There are so many varieties of silver on the market that it is easy to get confused when you hear these terms, such as sterling silver, silver plate, pure silver, fine silver, 925 silver, coin silver, nickel silver and so on.
Silver is shiny, bright and casts that signature metallic glint we all know and love. It's timeless and trendy, and universally used in jewellery making. It's a tensile metal combining both beauty and durability. Designers—and buyers—can't get enough of silver.
Silver will likely never go out of style as it's been cherished for centuries, with origins of discovery in Greece and Turkey (formerly Anatolia) dating back to 3000 BC. Pure silver is precious but too soft to use in jewellery. Add a little alloy to the mix, and voila, you've got sterling silver! In addition to sterling silver, there's also silver plate, fine silver, pure silver, nickel silver, and 925 silver.
But is 925 sterling silver good?
If you're considering buying silver jewellery, you will undoubtedly want to know the difference between pure silver and 925 sterling silver. Well, pure silver is not really made up of only silver. It has 99.9% of silver and a small content composed of other metals such as Copper.
One common question that is asked is, what is the difference between sterling silver and 925 silver. The short answer is, there is none. Sterling silver and 925 silver are different names for the same silver alloy.
Table of Contents
- 1 Differences: Sterling Silver vs Pure Silver vs 925 Silver
- 2 Is Sterling Silver Real Silver?
- 3 Why Would You Need To Learn How To Tell Apart?
- 4 Steps To Help You Tell If Your Sterling Silver Jewelry Is Real 92.5
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Silver
- 6 Is sterling silver better than 925?
- 7 Is 925 silver better than silver?
- 8 Is 925 good silver quality?
- 9 Does 925 sterling silver rust or tarnish?
- 10 Recognising Fine Silver and Sterling Silver Marks
- 11 Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?
- 12 Things to Know When Buying Sterling Silver Jewellery
Differences: Sterling Silver vs Pure Silver vs 925 Silver
What Is Pure Silver?
Pure silver also goes by the name fine silver. It features an actual 99.9% silver content and 1% trace elements. In this form, the white metal is beautiful. It suffers from minimal tarnish. However, generally, it is too malleable and soft.
What Is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver refers to an alloy created by mixing silver and other elements. It constitutes 92.5% silver and 7.5% alloy. The alloys can include nickel, copper or zinc.
Sterling silver is an alloy created when Copper is added to pure silver in order to make the resulting compound more durable and less soft.
Usually, sterling silver has a purity of 92.5%, meaning that 7.5% of the alloy is made of copper or another metal (usually nickel or zinc).
There is also the so-called coin silver, which is an alloy of lower purity: It usually contains 90% or less silver.
While Europe, the USA, and several other countries enforce a strict sterling silver standard at 92.5 silver to 7.5 other alloys, the standards of other countries such as France are at 95 silver to 5 other alloys. Nonetheless, the most common global standard is 92.5.
To improve silver's functionality, pure silver is mixed with other metals (usually copper). Sterling silver contains 92.5 per cent silver and 7.5 per cent copper or other alloys. Metals containing less than 92.5 per cent silver are not sterling.
The truth is, most silver jewellery that you purchase and put on, is sterling silver.
What Is 925 Silver?
925 silver is just sterling silver. Both are made from a similar alloy blend. The only difference is their names.
You might be wondering what sterling silver is? Sterling silver is an alloy made from 92.5 per cent silver and 7.5 per cent alloy. An alloy is essentially the mixture of two (or more) elements taken from the periodic table. Regarding sterling silver, the alloys can include zinc, copper or nickel. While the United States, Europe and most of the world enforces a strict standard of sterling silver at 92.5 silver to 7.5 copper or other alloys, there are other standards. For example, some countries, including France, have a standard of 95 per cent. However, 92.5 is the most common. But over all, 925 sterling silver is good.
