Silver will always be one of the most classic metals for jewelry. It is clean and sparkly and reflective, but did you know that the piece of silver you might hold in the near future is not usually 100% silver? There are a lot of different percentages for alloys, and sterling silver, one of the most common silvers, is actually only 92.5% silver.
So, what is 925 sterling silver actually made of? Along with silver, of course, the other 7.5% of the alloy is usually made of copper. Silver is actually a very soft metal, and so without other harder metals, it can be a little too soft when designing different jewelry products.
The great thing about silver, however, is its ability to be so malleable--that is why you will see so many intricate designs in silver jewelry. Silver is easier to mold and shape into almost anything you want it to be but adding other metals to silver helps solidify the shape.
There are a lot of details to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase sterling silver. You want to know exactly what you’re purchasing.
Below, you will find why pure silver is not recommended, what the specifics of 925 sterling silver are, how to tell if the sterling silver is real, and why different alloys might be used with silver.
Different Metals Used as Alloys in 925 Sterling Silver
925 sterling silver is usually mixed with copper. There are other instances where zinc or nickel might be added, but those metals are less commonly added on their own, because copper is the best element to keep sterling silver clean and hypoallergenic.
And sometimes, sterling silver is mixed with all three metals mentioned above. Usually, there is not enough of any of the metals to cause any crazy reactions. You should only experience skin irritation if the sterling silver just flat out isn’t real.
You will want to ask what metal is mixed with the silver when you purchase sterling silver, because some of these metals can cause allergic reactions, especially nickel. Make sure you know that your body will not have a negative reaction to whatever the silver is mixed with before you buy. It is not the silver; it is the other metals that might cause the reaction!
So, even though 925 sterling silver isn’t pure silver, it is actually the best option out there for purchase. It is easy to take care of, easy to mold, and easy to wear. Once you know the sterling silver is for sure real, you should be able to buy it in peace. With proper care, you will not regret your purchase!
Why Pure Silver Is Not Recommended
As mentioned above, pure silver just does not hold a good shape without adding other harder metals.
Fine silver is still available, however, and it will be stamped with marks like “999,” “.999,” or “99.9.” You will not find fine silver when making intricate pieces of jewelry, because it does not keep the shape you need.
Instead, you will see fine silver in bigger, less intricate shapes. But honestly, pure silver is not used as often as one would think. When it is pure silver, it can be easily bent, dented, or damaged. It is only used for the finest of jewelry--the kind you keep somewhere very, very safe.
So, even though it might sound better to have pure silver, it is actually not as romantic as it seems. It is weaker than sterling silver, but luckily sterling silver looks pretty much the exact same!
Silver can also have different alloy percentages for different silver uses. For instance, coins will have less pure silver in them, while jewelry will have more silver--hence the 92.5% real silver compared to about 50% for less fancy uses.
There are ways to keep both pure silver and sterling silver safe. Be sure, especially with pure silver, to keep it in a cool, dry place. Be extra careful and don’t overuse pure silver. Sterling silver will tarnish much easier if it’s exposed to humidity and common air pollutants, so keep that in mind before you put on your silver bracelet to spend a lot of time outside.
Pure silver does not tarnish, but it can get dirty. But remember, with sterling silver you do not have to worry as much about all the times you are not wearing it! And with tarnishing, you can always clean the spots quite easily.
Specifics of 925 Sterling Silver
The great thing about actual sterling silver is that it is more durable and less pricey! As a statement piece, it is also perfect for basically any occasion. It could be dressed up or dressed down, and that’s why it is a great investment.
Since sterling silver is soft and malleable, it can be shaped into the perfect setting for whatever stone is designed to go inside of it. Real sterling silver can be pricey, but I have also found that it is usually a little less than other gold options, so you may consider sterling silver for any expensive rings that may pop up in the future.
The thing is, 925 sterling silver is basically the same as the more common name, sterling silver, just without the number--adding the number keeps us in the loop about the specifics. “Silver” has kind of become a generic term for a certain color, when really sterling silver will be marked if it is real.
If you see markings like “STS,” “SS,” or “STER,” you will know that the silver is authentic and genuine. If jewelry just looks like the color silver, that does not always mean that it really is! The fake silver will not last as long and will often cause skin irritation.
Fake silver also deteriorates quickly. Overall, discoloration, irritation, and deterioration of fake silver will make your purchase not worth it. If you want silver, go for the real thing. Real sterling silver will last longer and look better.
How to Tell if Your Jewelry is Real 925 Sterling Silver
An important thing to remember is that 925 sterling silver is still real silver. Some jewelers will try to pass off other alloys as 925 silver, and you should know how to tell if it is real or not. Here are some ways you can tell:
Tarnishing: 925 sterling silver is prone to tarnishing. That is not necessarily a bad thing--it just means you will want to get it cleaned every so often. Look out for patches or spots on the jewelry as you shop, and it will be a clear sign that the silver is real.
A good way to tell if the tarnishing is real (yes, tarnishing is a thing jewelers might fake!) is to take a white cloth and rub it on the jewelry. If it comes away with marks, that means it is genuine silver. If the cloth comes away clean, that means the jewelry is either just cleaned, or not real sterling silver.
Nitric Acid Test: You can also try the nitric acid test, which would mean you bring your own bottle of nitric acid, so it is a little more of a heavy-duty test. Even though it requires more preparation, it is a foolproof way to tell if your silver is real.
If the silver gets discoloration when it comes in contact with nitric acid, it is fake, or at least not as high of a percentage of silver as you might want. If the discoloration turns brown, it is only 80% silver, and if it turns green, it is only 50% silver.
Since genuine sterling silver won’t have any discoloration, store owners should be fine with you trying the nitric acid test. Looking for their reaction will help you know for sure--if they are defensive, maybe you should take a step back.
Magnets: If you so happen to have a magnet with you, you can test it out on the sterling silver. If the sterling silver is real, there will be no reaction. If the magnet actually works, you may want to walk away.
Look at the Markings: If it is 925 sterling silver, you will see a little imprint of “925” on your jewelry. It could look like “925,” “.925,” or “9.25.” Anything under 925 is not considered sterling silver in the United States, but this percentage can be different in other countries.
Since the percentage varies per country, this is not the best test for telling if the silver is genuine or not. Even if you see the markings, use the other tests to confirm that the silver is what you want!
Sound and Smell: If it is real silver, when you tap or flick it, you will hear a high-pitched ringing sound. If you smell it, you will know it is real if, frankly, you do not smell anything at all!
Price: Real 925 sterling silver is not cheap! You will better know if it is real, along with these other tests listed, if the price tag reflects its value
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