February 01, 2022 5 min read
Silver jewelry is gleaming and gorgeous and can be easily crafted into unique designs. It symbolizes prosperity and is the gift to represent 25 years of marriage. If you’re a jewelry lover, no doubt you’ve purchased or at least browsed sterling silver rings, necklaces, bracelets, or earrings. Maybe you’ve inspected jewelry online or in a department store and wondered whether it was real silver or if there’s really a difference between sterling silver and pure silver. Next time you go jewelry shopping you won’t have to wonder because we’ll explain everything you need to know about silver and sterling silver jewelry.
Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver and does not tarnish. Silver is a bright, highly polishable metal that’s been used for currency, decorative objects, and jewelry throughout history, but not without support from other metals. On its own, silver is too soft for practical, everyday use. But it’s just too pretty not to be used in jewelry and other fine decorations, so it’s often mixed with other metals to create a more durable material known as sterling silver.
Sterling silver is an alloy made up of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper or zinc. Sterling silver pieces are stamped with 925 to mark their authenticity. As one theory goes, King Henry II dubbed the durable coins made of silver alloy in circulation “Easterling coins,” which evolved into “sterling” silver. Today, the pound sterling remains the U.K.’s standard unit of currency.
Sterling silver is real silver–there’s nothing fake about it. It’s simply a mixture of real silver and just enough other metals to make it strong but not too difficult to mold. Just like 14k or 18k gold jewelry, silver must be made into an an alloy to be wearable. In the US, the ratio of silver to other metals in genuine sterling silver is regulated, but the percentage of silver in jewelry from other countries is often lower than 92.5%. If you’re looking for sterling silver jewelry, be careful to avoid silver-plated jewelry, which is jewelry made of a cheap metal coated in a thin layer of silver.
Sterling silver is an alloy made mostly of silver and a small percentage of copper and zinc to strengthen it. It can last a lifetime and be passed on for many generations if properly cared for. Silver is soft and not as durable as sterling silver. It only contains .01% of trace elements. Silver is hypoallergenic, but sterling silver is not because it’s combined with zinc. Sterling silver is more easily tarnished than fine silver because of the other metals it contains. While 925 sterling silver is less “pure” than silver, it does not mean it’s not good. Sterling silver is a high-quality material that’s both durable and beautiful to wear.
Sterling silver and silver look exactly the same, and if you have silver jewelry, it’s most likely sterling. The best indicator is the marking, or hallmark, stamped on in small numbers or letters. Sterling silver will have a 925 or STER, and fine silver will have a 999 or FS.
Sterling silver is better than silver when designing and wearing jewelry because it’s stronger and can look good for a lifetime. Fine silver jewelry is easily damaged and not the best choice to wear on a regular basis. Sterling silver is also better for setting gemstones. Gemstones are too easy to lose in a 999 silver setting.
Sterling silver does tarnish when gaseous compounds in the air containing sulfur contact the sterling silver and react creating silver sulfate, which leaves a dark coating or tarnish on the silver. Humidity, chlorine, make-up, cleaning products, and even the acid in your skin can all contribute to tarnishing. But tarnish isn’t permanent or a cause for concern. Give your sterling silver a simple polish, and it’s as good as new.
Sterling silver does not rust. Rust is corrosion that deteriorates iron. It’s harmful to some materials, but sterling silver isn’t one of them.
Sterling silver is one of the most affordable, high-quality jewelry materials, and it retains and may even increase its value. There’s only a slight price difference between sterling silver and fine silver. Figuring out the worth of your sterling silver requires a simple calculation.
Keep in mind that the value of your jewelry in silver does not determine its overall worth. The price of a sterling silver piece of jewelry is much more than its cost of silver. It also reflects the artistry, uniqueness, gemstones, and age of the piece.
Cleaning sterling silver is simple. You can wipe your jewelry with silver polish and a polishing cloth or gently brush it with warm water, mild dish soap and a soft toothbrush. A toothbrush with soap is a good option for occasional deep cleanings, but wiping with a polishing cloth is best for regular cleanings because it’s gentler.
Learn more ways to clean jewelry.
There’s no way to completely eliminate tarnishing, but you can take steps to keep your sterling silver jewelry shiny for longer.
Here are a few of our favorite one-of-a-kind designs crafted from genuine 925 sterling silver.
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