Sterling Silver Jewellery
Aside from taking the word of the seller how can the average person not trained as a
jeweller or silversmith actually tell the difference between real Sterling Silver and just silver
Sterling Silver is commonly used in the making of fine jewellery and is classed as a precious
metal alloy whilst Pure Silver is a precious metal. As Sterling Silver is defined as being 92.5% pure silver
(balance usually copper) or 925 parts Silver per 1000 it is often referred to in jewellery terms as '925
Silver' and is normally stamped .925 or 925, and sometimes finding the mark is difficult such as on
clip-on earrings where the mark is often inside the clip mechanism and may not be seen in photos etc.
This stamping is not a true 'Hallmark' as many may believe - read
this article for details about Sterling Silver
The problem facing many buyers of Sterling Silver today, particularly jewellery and even moreso if
buying jewellery online, is that most buyers are not able to discern the difference between genuine Sterling
Silver and simply 'silver plated'. Most silver plated jewellery is Costume or Fashion jewellery whereas
Sterling Silver jewellery is classed as fine jewellery.
Unfortunately many people who are led to believe they are buying Sterling Silver jewellery are in
fact getting mere silver plated costume jewellery. The fact that an item of jewellery may be stamped 925 or
.925 does not guarantee that it is genuine sterling silver - there is a significant amount of deception from
many manufacturers (particularly from China) that are stamping silver plated items with 925. This makes it
even harder for the purchaser to be sure of what they are buying. There is even a trend by some manufacturers
to just coat costume jewellery with sterling silver and sell it as genuine 925 silver.
Telling Sterling Silver apart from Silver Plated or look a like
A professional jeweller (jeweler) or Silversmith is trained to know how to
tell Sterling Silver apart from other look alike materials - the first thing they check is
simply the 'look' or visual appearance of the item and this is something you can learn to do fairly easily.
Aside from the visual appearance a professional, amongst other techniques, can tell by
the sound when tapping the metal with a hammer or other tool, or they can use a magnet as Sterling Silver is
non magnetic although this method will only confirm whether the item is magentic (e.g. silver plated costume
jewellery made from iron or steel or othe magnetic base material) and much silver plated costume jewellery is
non magnetic in any case using base materials such as copper, brass, zinc etc. so this test has its
To be sure that the item is definitively Sterling Silver if in doubt they will often do
a nick test - they make a very small nick (generally with a file) in an inconspicuous place on the item where
it won't be seen like the back of a pendant or the underside of a ring or an ornament. They then apply Nitric
Acid which will react differently to silver and other materials. If the area of the nick turns a 'creamy'
colour then the item is indeed Sterling Silver - if it turns 'Green' it is not. This article on a Sterling Silver Harmony Ball blog details this procedure inclusive of images
Beware "Fake Sterling Silver" Harmony Balls
Of course as purchasers we do not have the facility to do the nick test so we will rely primarily
on the visual assessment.
Essentially Silver has a very 'Bright, White shine' to it whilst Sterling Silver is described as
having a 'lustre' (luster) - both have a shine to them however when seen side by side it becomes very
apparent that the 'lustre' of Sterling Silver has a 'darker' or 'greyish' look about it. This darker or greyish
appearance is due to the alloying of the Copper with the pure Silver to make Sterling Silver which as we know
is 92.5% Silver and 7.5% Copper (or other metals).
So 'Silver Plated' costume jewellery will have that very 'white shiny' look whist 925 Sterling
Silver has a darker 'lustre'. If you do have a genuine Sterling Silver jewellery piece then it can be helpful
to take it along with you when shopping for comparison purposes - polish it first as the items in a jewellery
shop will have been polished for display.
Note: some Sterling Silver jewellery is coated with Rhodium which is used for its excellent tarnish resistant
properties. The Rhodium coating adds an extra shine to the jewellery however the base color still has that
If buying your sterling silver jewellery online for a Mothers Day Gift or for some other occasion then you will
not have the availability to do a visual comparison and it can be difficult to tell from images as the
lighting used can have a big effect on appearance. The best thing you can do if you have bought online is as
soon as possible after receiving your jewellery is to do a visual comparison with some of your existing
jewellery and after that if still in doubt then just ask your local jeweller for an opinion.
The images below show the example described above - (clarity and definition of the image will vary
dependant on the screen resolution of your monitor and other factors however the difference should be