Silver is one of the top choices of metal after gold, is readily available, and is known for creating beautiful pieces from mirrors, down to gorgeous earrings.
However, not all silver is created equal.
We are here to explain to you what is sterling silver, it’s different types in order to find the perfect match for your accessorizing needs.
What is Sterling Silver?
Silver is an alloy, meaning it’s a mixture of two or more elements from the periodic table.
Silver metal is considered a soft metal, which means that when it comes to jewelry, it must be mixed with something else in order to be molded.
When purchasing something silver, it is important to note that it may not be the quality of silver you think it is, as there are several different types of silver available on the market today.
Types of Silver
There are nine different types of silver:
- Silver Jewelry
- Fine Silver
- Sterling Silver
- Argentium Silver
- Nickel Silver
- Silver Plated Jewelry
- Silver Filled Jewelry
- Tribal Silver
- Coin Silver
These types of silver are all used for a number of different products and jewelry and offer different levels of quality.
Let’s dive into each type one by one to find out more and how they are used in jewelry making.
1. Silver Jewelry
Not all things marked as ‘silver’ are what you think they are.
In fact, this type of silver can truly mean anything, as we already know that 100% silver can’t be used to make jewelry, as it’s too soft.
This is why it’s important to look for stamps showing the approved level and purity of the silver that you’re buying.
2. Fine Silver
Fine silver is as close to the real thing you can get, being 99.9% silver and only .1% other elements.
This type of silver is generally more white to the look and is used to form many types of jewelry and other silver pieces that are more delicate.
The downside to purchasing this type of silver is that it scratches and dents easily, and can lose its shape, which is why it is most commonly used in earrings or pendants.
The stamp for this silver is .999 or .999FS.
3. Sterling Silver
What is sterling silver? Sterling silver is the most common form of silver available. It is durable and easy to work with, as it’s 92.5% pure silver combined with 7.5% copper.
Sterling silver is shiny and reflective, however, it requires upkeeping, known as polishing, as it can tarnish easily.
The stamp for this silver is easy to remember as it’s .925, to represent the 92.5% of real silver, but can also be stamped with Stg.
4. Argentium Silver
This silver can often be confused with sterling silver, as it shares the same stamp at sterling silver, but is a slightly higher quality.
Argentium silver, also known as non-tarnish alloys, is one of the newer types of silver. It consists of a minimum of 92.5% silver, along with copper and the element germanium.
These two elements, especially germanium help to create a harder metal that also tarnishes less.
This is harder to come by and to recognize, as it’s a bit more expensive than sterling silver, and commonly shares the same stamp.
However, there are manufacturers out there who sell Argentium silver and mark it with the official Argentium® stamp.
5. Nickel Silver
This one is a tricky one- because it’s not even silver!
Nickel silver only appears to be silver in looks, but it really contained no silver at all!
Made up of 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc, nickel silver is cheap and is commonly found in costume jewelry as it’s inexpensive, easy to come by, and easy to work with.
6. Silver Plated Jewelry
Silver-plated means that the jewelry is made out of whatever base metal, and then covered by a very thin layer of silver.
Similar to nickel silver, this type of silver contains such a small amount of silver, that it’s perfect for inexpensive, and easy to work with.
This type of silver is also typically used in costume jewelry, making it easy to come by and purchase.
7. Silver Filled Jewelry
Silver filled jewelry is the newest form of silver made available after prices went up in the past years.
It is made up of only 5% or 10% of sterling silver, which is then fused at an extremely high temperature to a brass center, making it extremely inexpensive and much lower quality.
This type of silver is not yet standardized in the United States and therefore does not have a stamp
8. Tribal Silver
Tribal silver, also known as Tibetian silver, is the lowest grade available on the market, containing almost no silver at all.
This type of silver can be used on costume jewelry making it easy to come by but can be mixed with dangerous metals such as lead, so it’s important to always check with the manufacturer about what metals have been used in the process.
9. Coin Silver
This type os silver used to be the most common and popular form of silver available but eventually was replaced by sterling silver.
This type of silver contains 90% pure silver, making it a great purity level and affordable.
However, because of sterling silver’s popularity, this type of silver is extremely hard to come by.
How To Test Silver
The test for silver is time-consuming, expensive, and can destroy the piece you are looking to test.
Testing is done in two ways: through X-Ray testing which can be very expensive, or Assay testing, which can destroy the silver item you’re trying to test.
These tests, however, cannot be done from your own home.
What This Means For You
As someone looking to buy your next silver piece of jewelry, it’s important to always purchase from a reputable jeweler, as testing for silver purity is not something you can easily do yourself.
Always ask questions, and do your research before buying anything online.
To check out our buying guides, or to find what you can make out of your costume jewelry (and more DIY crafts!) check out our resources on Mommy’s Block Party.