So, that leaves the question: what is 925 silver? Ultimately, it's the same thing as sterling silver! Sterling silver and 925 silver are both made from the same silver alloy blend, with the only key difference being the name.
If you're considering buying 925 Sterling Silver and are new to the jewellery industry, you will undoubtedly want to know the difference between pure silver and 925 sterling silver. Sterling silver is a popular metal used to make jewellery and other decorative items.
Well, pure silver is not really made up of only silver. It has 99.9% of silver and a small content composed of other metals such as Copper. On the other hand, Sterling Silver consists of 92.5% silver, and the remaining part consists of Copper – mostly Copper. This is the reason why Sterling Silver is popularly referred to as 925 Sterling Silver or just 925 Silver.
Silver needs to be combined with other metals because it is very difficult to make great designs with just pure silver, which is very soft and malleable. A bit of hardness has to be introduced by adding other metals such as Copper. That's why jewellers are capable of making the most intricate and complex designs with 925 Sterling Silver.
Is Sterling Silver Real Silver?
Yes, Sterling Silver IS real silver, in the same sense that 18k gold is real gold—even though it isn't pure gold. Gold used for jewellery also has metal alloys mixed in to add hardness for all the same reasons as silver. Many of the same metal alloys are used in both metal mixtures. zinc, platinum, and germanium.
So, what metals are used to increase the durability of silver? Copper is the most common additive. Other metals like Zinc, Manganese, Platinum, or Germanium are sometimes, but far less commonly, added to the alloy mixture. Nickel used to be a common additive to Sterling Silver, but it isn't very common today because so many people have allergic reactions to Nickel.
Why Would You Need To Learn How To Tell Apart?
925 Sterling Silver jewellery certainly does not come cheap. On the contrary, it requires quite an investment from your side, whether you are buying sterling silver pendants or rings. But it is a worthwhile investment as its value increases with time. However, what is very important is not to be duped into buying fake 925 sterling silver jewellery from "unidentified sources".
This is a serious issue because many jewellers sell fake sterling silver necklaces, rings, earrings, etc. Sterling silver is much cheaper than costlier metals such as gold. Yet, fake imitations of sterling silver jewellery are wildly sold in the market.
For instance, it is common to come across silver plated jewellery that is sold as real sterling silver jewellery. However, these jewellery pieces have only a minimal silver content and are bound to deteriorate sooner than later.
A piece of jewellery is considered to be fine silver if it contains 92.5% (or more) of pure silver, but pure silver is too soft to be used without another metal. So Copper and nickel are commonly incorporated to make up the remaining 7.5%.
On the other hand, Silverplate is different from real silver because only the surface of the jewellery is covered with real silver, and the rest of the item is made up of copper or nickel alloy.
How to Identify Sterling Silver
The quickest way to identify sterling silver is to look for a mark or stamp, called the "hallmark." For example, certified sterling silver will be stamped or marked with the word "sterling" or "925."
You may often come across hallmarks labelled with "STG", "S.S.", or "STER," which are all authentic notations of sterling silver.
Remember how sterling silver and 925 silver are the same things? With that knowledge, you'll recognise that any item of silver jewellery labelled sterling or 925 is, in fact, sterling silver!
Steps To Help You Tell If Your Sterling Silver Jewelry Is Real 92.5
The "Hallmark" Test
Inspect your silver jewellery all around for a mark known as a "hallmark" (you might need a magnifying lens for this). For example, an imprint of the number "925" indicates that the jewellery piece contains 92.5% of pure silver. Other marks may be "Sterling Silver," "Ster", or "Sterling." Markings are normally found on larger parts of the jewellery piece where they can be engraved.
The "Magnet" Test
Hold a regular magnet above or near your jewellery piece. Pure silver is not magnetic, so if your jewellery piece is drawn to the magnet, it is not real 92.5 sterling silver or more. The chances are that the alloy your jewellery piece was made has a different composition percentage.
