Which is better, silver or sterling silver? That is generally the question that gets asked when people are unsure of what type of jewelry to order. Here, we’re going to look at the difference between the two to help you make the right decision with regards to which to get.
How to tell the difference between silver and sterling silver?
The first question people ask is; how do you know the difference? From the untrained eye, that can be hard to tell, but here is how you’re able to tell these two types of metals apart.
The obvious difference between silver and sterling silver is that one is in its pure form and the other is an alloy of silver. Pure silver here constitutes to 99.9 percent silver, while the sterling silver is made up of 92.5 percent silver, the remaining percentage being made up of other metals. Silver is too soft when made into any item. Instead, the alloy silver is what gets used to make items, jewelry included. That’s because the additional metals used to give the silver the strength to make items that can withstand the daily wear and tear that it gets subjected to with a level of grace.
Over time you will find that the sterling silver will lose its luster. That is contrary to what the real silver is like; it does not get tarnished on the surface. However, it is still susceptible to dents and scratches.
Tarnish in sterling silver is due to the alloy metals. Whether you’re wearing your sterling silver or not, you will notice that there will tarnish over time. You can, however, keep it clean and shiny by regularly using a cloth or cotton to clean the surface gently.
The time that silver itself gets tarnished is when it gets exposed to such sulfur compounds in the water or the air. In the event of that, you’ll find that a black sulfide layer forms. Otherwise, silver has shown to not tarnish in air or water.
Another way to tell the difference between silver and sterling silver is by doing an acid test. You take a small shaving off the metal and put it in acid. Should the color of the acid change, it means that you’re dealing with a metal whose purity in silver is less than 92.5 percent. There are also precious metal test kits that you can purchase for verification of authenticity.
Summary: Sterling silver is sensitive to water and air, as both cause it to tarnish. On the other hand, pure silver fairs on well in both air and water. However, sterling silver fairs on better than silver when it comes to scratches and dents. In general, you can tell the difference between silver and sterling silver by how they fair on in these elements.
Definition of silver or pure silver material
Pure silver, or fine silver, gets graded through a system called millesimal fineness, with the grading expressed as a decimal. Therefore, in the case of fine silver, you’ll find that it is expressed as 99.9 percent pure or .999, or ‘three nine fine”. That kind of silver is considered investment grade, and thus you’ll find it’s been stamped by a hallmark to verify its purity.
Fine silver is too soft for commercial, industrial or jewelry use. For that reason, it is reserved for bullion investment products. You’ll find them in the form of silver bullion ingots or bars, and silver bullion coins. It is, therefore, unlikely that you’ll find jewelry made in fine silver.
How does fine silver come about? It is mined as it comes from the earth as ore mixes with other elements. It typically is in the form of argentite and galena ore; this is a lead ore that contains substantial amounts of silver. It then gets extracted using the process of electrolysis and amalgamation.
Summary: Pure or fine silver gets used for investment purposes and not for commercial, industrial, or jewelry use. You’re thus unlikely to find your jewelry is made of fine silver.
Definition of sterling silver
Sterling silver is an alloy that gets created when added with copper. The reason for this addition is to make the silver less soft and thus durable. The purity of sterling silver is 92.5 percent.
The remaining 7.5 percent is where you find copper, or in some cases, other metals such as zinc or nickel. Overall, sterling silver has the stamp of 925, .925 or 92.5. If the jewelry has lower purity, the USA doesn’t recognize it as sterling silver.
Europe and other parts of the world are different and might mark something with lower purity as silver or sterling silver.
When it comes to durability, sterling silver stands better than pure silver. The problem, however, is that the additional metals end up making sterling silver susceptible to tarnish. That is because the added metals react with oxygen, other elements in the air and liquids.
Another aspect of sterling silver to note is that it gets plated with a thin layer of pure silver. The purpose of that is to improve the shine of the metal, in this case, the jewelry.
If you come across a label written ‘sterling silver-plated,’ that means under the layer of sterling silver, you have a base metal, for example, nickel or copper.
This type of metal or jewelry does not last long and will wear off after some time to reveal the base metal below.
Summary: sterling silver is a combination of silver and other metals, where the silver makes up 92.5 percent of the alloy. The addition of other metals makes the silver strong and more durable, making it easier to work with.
Silver vs. sterling silver pricing in fashion jewelry
The pricing of silver is straight forward. You just have to look at the metals exchange to know how silver is trading per ounce, gram, and kilo.
As expressed, pure silver is too soft for jewelry and other uses that it is instead used as an investment. Therefore, to know if you’re getting a fair deal on silver metal, you have to use the money metal exchange.
Now to sterling silver, what gets used to make jewelry in the first place, several factors affect the pricing. One major factor is the finishing, assuming that the piece of jewelry doesn’t have a setting or gemstones.
As a rule, sterling silver jewelry gets plated. Otherwise, it will turn yellow over time. To prevent that, one form of finishing used is high polishing. This type of finishing is popular if you wish to engrave the sterling silver jewelry or for people who are indeed allergic to other metals such as nickel. In this case, the polishing gets achieved through the use of a machine.
The other type of finishing found with sterling silver is the black antique look. The look is achieved by putting the jewelry in a chemical solution to facilitate oxidation. After, the silver gets polished. The pricing for this type of finishing is similar to that of high polished jewelry.
The most expensive finish in the market is rhodium plating. Rhodium is a precious metal and costs more than silver. It is highly tarnish-resistant, and this is a preferred metal for coating.
However, do note that there are jewelry makers who first put a thin layer of copper under the rhodium to save costs.
Ask your vendor what materials have been used to plate the sterling silver. Things such as the acid nature of the human swear, lotions, soaps, and makeup cause the copper to react and turn green.
Which is better: silver or sterling silver?
Now that we understand the properties of fine silver and sterling silver, we can conclude that sterling silver is best when it comes to fashion jewelry. It is durable and can stand up to daily wear. It is also more cost-effective as there are other metals used to make the sterling silver.
There are various kinds of sterling silver; therefore, you are tasked with finding out which one is right for you. If you are prone to reacting to certain metals, you know to steer clear of metals such as nickel.
That means you have to talk to the vendor or manufacturer the alloy is composed of to avoid landing a piece of jewelry that you can’t wear.
The percentage of silver also determines the price but also what you’re going for. Check the stamp to know what grade of silver you’re getting before making a purchase. The higher the silver content, the more care you ought to give the silver to avoid dents and general tarnishing.
Whatever type of silver or sterling silver, you settle for be sure to take care of it. It is a worthwhile lifetime investment, after all.
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