic finish
  • Matte or high-gloss finish
  • It’s relatively durable
  • It can be molded easily
  • You can have stones added to it
  • It attains a natural patina with time


  • It tarnishes
  • It doesn’t really have that attractive new jewelry look or feel
  • It will be dented
  • It is not hypoallergenic
  • Too many fake silver jewelry on the market


Choosing between the two?

Your choice between stainless steel and sterling silver eventually comes down to preference.

You might like the matte and patina-feel of sterling silver as it grows older, but someone else might prefer the shiny mirror-like finish of sterling silver.

However, if you are basing your choices in how long the chain will last, how easy it will be to maintain, and whether it tarnishes or not, stainless steel will be your winner.



Your choices, at the end of the day, will depend on your core preferences. Given a choice, however, we’d opt for stainless steel chains because of their durability, timeless shine, and the fact that they won’t easily react with the skin.

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