We have all heard about sterling silver and its differences with pure silver. Silver alloys come in many different types, and some are just silver in name, and not in their composition. Pure silver is too soft for use in making jewelry, and it is quickly damaged or disfigured. Because of this quality, silver is alloyed with various metals, making it harder and durable. The color of silver is much sought after, and many alloys may look like silver but comprise of different metals.
Here are some of the types of silver used to make jewelry:
Many times, you come across some jewelry listed as silver, but on closer inspection, no indication at all of the type of alloy, or the alloy type. Silver must be marked with an approved stamp, with the purity level indicated so that you know the kind of fusion used. Most often than not, jewelry marked as silver is usually gold plating, which does not last as it wears out after some time. This plating is standard with long silver earrings and chain necklaces.
Fine silver is also known as pure silver, and it is the closest there is to getting silver in the purest form. Its composition is 99.9% silver and .1% of other elements. Fine silver is white and lustrous, with the necessary malleability to make beautiful and delicate jewelry. It scratches easily and loses shape fast, making it a wrong choice for jewelry, except in pendants, earrings, or other jewelry with minimal impact. Fine silver’s hallmark is .999 or .999FS. Fine silver does not cause any allergic reactions and is perfect for people with sensitive skin.
Sterling silver is perhaps the most renowned silver alloy, having been in use for hundreds of years. In most parts of the world, it is the standard silver alloy. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver alloyed with 7.5% copper, which is more durable.
Sterling silver is reflective and lustrous but tarnishes quickly. After some time, sterling silver oxidizes changes color and darkens because of the copper. It is not very hard to clean the tarnish off, and sometimes jewelers used this oxidation to accentuate intricate designs. The standard mark for sterling silver is .925 or .925 STG, and vintage antiques often have the older marks STG, STERLING, or STER.
Argentium silver comprises more pure silver than sterling, and it has two grades, i.e., 93.2% 0r 96% purity. It is alloyed with germanium and copper, which makes the metal more tarnish-resistant, easier clean, and maintain and durable. It is hypoallergenic, nickel-free, and costs a lot more than the other alloys.
Nickel silver is not silver but instead refers to its color. You may be mistaken in thinking nickel is an alloy of silver but contains 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% of zinc. It is bright and lustrous, looks a lot like silver sterling, but is an alloy of nickel. Nickel silver is malleable and easy to shape into intricate designs. If you are sensitive to metals, avoid nickel silver. It is also known as Alpaca Silver, Argentan silver and German silver, which is deceiving because it is not silver.
Silver Plated Jewelry
Silver-plated indicates that a thin coat of silver coats a base metal. In plating, the amount of silver used is almost negligible. It works well for costume jewelry and does not last long. With time, the silver plating wears off and exposes the base metal. Silver-plated jewelry is not hypoallergenic and has no hallmark.
Coin silver comprises 90% pure silver, and the other 10% is copper. Coin silver is almost like sterling silver, the only difference being the percentage of silver in each. Coin silver should have a .900 stamp, just a bit lower than sterling silver, but it is scarce to find it today.
These are the most common types of silver used today, and if you are a novice, you will be better off going to a reputable jeweler. Some metal alloys like nickel silver look a lot like silver, and you may be misled into thinking it is silver. Using caution and due diligence by asking the composition of the jewelry will save you some nasty allergies.