by Deven Davis

Sterling Silver vs Silver: What's the Difference?

When buying silver jewelry, your options are usually sterling or pure silver. But what is the difference between sterling silver vs silver? Click here to learn.

Keyword(s): sterling silver vs silver


Did you think that sterling silver and regular silver were the same thing? They're actually two distinct materials with different make-ups, care techniques, lifespans, and prices.

But what exactly are these differences? Is there one that's better in the sterling silver vs silver debate? Which should you go for the next time you want to buy a "silver" item?

We're going to answer all of these questions and more in this sterling silver vs silver guide. Keep reading to learn more.

Sterling Silver vs Silver: What's the Difference?

Silver items have long been known as symbols of wealth and prosperity. This is true whether you own sterling silver or pure silver, since most times you can't tell the status of the silver at a quick glance.

But let's look into how these two materials do differ, shall we?

Pure Silver

Silver is one of the elements on the periodic table with the symbol Ag.

Chemical Makeup

Any item described as pure silver, or also as fine silver, are as purely silver as you can get: it's made of 99.9% pure elemental silver.

It will contain very few trace elements (only 0.01%), but it's essentially pure silver (hence the name).

Uses for Silver

Pure silver is quite soft and difficult to shape properly, which makes it hard to use to make items that require daily use or specific shapes. Because of this, pure silver is not generally used to make fine and delicate jewelry items.

This softness also means that fine silver items aren't as durable. They can be easily bent, made misshapen, or damaged, which is why fine silver is mostly reserved to make fine jewelry.


Silver can also tarnish. This means that the gasses in the air react with silver, which causes discoloring, fading, and what looks like a "dirty" layer on the top of silver products.


Fine silver is also usually stamped with a marker to indicate that it is indeed fine silver. This stamp is usually "999" or ".999" or "99.9" to indicate that it is 99.9% silver, as fine silver must be to be considered fine silver.

Sterling Silver

If pure silver, aka fine silver, is as pure as you can get, it makes sense that "sterling silver" isn't as pure.

Chemical Makeup

Sterling silver is what's known as a metal alloy. This means that sterling silver is a combination of metals instead of just one single metal (like with pure silver, for example).

Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% alloy. This 7.5% is usually made of copper or zinc.

Uses for Sterling Silver

The addition of these other metals makes sterling silver significantly stronger and more durable. This allows it to be used to make a number of other things including:

  • Jewelry
  • Silverware
  • Plates
  • Platters
  • Coffee Sets
  • Silver plated items

Notice that last use of silver plated items. Whenever you see something advertised as "silver plated" it most often means that the piece itself is made of another metal, and there's simply a thin layer of sterling silver "plated" on top of the item.

Also, notice that the list of uses for sterling silver is a long longer than the one for fine silver. That's because the added durability that sterling silver has means it won't be damaged or dented by everyday use and wear and tear like fine silver is.


Sterling silver is more easily tarnished than pure silver. Silver by itself can become tarnished from being exposed to the air as we already went over. With sterling silver, however, it's easier to tarnish because of the alloy metals within sterling silver.

Copper, nickel, and zinc are easily tarnished. When you combine those with another metal that can tarnish, like silver, the tarnishing process is faster and happens more easily.


Sterling silver is also stamped to indicate that it is true sterling silver. These stamps are usually "925" or "92.5" or ".925" to indicate the purity of the silver within it. However, you can also sometimes see "ss" as a sterling silver stamp as well.

Why Use Sterling Silver Instead of Pure Silver?

There are a few benefits to sterling silver that might push you to purchase sterling silver items over fine silver.

The first most obvious would be the cost. Fine silver has a higher purity percentage of silver, which will make it more expensive compared to the less pure sterling silver. However, sterling silver still looks just as good as fine silver, which means you can get affordable, timeless pieces for a lower price.

There's also the durability factor. Sterling silver is much more durable compared to fine silver because of the added metal alloys. This can help your piece last and stay looking the best it possibly can for longer.

Sterling silver is easier to shape than the soft and malleable fine silver, so you'll be able to find more options made of sterling silver vs silver.

How to Care for Your Pure Silver and Sterling Silver Items

You can make both pure silver and sterling silver items last a lot longer by taking a few simple precautions.

For pure silver, you need to be extra careful with it. Since it isn't very durable and it's soft, you need to make sure not to overuse fine silver items or use them too roughly.

For both pure and sterling silver, store it in a dark place away from air and water exposure. You can also clean your silver items with anti-tarnish liquids and a soft cloth.

Final Thoughts

Both sterling silver and pure silver has their pros and cons. Deciding which is right for you in the sterling silver vs silver debate will depend on the item you want to purchase, your price range, and your personal preference.

If you're looking to add a timeless piece to your jewelry collection, check out this article that details certain pieces that you must have. You can also check out our selection of silver jewelry items.

Deven Davis
Deven Davis

"What-E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.”

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