How to Tell the Difference Between Silver and Stainless Steel?

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I know you want to tell the difference between silver and stainless steel. Here is the post for you.

Here’s some truth: all that glitters is not gold. And in our case, the rules also apply to silver and stainless steel – that glittering piece might be either silver or stainless steel sold as something else.

So, if you are contemplating a new purchase, you need to know how to differentiate these two metals best. Otherwise, your silverware might not be quite the best silverware, and the stainless steel cookware could be less than the real deal.

Silver and stainless steel are two metals that have found applications in similar areas of our lives: jewelry and flatware/ cutlery. For centuries, sterling silver has been used for cutlery and cookware. However, stainless steel made its debut in the cutlery world just over a century ago.

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While these two metals serve the purpose well, offering the high-level of hygiene intended while being highly versatile and malleable. The use of stainless steel for cutlery, on the other hand, comes from the fact that this metal is harder than sterling silver and it’s more resistant to damage (physical) compared to silver which gets scratched easily.

To help you identify and differentiate these two silvery metals, here are some of the things you should know about the metals.


What is Silver?

Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag – Ag being full for Argentum, which is the Latin name for silver. What you might not know, however, is that silver is one of the few rare metals (not as rare as gold or platinum though) and it’s regarded as a precious metal.

This metal is, however, soft, a property that limits its use. For this reason, silver used in industrial applications or jewelry has many other metals added to it for the sake of hardening.

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What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel represents the most common type of steel.

Chromium is the main component of stainless steel, and it is the primary reason for rust and corrosion resistance in the metal. But chromium is not the only metal in stainless steel.

Stainless steel also largely an alloy of iron, although chromium makes up a minimum of 10% of the composition of stainless steel.

The industrial use of stainless steel comes from its hardy structure.


The difference between stainless steel and silver

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So, just how hard is stainless steel against silver? Well, metals are ranked for hardness on the MOH (Mineral Hardness) scale which ranks the hardest mineral, diamond, at 10 and the softest metal talc with the lowest ranking on the scale.

On this scale, stainless steel ranks 6 against the super soft silver that ranks at 2.5. The ranking of 6 on the MOH scale is the reason why stainless steel is commonly used for medical implants, body piercings, and jewelry.


Testing the Metals

Silver Tests

  • Mark of Quality

You can always tell that you are dealing with real silverware by checking the imprints on the piece. You might need a magnifying glass for this test.

By imprints, you need to look for a STER imprint or a number. The number on the piece is often 925, S925, .925 or 92.5% silver for genuine pieces. here is a professional post on how to test the silver without marking.

  • Cleaning

This might not sound like quite the test for silver, but cleaning your silverware could be the best way for you to tell if you are dealing with genuine silver or not.

Just take a soft, clean cloth and then buff your silverware so that it shines, and then check the cloth’s surface. For real silverware, you will have slight black marks on the white cloth after wiping. The reason for the black marks is that silver reacts with oxygen forming an oxide residue. Silver plating bonds to any of the metals underneath the item and stainless steel will not leave any black residue.

  • Appearance/ Layering
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If someone tells you that you are holding an antique piece of flatware or jewelry, it’s important to check for some visual markers. For example, an antique silver piece will show signs of wear – both the silver and silver substitutes tend to show aging in specific ways. For example, a silver-plated piece will chip over time, which means that you can see the metal that’s exposed below – check the handle or edges for chipping. So, if you notice discrepancies between the interior and the exterior metals, you know that you are not dealing with real silver.

These differences in appearance are not seen in stainless steel pieces.

  • Magnetic Test

Silver is non-ferrous and paramagnetic. What this means is that it either have a zero attraction to the magnet or very little attraction.

  • The Ice Test

Silver boasts a high thermal conductivity. So, if you are dealing with real silver, it will melt ice cubes very fast when you place the silver item in contact with the ice.

  • Malleability

Silver is malleable, and it bends, but stainless steel is hard, and it will not bend if you apply force to it.

  • Smell

Real silver has no smell. So, if you hold on a piece of jewelry close to your nose and it has some smell, it means that the piece has quite a bit of copper and it’s not the real thing. Sterling silver might have some copper, but the copper content isn’t enough for the piece to smell.

  • Bell Ringing

Sterling Silver has a high-pitched bell tone when tapped gently or if your tap it using a metallic coin. This tone should last between 1 and 2 seconds. Other metals, including stainless steel, will not have this sound.

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Stainless Steel Tests

  • Visual Identifiers

Genuine stainless steel comes with specific numbers/ codes imprinted on it. Often, the imprint follows an ASTM or an AES code system, and it includes a 4-digit code that gives insights into the material you are dealing with.

  • Magnetic Properties

The stainless steel used for jewelry or industrial use is largely non-magnetic since it has nickel added during the manufacturing process. The added nickel reduces stainless steel’s magnetism.

  • Color

Stainless steel is a shiny silvery metal that looks the same on the exteriors and fractures if any.


The difference between silver Jewelry and stainless steel Jewelry

Despite the physical and chemical differences above, you could also differentiate stainless steel from silvery by looking at the shine and the applications of the metals. Here I also write a post on the differences between titanium and silver. Click it to read more

Stainless steel is hard and hard to handcraft or mold unless crafting is done at the factory. Silver, on the other hand, is soft and malleable, which is why most handcrafted pieces of jewelry are made of sterling silver instead of stainless steel. Silver boasts a higher level of flexibility than stainless steel, but the latter is harder and lasts longer.

And even though both metals have a silvery shine, jewelry made of silver shines brighter and lighter if polished. Stainless steel also shines, and it has a mirror-like effect when polished.

Thanks for reading. Guys, I  really hope you guys read more our jewelry metals articles here.

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Hey! I finally find the Answer!