Silver Plated vs Sterling Silver: Do You Know the Difference?
Silver-plated vs sterling silver: What is the difference? If you purchase a lot of jewelry, you've come across these terms and might have wondered how they matter. The distinction is significant, so It's important to be able to know the difference to ensure you're getting the best value and quality.
Silver-plated jewelry often contains 5% or less pure silver, while sterling always contains at least 92.5%? Sterling silver is easier to maintain and retains its value.
Fortunately, there are a few signs you can learn to look out for to make sure you're buying genuine silver.
Types of Silver
You probably have heard of sterling silver, but there are other types of silver in jewelry making. Some may have silver in the name, but there is no silver in the composition. Let's take a look at the various types of silver.
Pure silver, or fine silver, is 99.9% elemental silver. It's hardly used for jewelry because it is too soft and malleable.
Around the year 1300, smiths used a small number of other metals to create the sterling standard, which continues to be the official mark of silver quality.
To be considered "sterling silver," the object must contain at least 92.5% pure silver. The 7.5% that remains is made up of other metals, typically copper. This metal adds durability and greater luster to the silver.
The composition of sterling silver is mixed and uniform; it contains a high consistency of silver throughout it.
When people refer to "real silver," it means that the silver is sterling. When you go to a jeweler to buy a silver chain, it will be marked "925" on it, designating it as 92.5% pure.
It does not matter where you buy it or what sale it was on, sterling silver is always genuine silver, and it's the same purity.
Silver-plated jewelry is not thoroughly silver. It has a base metal, such as nickel, copper, or pewter. In the plating process, the base metal is electrically charged to attract silver particles, creating a thin outer coating of silver.
Unlike sterling silver, there are no regulations requiring silver-plated jewelry to contain a certain percentage of silver. The layer of silver on the outside is usually minimal and therefore cheap to produce.
Because the silver is merely a thin external coating, it has the potential to come off of the jewelry entirely, revealing the metal beneath it.
"Silver filled" jewelry is similar to silver plating in that it is primarily made of a different metal. It consists of two thin sheets of silver with a sheet of base metal, such as brass, pressed between them.
Unlike silver-plated jewelry, which can have any amount of silver in it, even a tiny fraction (1% silver), silver-filled jewelry has a quantifiable amount of silver in it, such as "1/5th" sterling or "1/20th" sterling.
Despite the greater amount of silver, it lacks the resale value of sterling and is not considered a precious metal.
Silver-Plated vs Sterling Silver
A good way to determine if a sterling silver or silver plate is the right choice for you is to take a look at each one’s respective pros and cons.
Sterling may be a good choice for those with sensitive skin, as it is a metal that causes few allergic reactions. It is also a good choice for daily wear.
- Durable enough to wear daily
- Can withstand water exposure
- As close to pure silver as possible
- Usually hypoallergenic
- Precious metal
- Easy to resell
- Easy to remove tarnish
- Easy to repair
- Tarnishes slower than silver plate
- Prone to tarnishing
- Prone to scratches/wear
- More expensive
Sterling does require some special care. Though you can wear sterling in water and in the sun, it’s good to be aware of the steps to take to reduce tarnishing.
Some engraved details may wear down over time due to the softer metal. That said, it can be easy to repair.
While all sterling silver tarnishes, it's easy to clean. As a precious metal, any wear won’t destroy its intrinsic resale value.
Silver-plated jewelry looks similar to sterling silver, but has different characteristics due to its composition.
- Brighter silver surface
- Cheaper than sterling
- Engravings can last longer because of harder metals under silver plate
- Tarnish can be reduced
Silver-plate has a slightly shinier surface, which may even be more aesthetically appealing when paired with certain outfits, making it a good option for prom or graduation jewelry.
Since it's made of non-silver metals, it's usually harder than sterling. Its hardness allows it to resist physical wear to its shape, so it retains engravings longer.
- Silver plating can rub off
- Can cause allergic reactions
- May react with water
- Low resale value
- Repair requires re-plating
- Requires gentle care and cleaning
- Avoid the sun, water, perfume exposure
Despite its resemblance, silver-plate has different qualities from sterling silver because of its different composition. The silver layer on silver-plated jewelry can often rub off due to a variety of causes: from daily wear to interactions with humidity in the air.
You don't get most of the benefits sterling offers, such as its hypoallergenic qualities or its water tolerance. This is why silver-plated rings can still cause your fingers to turn green.
Note: Some higher quality silver-plated jewelry has a thicker layer of silver than others and can last longer, especially if you clean and care for it properly, such as avoiding wearing it with perfume and lotions or while sweating.
If the silver plate wears off, it can be re-plated by an expert, though you might have to get it re-plated every few years.
How to Tell the Difference
Now that you know how they're different, there are a few key traits you can use to identify whether a piece of jewelry is sterling or silver-plated.
To the untrained eye, the two will still look very similar. It's important to look for the labels and indicating marks to be certain.
Sterling/genuine silver is in most cases stamped somewhere "sterling," "925," or ".925." European sterling will have a hallmark such as a lion, leopard head/anchor, and a letter.
It also has a slightly darker, less shiny, and cooler color tone than silver plate. Sterling weighs less than silver-plated jewelry due to silver-plated jewelry consisting of heavier metals (i.e. nickel).
If it contains one of these marks: "EP," "EPNS" or "Silver on copper," it's silver-plated and not sterling. If there are no markings, it's probably silver-plated. If in any place the silver appears to be flaking off and revealing any trace of green or brass, the item is silver-plated.
