Do you know the difference between silver and sterling silver? Click here to find out.
You know that beautiful piece of jewelry you have at home, the one that is shiny and silver and a family heirloom? Yeah, it’s probably sterling silver.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. Such pieces come with numerous advantages.
To really comprehend the benefits, one must dive into the gleaming world of silver and understand the differences between pure silver and sterling. Read on to learn all you need to know.
What Is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is not wholly made of that shiny goodness we call silver. However, this does not mean that it is mostly made of other metals either.
In fact, true sterling is almost completely pure silver; it makes up 92.5% of the metal while the rest is comprised of other alloys, usually copper.
But that doesn’t mean every piece of “sterling silver” follows these rules.
There are ratios commonly used on the market that can easily pass as sterling but are, in reality, lesser metals. There are two main types:
- Coin silver is 90% silver
- German silver can be comprised of 80% or 90% silver
Then, of course, there is pure (or fine) 99.9% silver and other, high-quality variants, such as Britannia and Mexican silver.
Sterling’s Murky History
Silver is as ancient as most people believe. It originates in supernovae, and archaeologists have found evidence of silversmithing in 4000 B.C. In 2014, earrings were even discovered that dated back to 3,200 years ago.
While pure silver was traded, purloined and hoarded throughout history on every continent, the origins of “sterling” are somewhat obscure.
The word may be a reference to Easterling, a thirteenth century land on the border of what we now call Germany. The location was said to have the finest silver coins in Europe. Other scholars believe the name may be derived from star-faced coins called “Starlings” or the currency of the Middle Ages, more popularly known as “sterling.”
Regardless of its beginnings, sterling has been popular throughout the ages. It is used in photography, electronics, and many more items:
- Paper clips
- Surgical equipment
As you can see, its use is pretty extensive.
Not Twins: The Differences between Sterling and Fine Silver
While the two certainly look identical, sterling and fine silver are two different characters.
Silver might look hard, but it’s not. It’s actually really, really soft.
As a result, professionals have been turning to sterling for years. Sterling gives artists, especially jewelers, the same malleability as fine silver but it’s hard enough that it will stand up to the test of time.
What is sterling silver in terms of durability? It’s a metal that can last a long, long time thanks to the copper and other metals included in it.
In fact, it can last a lifetime.
It’s another reason sterling is so popular in jewelry and housewares.
Sterling also differs from its parent in terms of the upkeep required.
Fine silver doesn’t corrode unless it comes into contact with sulfur. Sterling isn’t so lucky.
Unfortunately, the copper that makes sterling so durable also makes it easier to tarnish. The extra metals react with the oxygen in the air, giving your jewelry that ugly, brownish look that makes women tear their hair out.
As a result, it requires periodic cleaning.
The good news is that the more you wear sterling silver, the “healthier” the item will be. The natural oils in human sweat can help maintain its luster.
It’s not unusual to have silver-plated silver sterling pieces.
Yikes, that’s a tongue twister.
This is done to give the piece an extra shine, but it is also common to find items that are plated with sterling. Usually, this is an indication that a less valuable metal, such as copper, lies underneath.
Such sterling-plated objects may appear shiny and beautiful, but the plate will wear off quickly.
Cheaper isn’t better in the long run here.
Right now, silver is hot on the market and the metal’s worth is continuing to rise.
Calculating the value of sterling requires discovering the item’s spot price or the price of silver per ounce. Currently, silver is worth $16.60 per ounce. It should come as no surprise that sterling is worth less than fine silver.
To discover the value of an item, you must take into account the true percentage of silver it contains. For sterling, this should be at least 92.5%.
This means you only receive 92.5% of the spot price.
Likewise, sterling is much cheaper when you are purchasing it than pure silver. You can find a high-quality sterling necklace for as low as $20 or higher than $500. It all depends on the quality, design, and intricacy of the piece.
How Much Silver Do I Have?
In most cases, the rate of silver is marked somewhere on the item in question. You may find a hallmark, stamp or number on the metal. For instance, “925” indicates the piece is 92.5% real silver and, thus, sterling.
In other instances, some research may be necessary in order to discover the amount of pure silver. There are a number of quick tests that may give you an overall idea about the item’s metals.
Advantages of Sterling
Possessing sterling (especially jewelry) allows you to take advantage of its many benefits.
- Fashionable – You can wear sterling pieces with anything and for any occasion.
- Original – The components in sterling make it easy to craft original, unique objects.
- Hypoallergenic – No more reactions or worries about infections from earrings. Because most of these metals are made with copper components, the brass and nickel that are the usual allergy culprits are nonexistent.
Furthermore, you can rest easy knowing that whatever the object may be, it will last forever if handled properly.
Are Metals on the Mind?
Now that you have fine, German, Mexican, Britannia, coin and sterling silver dancing in your head, do you feel like a raccoon ready to chase the next shiny thing?
If so, take a look at our article, which provides the low-down on all the information necessary for precious metal trading.