Is sterling silver real silver? How is it from fine silver? What are the uses of sterling silver? And how do I identify it? If these are some of the questions bombarding your head, we’ve got you covered!
Here, all of your questions will be answered. Let’s start by knowing what exactly is sterling silver, shall we?
What is Sterling Silver?
Let us start this section by saying – Yes, sterling silver is real, or let’s say, almost real. Or, if you want us to be more scientifically accurate – 92.5% of sterling silver is real. Confused? Don’t be! We’ll explain everything in detail.
Sterling silver is simply 92.5% pure elemental silver and 7.5% other alloys such as copper or zinc. Like we said, almost real, right?
Sterling Silver Vs Pure Silver
The purest silver you can get your hands on is 99.9% silver, often known as pure or fine silver. 99.9% means that the item is made up of 99.9% pure elemental silver, whereas the rest 0.01% are other trace elements.
Besides their composition, several other properties are noticeably different between sterling silver and pure silver.
Firstly, the rate with which fine silver tarnishes is not as rapid as sterling silver does. Thanks to the 7.5% alloys present in sterling items!
Likewise, fine silver is too soft. It is highly malleable and ductile. On the other hand, the addition of other metals in sterling silver makes it much more strong and durable than fine silver.
Uses of sterling silver
The strong nature and durability of sterling silver make it possible for jewelers to shape them into various items. From day-to-day essentials and other kitchen utensils to aesthetic ornamental pieces and jewelry; the possibilities are endless.
You can find sterling silver used in coffee sets, platers, medals, pins, jewelry, watches, and many more. Likewise, you’ll find antique regular household essentials such as mirrors, coins, cigarette boxes, bases of pitchers, and eyeglasses also made up of sterling silver.
Real Silver Vs Fake Silver
First of all, is it even silver? These are a few easy-to-perform and cheap methods to check whether or not the item is silver. Let’s get started!
1. Order Test:
Take a whiff of the stuff you suppose is silver. Does it smell metallic or tangy? If yes, that’s not silver. Silver doesn’t have such a strong odor.
2. Ice Test:
When an ice block is placed on top of silver coins or bars, it starts melting quickly. For easier analysis, place an ice block on your supposedly silver item and an item that you know is not silver. Then, perform a comparative study.
If the ice starts melting quickly and finishes melting first on the supposedly silver item, it is silver. On the downside, this method can be difficult to perform on jewelry and ornamental piece with complex designs.
3. Ring Test:
Silver, when dropped or tapped with a ring, produces a ringing sound. If the sound is blunt and quick, then the item is probably fake silver. Practice with items that you’re certain is silver beforehand to train your ears.
4. Magnet Test:
Pure silver doesn’t pass the magnet test, i.e., when a magnet has hovered over silver items, there’s no magnetic attraction. So, if the magnet attaches to the supposedly silver item, then it probably isn’t silver.
5. Bleach Test:
Bleach has sodium hypochlorite, a strong oxidizing agent, as its active ingredient. So, when a drop of bleach is added to silver, it tarnishes, giving a black coloration. Add a drop of bleach to the item and let it rest for around 2-3 minutes. If it tarnishes, congratulations, that’s silver!
How To Tell If Your Silver Is Sterling Silver?
If you know that the item is silver and want to identify if it is sterling, you have to step up your identification game. It takes jewelry experts to determine the exact purity of such a precious metal. However, there are various at-home techniques to identify if the silver is sterling.
The two most accurate identification techniques to ensure that what you have under examination is sterling silver are checking authentication hallmarks and acid test.
1. Authentication Hallmarks of Sterling Silver:
Whenever you see anything that looks like silver, this must be your first action – check for authentication hallmarks! Sterling silver items have small encoded stamps, commonly ‘.925’, ‘925’, ’92.5’, ‘STERLING’, ‘STG’, ‘STER’, or ‘ss’.
Moreover, there are also other graphical hallmarks in use. And, the hallmarks also varies with the countries in which the sterling pieces were made. For instance, some sterling pieces made in England feature a lion passant – a lion with one paw raised.
So, it all depends upon how much information you’ve gathered on silver marks. To be able to identify international pieces might require a bit more knowledge and effort. But identifying such markings is one of the most effective ways to find out if the silver is sterling.
2. Silver Acid Test:
Disclaimer – this test might damage your silver items. So, use it in places where it cannot be easily seen. First and foremost, you have to purchase a bottle of the commercially available silver acid test.
Then, if you’re not worried about the piece, you can directly add a drop onto it. Else, you can make use of a black stone that usually comes with the kit. If not, you can also use an unglazed ceramic tile for the purpose.
Rub your item under experimentation back and forth slightly onto the black stone, followed by the addition of a drop of acid. The acid test kit comes with a color scale that looks like this:
- Bright Red: Fine Silver
- Darker Red: 925 Silver (sterling silver should look like this)
- Brown: 800 Silver (80% silver)
- Green: 500 Silver (half silver content)
- Blue: Nickel
- Yellow: Lead or Tin
- Dark brown: Brass
Now, you know what color to expect, right? Wipe the acid with a napkin or tissue and observe the color. If it’s a dark red, your silver is sterling, and if it’s bright red, it is pure.
Why opt for Sterling Silver?
Fine silver is very soft, and thus, it is difficult to mold them into desirable shapes. Even if you can, they are likely to lose their shape sooner or later. Thus, it makes sterling silver a better choice to make ornaments, jewelry, and other day-to-day silver items.
What’s more, given the strong and durable nature of sterling silver, they are able to handle the daily wear and tear that our silver jewelry, silverware, and ornaments face.
Also, you can get a variety of options when it comes to buying sterling silver items, which is not the case when buying fine silver pieces. Moreover, you can give a design of your choice and have the jeweler mold the sterling silver into that particular shape as well.
On the downside, the faster rate of tarnishing can be a problem. However, you can always have your jewelry buffed or polished in order to remove the tarnish. There are also various innovative DIY tarnish-removal methods you can try.
The other reason why you should opt for sterling silver is the cost difference. Since sterling is only 92.5% silver, it will definitely cost you cheaper than 99.5% fine silver.
But when it comes to aesthetics, sterling silver looks just as shiny and beautiful as the pure ones, if not more, given the pieces are molded into excellent eye-catching pieces.
In a nutshell, yes, fine silver is wonderful to look at and talk about. But when it comes to buying actual silver items, sterling silver is the way to go!
Taking Care of Your Sterling Silver
By now, you know sterling silver is 92.5% real silver. And, by following the identification techniques mentioned above, if you find out that you’ve got sterling silver on your hands, you should also know how to take care of such a precious metal.
If you want your sterling silver to maintain its shine and beauty for long, here are a few tips you should follow.
- Don’t wet your sterling silver. Wearing the to shower, pools, and hot springs will rapidly accelerate the tarnishing rate.
- Don’t use lotions, fragrances, or any other cosmetics on your sterling. When getting ready, it’d be a smart thing to always put on your sterling jewelry at last.
- Don’t wear sterling jewelry during heavy exercises or chores, which are highly likely to make you perspire.
- Keep your sterling clean. You can use dish soap or other DIY cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda for the purpose.
- Store your sterling items in a cool dark place, in an airtight container if possible.
We hope to have provided you with all the answers to your queries. From identification of sterling silver on how to take care of it, you now know it all, don’t you?
When compared to other precious metals, sterling silver is cheaper yet equally shiny and stunning. This metal is also perfect for heirlooms ornaments. Considering how gorgeous sterling silver jewelry look, adding a few pieces to your jewelry box should be a no-brainer!