If you are really uncertain, take it to a jeweler to have them test it using a jeweler's scale.
No silver-plated items have a "sterling" label. The term "sterling-plated" doesn't exist, and if you encounter it, avoid buying from that seller to be safe.
What Causes Discoloration?
If any of your silver bracelets, rings, necklaces, etc. start to take on a new color, it's most likely tarnish, but fear not.
All sterling silver will tarnish. Tarnish appears like a dim, grayish to black coating over the metal. Only the top layers of the silver item have reacted, so it's easy to remove it from the surface.
If you gently rub the tarnish with a fabric, such as a silver polishing cloth, it should leave faint black marks on it. This is normal for sterling.
Using a small amount of silver jewelry cleaner on a cloth, you can gently rub the tarnished silver and the tarnish should come off.
Rub back-and-forth, rather than circles, to avoid accentuating scratches. Rinse the silver item under warm water after polishing, to remove the remaining cleaner.
Using a silver cleaning dip will also remove tarnish from sterling silver. You can buy it online, but use caution; some cleaners can be too strong for jewelry and can damage the silver's surface.
A safer way is to make your own silver cleaning dip at home.
Is Your Jewelry Still Discolored After Cleaning It Properly?
Your jewelry is probably silver-plated. The discoloration that you see is most likely the result of the silver-plating having worn off, revealing the darker metal below.
At some point, some degree of silver-plating will come off almost all silver-plated jewelry. You can look into getting it re-plated with silver, which is generally a more expensive process than removing tarnish.
Note: Silver-plated jewelry can also tarnish. If your silver-plated jewelry gets tarnished, you can still remove it, but you must take more care so that you don't remove the silver layer with the tarnish.
Using a gentle cleaning method with baking soda is a good way to clean a silver plate.
Even then, it isn't guaranteed that cleaning silver-plate jewelry won't remove some of the silver.
Tips for Storing Silver Jewelry
Taking the time to store your silver jewelry properly when you’re not using it can help reduce the time it takes for it to tarnish
Clean your silver jewelry before storing it. Otherwise, any remaining sweat or substances on it could produce tarnishing.
Use an airtight container. This can be a Ziploc bag, an airtight anti-tarnishing wooden-box, or another specially-designed case.
Wrap the jewelry in a light cloth (such as muslin) or tissue paper before placing it in the container. Make sure the paper is clean and dry.
Keep one item per container. Storing jewelry in separate boxes or wrapped separately will prevent them from scratching each other.
Utilize moisture-absorbing compounds such as silica gel or activated charcoal. Putting them in the container with the jewelry will prevent the collection of moisture, preventing tarnish. Knowing proper storage can be especially useful for preserving heirlooms, storing gifts, and transporting jewelry when moving or on vacation.
Sterling Silver vs Silver-Plated Jewelry: A Buyer's Guide
Silver jewelry is not only timeless but is trending right now.
Silver rings in particular are becoming a popular item that people wear on multiple fingers on both hands (sometimes stacked) to combine designs that represent the individual.
You can buy silver rings for almost any occasion. Instead of purchasing a generic gift, rings can be thoughtful. Personalized rings can reflect the interests of the individual. They're a more modern alternative to charm bracelets.
Delicate silver chains are a popular choice to wear for a minimalist look, or with a sentimental pendant such as the initials of a loved one's name. Sterling silver bracelets and necklaces are an important accessory to get the mix-matched metal look that is popular on college campuses.
Now that silver is coming back in bold ways like statement rings, it's a great time to add silver to your jewelry collection. Here's a guide to help you choose what kind of silver to buy:
It may be ideal if you're buying jewelry for a one-time event, like a band concert or photoshoot.
- Great for costume jewelry
- Mimics the look of sterling silver
- Ideal for one-time use, specific outfits
- Good choice for children
- Less at stake if it gets lost
Silver-plated jewelry is a good choice for occasional use because it's cheaper. It also makes a good choice for those prone to losing things. It’s a purchase for children how to teach them how to take care of jewelry.
Sterling Silver Jewelry:
It's a good choice if you want to hold on to your jewelry for sentimentality, or plan on wearing it every day.
- Personalized necklaces rings, or sentimental pieces
- Gifts for teenagers and adults
- Wear it every day
- Good investment
- Tarnish adds depth/antique style
- Good for weddings or ceremonies
- Many for men and women.
Sterling is the better value. You never have to worry about the silver rubbing off and losing its qualities. Even when it ages, it can possess an elegant antiquated look.
Sterling Silver: The Verdict
The main appeal of silver-plated jewelry is cost-efficiency, but it's important to consider that the price you pay for silver-plated is often inflated because it contains only trace amounts of silver.
Sterling may be more expensive than silver-plated jewelry, but is still a pretty affordable metal, especially given its status as a precious metal and its high resale value.
Sterling can be repaired and repurposed, making it a lasting and heartwarming gift for you to pass down to younger friends and family.
Silver-plated vs sterling silver isn't really a question of superiority but a matter of preference.
However, if you like jewelry, you simply can't go wrong with sterling silver. It's one of the most versatile and timeless jewelry materials out there.
If you’re interested in buying something special for someone, be it yourself or a loved one, a personalized ring is a great start towards investing in sterling.
Philophrosyne offers stylish and individualized rings at an excellent value. They offer rings with birthstones, custom initialing, and contemporary trends like rose gold at prices that rival silver-plated rings.
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