We love sterling silver as much as you do. It’s shiny, brilliant, and takes jewelry to a whole new level of worth beyond the standard fashion jewelry you can buy from trendy stores in the mall. A few weeks ago, we shared the best way to care for your sterling silver. This week, we’re answering the fundamental question, “What exactly IS sterling silver?”
Sterling silver is a brilliant material made from an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Copper is added to the silver to produce a more durable end product, as pure silver is a soft and malleable metal that’s not ideal for use in jewelry. The .925 stamp you see frequently stamped on silver pieces was a marking used historically to signify that an item was made of sterling silver. Similarly, the phrase “.925 Silver” is often used in place of the term “sterling silver.”
Sterling and silver can also be used interchangeably, as they both have the same meaning when referring to jewelry material. However, when referring to color they might not mean the same thing, so always be sure to clarify before making a purchase. We know, there are a lot of different ways to say sterling silver! For the purpose of this article, when we say silver we’re talking about sterling silver.
Give me a little background on silver, please.
The alloy we call sterling silver has been in use since the 12th century as currency in Europe. Transients from Europe and Britain to colonial America also brought silver as a form of currency and as a tradeable good. Silversmithing in colonial America truly took off during the 17th and 18th centuries, where silversmiths were crafting anything from simple buckles to elaborate table settings. Around 1840, silver table settings and flatware became the essence of dining with style – the more silver pieces you had adorning your tablescape, the better you looked in the eyes of the aristocratic.
From the dining table to the dressing room – the popular use of silver soon migrated to beauty accessories, like mirrors and brushes. From that point on, silver became a fashionable, elite material for accents and accessories, and jewelry was no exception. From Art Nouveau to Art Deco to Modern Retro, jewelry styles changed with time, but silver always stayed popular.
How do I know what’s sterling and what’s not?
While the “925” stamp used to be a reliable sign of sterling silver, cases of counterfeit marks have risen with the movement of mass jewelry production. There are, however, a number of ways – in addition to material stamping – that you can verify silver with your own eyes, so grab your magnets and get ready – let’s get scientific! Now we’re not talking about any refrigerator magnet; you’re going to need something stronger. Hardware stores will sell round disc magnets that have the strength needed to test for junk metal posing as silver. When you try to pick up a silver piece with a magnet it should not move. If it jumps or moves, you have something other than silver in front of you. However, it still may not be silver even if it passes the magnet test – that would be too easy!
The next level of investigating a silver piece gets up close and personal. Using a jeweler’s loop (a small magnifying lense used to inspect gems and view maker’s marks), carefully inspect the silver piece. You’re looking for the common 925 stamp or some inscription denoting the piece’s maker. The absence of a mark or stamp does not mean the piece is sterling silver if it is an antique piece. However, most modern silver jewelry is required by law to verify the material with a stamp.
If you’re truly uncertain about the material and want an infallible test to verify it is silver, you can perform an acid test. In this method, a drop of nitric acid solution reacts with the metal and produces a range of colors, with different shades verifying the purity of the metal. Sterling silver would turn the solution a dark red, whereas a lower purity metal would turn a grey-ish green color.
Ultimately, if a piece passes the magnet test and has a stamp or mark, it is more than likely sterling silver. True sterling silver will tarnish with time, bend slightly when applied pressure, and feel somewhat lightweight. People often base the validity of silver on it’s heaviness, but buyers should beware of “heavy sterling” pieces, which might be loaded with filler metals. Silver has a light molecular weight, making it ideal for delicate, beautiful jewelry.
Sounds good! Where can I find it?
Silver jewelry is a common offering in most fine jewelry stores, as well is in retail locations that offer a selection of higher end products. If you’re looking for a handmade piece that represents your individual pride and affinity, we have a few styles we think you’ll like!
Love Wine Necklace – $49.95 (Choose from red or white wine designs)
Love Fishing Birthstone Pendant – $59.95 (Available as a necklace or bangle)
Chicken Love – $59.95 (Available as a necklace or bangle)
Jeep Girl Birthstone Necklace – $59.95
Sterling silver jewelry is a fantastic addition to your jewelry collection and will last a lifetime with the proper care. Now that you know a little more about silver than the average buyer, you’re prepared to make informed decisions about the jewelry you buy. Have any other questions for us? We’re all ears! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer your questions for you.