Types of Silver: Do You Know What Your Silver Jewelry Is Made Of?
Aren't all types of silver jewelry the same? Doesn't "silver jewelry" imply that it's made of silver? Are there different types of silver? What is sterling silver? Is it the same as 925 silver? Learn all about the different types of silver used in jewelry and be the expert on all things silver.
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You might think that all silver jewelry is basically the same. Turns out, there are actually a number of different types of silver made with different types of alloys - and many of these are found in today's jewelry market.
Keep reading to find down all about the different types of silver out there.
Types of Silver
Silver used to make jewelry is usually an alloy - which means it's a mixture of two or more elements from the periodic table. A finished piece of silver jewelry should have a quality stamp somewhere on it, which tells you what type of silver your piece is made up of.
Here's a breakdown of the different types of silver:
Fine .999 Silver
This is the closest metal to the pure element of silver. The .999 in its name means it's 99.9% pure. The remaining 0.1% is made up of trace elements of insignificant quality. Fine silver has a more luster than the bright polish of sterling.
Since this silver is soft, it will scratch, dent, and change shape easily. For this reason, it's not suitable for most jewelry because it's lifespan as a designed piece of jewelry isn't very long. The soft metal does make it an option for earrings and necklaces, but not rings and bracelets that are bumped and scratched easily.
The quality stamp for fine silver is .999 FS or just .999.
Sterling .925 Silver
Sterling silver is the quality standard for silver in the United States, Europe, and most world markets. It's alloy make up is 92.5% silver, and the remaining 7.5% is usually copper.
Other metals have to be added to sterling silver to increase the hardness of the alloy - making it more durable and creating color and luster that entices consumers.
Sterling silver's appearance is the silver color we are most familiar with. It's bright and shiny, but it can tarnish. You can delay your sterling silver pieces from tarnishing, but you cannot always prevent it. It's easy to clean and maintain with cleaners and polishing products.
Jewelry made of sterling silver is stamped with a .925 or 925 STG quality stamp.
Rhodium, Argentium Silver, and Non-Tarnish Alloys
Some higher-end sterling silver pieces (especially those from Italy) are finished with rhodium (platinum family) to prevent tarnish. This is more costly but often preferred by fashion designers and consumers alike.
Non-tarnish alloys are relatively new and have a minimum of 92.5% silver, but some will have a little more silver. It's remaining alloys are copper and the element germanium.
Germanium makes the alloy harder, which makes it more difficult to tarnish. However, it can still tarnish under extreme conditions or after long periods of time. But, non-tarnish alloys typically require less maintenance than sterling.
The downside is the price, Argentium is much more expensive than sterling and also harder to get your hands on. It's also harder to tell the difference between Argentium and sterling silver because they but have the same quality stamp of .925.
Manufacturers can go through an application process to get authorization to use the Argentium(R) stamp, but it's often too large and impractical for most jewelry pieces.
Coin silver used to be the more common alloy in the U.S., but now it's becoming more of a rarity. The name is confusing since technically the "coin silver" alloy is .900 silver or 90% silver and 10% copper.
Despite its name, coin silver was not used to make coins, it was actually named because it used to be made from refined scrap coins. Today monetary coins in America and other most countries no longer contain silver, they're now made up of more durable, inexpensive base metals.
There are some collectible coins with higher silver content that come with certificates of authenticity. Coin silver jewelry will have a quality stamp of .900.
Jewelry sold as just "silver" is pretty mysterious. This term is thrown around in the market, but jewelry items should be clearly identified as a specific standard quality.
There is a good chance that pieces labeled simply "silver" do not have a silver alloy that is very high quality. Jewelry artists and manufacturers are legally required to stamp pieces when the space permits or tag finished products with quality designations.
Often times, "silver" jewelry is nothing more than a low-quality brass base with a flash coating of thin silver on top. This coating quickly wears off and leaves the piece looking cheap - because it probably was. With silver, you will usually get what you pay for - and if you didn't pay much, you probably won't get much.
Read on to learn more.
Silver-filled is a new layered metal that was just introduced during the recent surge of silver prices during the recession. It's not an alloy because the metal is not the same throughout the material. Instead, it has sterling silver on the surface and is filled with either 5% or 10% of sterling silver by weight fused with heat and pressure to a brass core.
Since this type of silver is fairly new, it's not standardized in the United States yet. Also because it's a layered metal, it can't be cast. Its silver layer is much thicker than silver plate, but it's still a lower quality silver type.
It tarnishes easily and should only be soldered with precision equipment and special training. Since the price of silver has gone down, it's less common in the market. There's also no legally approved quality stamp standard for this type.
This base metal product has an extremely thin plating layer of silver applied to the surface. Even when jewelry is described as dined silver plated, the silver content is a tiny percentage.
Silver-plated jewelry is typically affordable costume jewelry. It can tarnish easily and will wear off to expose the based metal underneath. Since it's costume jewelry, it 's not required to have a quality stamp but might have manufacturers logo or hallmark.
Nickel silver can be deceiving because the "silver" describes the color of the metal and not the content. It's a base metal alloy made up of mostly copper with nickel and or zinc. It's inexpensive but has a similar appearance to sterling silver. However, it contains no silver at all.
It's soft and a great practice metal. It has other names on the market like Alpaca silver or German silver. It is used in costume jewelry but should be described as a nickel alloy since many people are allergic to nickel.
Tibetan or Tribal Silver
Tibetan silver and other alloys described as "tribal" silver are base metal alloys that have a silver appearance. The contents of this silver's alloys tremendously vary and may not contain silver what so ever.
Some of these come from exotic lands and can contain dangerous metals such as lead, so beware when purchasing and never give it to children. However, the pieces can be beautiful so buy for the design instead of the quality of the metal.
Bali, Thai or Mexican Silver
There is a lot of quality silver coming from Bali, Thailand, and Mexico. But this silver should be marked with a quality "925" stamp in an inconspicuous place. There are also a lot of lower grade silver alloys coming from these countries, so be aware that the name of the country this silver is from is no guarantee of quality or silver content. Buy from reputable sources, not street corners, cruise ship stops, or bargain sites.
Buy That Silver
Now that you know about the different types of silver and their pros and con, you have the knowledge to find that silver jewelry that is right for you. Always check the quality stamp and consider things like origin, the reputation of the seller, and the quality of craftsmanship of your piece.