You've heard of pure silver and sterling silver... Surely, they must be the same thing, right?
Even though these two terms are often used interchangeably, they actually have specific differences that any jewelry connoisseur should know about.
Learning the difference can help you buy higher quality jewelry that will last longer, look better, and feel more comfortable to wear.
If you want to find out more about pure silver vs. sterling silver, continue reading to gain all of the knowledge you need to make a wise choice between the two.
You may be curious about what pure silver jewelry is if it isn't just a general term for all silver.
In terms of jewelry, pure silver is much less commonly used than other metals, such as sterling silver, for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that pure silver is too malleable. The softness of the metal makes it an unviable candidate for many types of jewelry that are commonly worn.
Because of how soft it is, silver is usually mixed with other types of metals to toughen it up so it can be worn regularly. When this happens, the silver is no longer going to be considered pure because it is no longer just the silver.
Pure silver has a real silver content of 99.9%. This is where the name pure is derived from. The silver content is almost completely what makes up the chemical composition of this type of silver.
Another term that you may hear for pure silver jewelry is fine silver jewelry. This is because a lot of people consider pure silver to be the fancier and more elegant option for silver jewelry.
When you are dealing with a real pure silver piece of jewelry, it will be marked with some variation of 99.9%. This may look like 999, 99.9, .999, or otherwise. The number is used to indicate the purity of the piece.
Something else to note about pure silver is that it does not tarnish when you expose it to air or to moisture like other metals may. It is a little bit more expensive than sterling silver, which we will discuss in a moment, simply because it is a more pure and high-quality type of item.
Sterling silver is created when pure silver is combined with copper or zinc to make it a more durable option. Most of the silver jewelry that you come across is going to be made of sterling silver - unless it is cheaper costume jewelry.
In order to be considered sterling silver, it will need to be 92.5% silver and 7.5% of another metal. Just like pure silver is marked with a variation of 999, sterling silver will be marked with a variation of 925. This is important to remember when buying silver jewelry.
It is also important to note that sterling silver can be a higher percentage than 92.5% silver, but it can't be lower than that percentage.
Anything less than that percentage will not be considered sterling by the United States standards. These standards were established in the 1300s, popularized by Tiffany and Co. in the 1900s, but are not necessarily standardized worldwide.
This means that you could buy silver in another country that claims to be silver, but it may not necessarily be 92.5% silver. For instance, silver from Germany only has to be 80% pure for it to be considered sterling, but that wouldn't pass in the United States. Italian sterling silver, on the other hand, has even more stringent standards than the United States with standards to specifically punish the inclusion of nickel.
This is why checking the markings on the piece itself can be very important if buying overseas.
The additional metals that are added to the pure silver to create sterling silver make this type of jewelry much more prone to tarnishing. It reacts with oxygen and other elements that are found in the air, but also in water. While sterling silver can be plated with pure silver to make it shinier, this still will not protect it from tarnishing over time.
Sterling silver is more cost effective and is pretty easy to repair or replace when compared to pure silver, but it does require frequent polishing to keep its appearance.
A piece of jewelry that is sterling silver plated is not the same as it just being sterling silver. Sterling silver plated means that the base metal is not really silver and just the outer layer is made of sterling silver.
Not only does this mean that it is a cheaper piece of jewelry overall, but it also means that the outside layer will wear off fairly quickly over time and the jewelry is not going to stay silver forever.
When buying a sterling silver piece of jewelry, you don't want to get sterling silver plated because it is not worth the extra money. Costume jewelry often uses this to try and make their jewelry more appealing, but in reality, it doesn't hold up.
You may be wondering how you would even know for sure how pure silver is or how the people that are selling the jewelry know what to mark the jewelry as.
One of the most common ways to test silver is to administer the acid test. This is when a small shaving of the silver is taken and put into acid. After this, you have to be able to see whether or not the color changes.
If the color does change, the purity is less than 92.5%. That means that it is not really sterling silver and you will know that it is not very high-quality material.
Anyone could buy a testing kit to use at home, but a lot of people find it easier to take it to a jeweler. When doing this, the jeweler will have the equipment necessary to test your jewelry for a fee to test the purity.
Whether you want to find some small pieces that are pure silver or some large pieces that are sterling silver, both types of silver jewelry have their own benefits. Knowing how to spot the difference is what is most important when buying jewelry of your own.
Now that you understand the difference, feel free to contact us to get some more information on the products we offer and jewelry that may be great additions to your collection. We would love to help expand your accessory wardrobe.