You’re shopping for jewelry and you fall in love with a beautiful silver piece, but it’s way outside your budget. Minutes later, you spot a similar piece at a fraction of the price. Score!
Of course, the skeptic inside you has to ask: what’s the catch? That’s when you spot the words “sterling silver.” What is sterling silver and how is it different from pure silver?
What is Sterling Silver?
Pure silver or fine silver is exactly what it says: pure silver. It may be closer to 99.9% silver, but for the most part, it’s all silver.
If a product is labeled as sterling silver, that means it’s a mixture of silver and another metal.
The exact difference between silver vs sterling silver can vary. Most sterling silvers are 92.5% silver. The remaining 7.5% can be any number of metals, but it’s usually copper or zinc.
In some countries, though, companies are allowed to sell metals with lower silver percentages while still calling it sterling silver. The percentage could be as low as 80% silver.
Moral of the story: always ask about the silver concentration, especially if you’re buying from overseas or if the price seems too good to be true.
Why is Sterling Silver So Popular for Jewelry?
While it has other uses, sterling silver is a popular metal for jewelry, and that’s no accident. Because of the arrangement of silver and other metals, it has certain features that make it ideal in jewelry.
We all want beautiful jewelry, but not all of us can build a collection with the high price of fine silver. For the 99%, it’s sterling silver to the rescue.
Sterling silver can look so close to fine silver that it’s difficult to tell the difference, except in your wallet. It’s also more affordable than gold and many other precious metals.
Strength and Durability
Chances are that you aren’t just wearing your jewelry to sit on a chair and look pretty. You wear while you run errands, power through a workday, and corral your kids.
For that reason, jewelry has to stand up against your life, and it doesn’t get much better than sterling silver.
While fine silver is soft, the other metals in sterling silver make it strong and durable. It doesn’t bend or break as easily, so it stays looking brand new for longer.
This makes sterling silver more versatile. Jewelers can use it for detailed, intricate designs because it will keep its shape. The durability even makes sterling silver a better value for the price because the jewelry lasts longer.
Have you ever been thrilled about a new piece of jewelry, put it on for a fun night out, and had to take it off an hour later because your skin was beet red?
It’s a common plight for those with sensitive skin or skin allergies. Fortunately, it tends to happen less often with sterling silver.
Silver is hypoallergenic, so it’s unlikely to irritate your skin. For most people, the other metals in sterling silver won’t irritate their skin, either.
There are rare cases when sterling silver contains nickel, though, which is a common irritant. If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to ask about the metal composition before you buy a piece of sterling silver jewelry.
As much as you love jewelry for its cosmetic appeal, it doesn’t need to be a purely fun or vain expense.
Like any other precious metal, silver retains much of its value over time. It can even become more valuable depending on how the market shifts.
Sterling silver will retain much of its value in the future because it contains so much silver, though don’t expect its value to be as stable as fine silver.
As sterling silver ages, it tarnishes and takes on a unique patina. It gives it a vintage, shadowed look.
To many people, this is an asset. They love the way tarnished sterling silver looks and they let the natural process take its course.
It’s all a matter of personal preference, though. If you want your jewelry to look as shiny as the day you bought it, simply polish your sterling silver when tarnishing starts to appear.
Verifying Your Sterling Silver Jewelry
For all the benefits that sterling silver jewelry has, there’s one catch: the jewelry has to actually be sterling silver. It’s important to make sure that if you buy something labeled as sterling silver, it has the right metal makeup.
Check your jewelry for stampings that indicate the metal used. A common stamp for sterling silver is “925,” because it’s 92.5% silver. You might see a stamp with “SS” or “STRG” or something similar instead.
If you want to be more confident, take the jewelry to a jeweler for testing. They have tests to check the silver content of any piece so you’ll know what you’re getting.
In addition, make sure you know what labels and terms to look for. Despite a common misunderstanding, “silver-plated” isn’t the same as sterling silver.
Silver-plated jewelry is made of a cheap metal like brass or nickel, with a thin layer of silver or sterling silver on top of it. It may look like true sterling silver jewelry but it has a far lower value.
Adding Sterling Silver Jewelry to Your Collection
Nature is full of beautiful metals and medical wonders, but sometimes it needs a little help. What is sterling silver if not the perfect blend? It has the beauty of natural silver with the enhanced strength of manmade science.
Buying jewelry is just the first step, though. For hot tips about how to style it with any outfit, check out more articles on our fashion blog.