Sterling silver is everywhere from the jewelry we wear to the silverware we eat off of. But you might not know what is sterling silver, how it compares to regular silver or how to care for it. Keep reading for a complete guide to sterling silver, from how it’s different to pure silver, to how to care for it and everything in between.
Sterling silver is a metal alloy. This means it’s a combination of metals instead of just one singular metal.
While pure silver is as its name suggests, just silver. Sterling silver is made up of 92.5 percent silver, 7.5 percent alloy which is typically a blend of zinc and copper.
These added metals make sterling silver much more durable and stronger so it can make various products. Products like jewelry, such as sterling silver rings for women, or silverware, platters, coffee sets, plates, and most silver-plated items.
Anytime you see something that is advertised as “silver-plated” it usually means that the piece is from another metal. Typically, there is a thin layer of sterling silver that is plated on top of the item.
Sterling silver also lasts longer than fine silver. This is because of sterling silver’s durability which means it won’t get damaged from everyday wear and tear like fine silver.
It’s easier for sterling silver to tarnish compared to pure silver. Silver on its own can get tarnished from getting exposed to air. While sterling silver is easier to tarnish due to the alloy metals in it.
These alloy metals like copper and zinc are easily tarnished. When you add these metals to another metal that can tarnish like silver, the tarnishing rate happens more easily and quickly.
Sterling silver should have a stamp to show it is sterling silver. This stamp is usually a 925 or 92.5 or a .925 that shows the purity of the silver it contains. Or you might see an “ss” stamp which also signifies the piece is sterling silver.
Other methods of finding out if a piece is made of sterling silver are to do acid, ice, ring and bleach tests. But the best way to see if your piece is made of high-quality sterling silver is to ask a jewelry expert.
Jewelry experts would be able to easily show you what the exact worth and quality your piece of jewelry is without damaging it in the process.
Pure silver is just the element on the periodic table for silver, “Ag.” Any item that is called “pure silver” or “fine silver” is as pure silver as you can get and comprises 99.9 percent of pure elemental silver. There might be a couple of trace elements like only 0.01 percent, but it’s usually pure silver as the name suggests.
Pure silver is usually soft and hard to properly shape, which makes it hard to mold into items for daily use. Because of this, pure silver is not usually used to make delicate and or fine jewelry items.
The softness of silver means that fine silver items are also not as durable. These items can easily get misshapen, bent or damaged, which is why fine silver is usually used to make fine jewelry.
Like sterling silver, pure silver can also tarnish. Which means that the gases in the air can react with silver and this causes fading and discoloration that can make the piece look like there’s a dirty layer on top.
Fine silver will be stamped with a marker to show its fine silver. This is typically a 999 .999 or 99.9 stamp that shows it’s 99.9 percent silver.
There are a few reasons and benefits of going with sterling silver over pure silver. The first and most obvious benefit is the price. Since pure or fine silver has a higher purity percentage of silver, this makes it more expensive when compared to pure sterling silver.
Sterling silver still looks just as good as fine silver. This means you can get timeless and affordable silver pieces for a lower price when they are made of sterling silver.
Then there’s the durability factor. Sterling silver is much more durable when compared to fine silver. This is because of sterling silver’s added metal alloys. This means your piece can stay looking its best and last much longer compared to a pure silver piece.
Sterling silver is also easier to shape than malleable and soft pure silver. This means that sterling silver gives you more options on what you can make with it, compared to pure silver.
When shopping for jewelry, you’ll want to pick sterling silver over pure silver. Here’s why.
Sterling silvers added metals make it super durable to a point that it’s even stronger than gold. Sterling silver is also light-weight, which makes it perfect for jewelry that you want to wear often or daily. If you take good care of your sterling silver jewelry, it can last a lifetime.
Since sterling silver is so workable and affordable, this means it gives designer and jeweler more artistic freedom. Meaning the jewelry designer can try new styles to keep up with the latest trends. So if you’re looking for a big statement piece or some delicate in style jewelry, sterling silver is the best material.
About ten percent of people are allergic to nickel, which is a popular metal found in jewelry. A nickel allergy can cause irritated itchy skin and scabbing. Other inexpensive metals like brass can also lead to an allergic skin reaction.
Most people steer clear of metals, even if they never had a nickel or brass reaction because of the threat of these allergies. Sterling silver is made of 92.5 percent of silver, which makes it a solid hypoallergenic alternative.
This silver is much less likely to cause an allergic reaction compared to brass or nickel, which means you can wear sterling silver without worrying about irritation, infection or an allergic reaction. You’ll want to keep an eye out for this quality when buying items like earrings are constantly in contact with your skin.
Since sterling silver is so easy to work with, designers can have more fun with this metal. Meaning you’ll find more whimsical and fun designs made out of sterling silver.
This also means that sterling silver jewelry is easier to personalize. So if you want an engraved or stamped necklace with maybe your child’s initials or birthstone added, you’ll want to put that on a sterling silver piece. This type of silver is affordable, workable and easy to individualize with customization for any occasion.
Because of sterling silver’s price point, this kind of jewelry allows you to keep with the latest fashion trends without spending a fortune. Sterling silver’s classic look and appeal will make this material always in, and jewelry designers will constantly be using it to create new designs for the current trends.
The best way to keep your sterling silver jewelry looking it’s best is to combat tarnish. You can do this by often wearing your pieces as your skin’s natural oils help keep your silver shiny. It’s better to wear your sterling silver jewelry instead of keeping it unworn in a box.
You’ll want to make sure you take off your jewelry when you do your household chores. This is because sulfur in household cleaners, and your perspiration, rubber, and chlorinated water, can make your jewelry tarnish. Remove all of your sterling silver jewelry before cleaning.
You’ll also want to keep your sterling silver jewelry out of direct sunlight. Remove it before you go to the pool or beach.
Also, when you’re getting ready put your sterling silver jewelry on last. This means after your make-up, hairspray, perfume, and lotions, all of which can speed up tarnishing.
There are a couple of ways you can clean your sterling silver jewelry if it tarnishes. The most recommended is with soap and water, do this first before trying anything else.
If this doesn’t work, then try water and baking soda, and not toothpaste as some people might suggest. This is because toothpaste has many other ingredients that can damage your sterling silver. Instead, make your own paste out of the water and baking soda put it on a cloth or clean toothbrush and gently scrub.
Now that you know what is sterling silver, and how much more versatile it is that pure or fine silver, buy some sterling silver pieces today. Just make sure you properly care for your pieces to avoid tarnishing. For more lifestyle tips, check out our blog.
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