The "Weight" Test
Another easy way to tell if your jewellery piece is real 92.5 Sterling Silver is by comparing it to an item of a similar weight that you know is made of real silver. If the weight feels the same, your silver jewellery piece is more likely to be genuine.
The "Scientific" Test
Here is where you have to pretend to be one of the MythBusters guys. Gather around some protective goggles and gloves and wear them. Then add a drop of nitric acid to a small silver part of your jewellery. If it turns green, it is not made of genuine silver. Nitric acid is a chemical with a high copper content, which discolours non-silver items.
The "Easy Peasy" Test
I left the easiest for the end. Try rubbing your silver jewellery lightly with a soft, light-coloured cloth. If black marks appear on the cloth, the jewellery piece is likely to be genuine silver. Real silver oxidises when exposed to air; this creates the tarnish that appears on the cloth when it is rubbed.
Frequently Asked Questions About Silver
When 92.5% of pure silver is mixed with 7.5% of other metals (often copper, nickel or zinc), the resulting alloy is called sterling silver. So, to wrap up, there is no difference between the terms sterling silver and 925 silver. However, the standards of sterling silver may differ depending on the country it comes from.
Is 925 or 999 silver better? 925 is the purity mark for sterling silver, traditionally 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. 999, on the other hand, is what's known as fine silver, 99.9% pure silver. Sterling silver is a harder metal than fine silver.
925 Silver. Sterling is the jewellery quality standard in the United States and most world markets. It is an alloy of 92.5% silver. The remaining 7.5% is usually Copper though it is sometimes other metals such as nickel.
Luckily, sterling silver does not rust. Silver jewellery must be compounded with iron in order for it to rust over time. Sterling silver is typically made with other metals like Copper.
Recognising Fine Silver and Sterling Silver Marks
Fine silver is stamped with 999, 99.9 or .999, indicating how much silver the piece contains per hundred or thousand parts.
Sterling silver made in the U.S. is marked 925, .925 or 92.5. Jewellery with lower purity is not considered sterling silver by U.S. standards.
It is worth noting that silver sold in Europe or other parts of the world may have purity lower than 92.5% and still be marketed as silver or sterling silver.
For example, German silver may have silver content as low as 80%. Russian silver may also have purity lower than 90%.
Because of the different silver content standards around the world, it always pays to inquire about the actual silver content of the jewellery you are about to buy and pay attention to the marks stamped on it.
Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?
The Copper in Sterling Silver makes it somewhat susceptible to tarnishing because that metal additive tends to oxidise easily. Tarnish happens when the metal mixture reacts to Oxygen, creating a darkened, discoloured surface. Tarnish can be removed through cleaning with special polishes and processes.
Not all Sterling Silver Rings tarnish, and the process doesn't happen immediately. My wife, for example, has had a 925 Sterling Silver ring with 3 Cubic Zirconias on it for several years. I pulled it out of her jewellery box the other night to look it over. It definitely hasn't been babied through the years, yet it shows no sign of tarnish.
Sometimes a chemical coating is put on the face of the ring as a sealer of sorts to help prevent tarnish from accumulating. Not all 925 rings have that coating, though. As rings are regularly worn, they get a natural layer of protection from the natural oils that your hands transfer to them without even trying. So it's when your 925 Silver rings are sitting unused in your jewellery box that they have the greatest risk of tarnishing.
If you're going to store your ring (unworn) for a while, it's a good idea to seal it in a small Ziploc bag that has had excess air pressed out of it. Having said that, my wife took no such precautions with her ring, and several years later, there's no sign of tarnish.
Your experience will depend on your specific ring and the level of humidity that exists in your area. The climate where I live is very dry, so that may play a role in the experience we've had with my wife's ring. Hot, humid weather can cause Sterling Silver to tarnish more quickly.
Rhodium is a metal from the Platinum family that looks a lot like Platinum or Silver. It's commonly used as a metal plating to cover Sterling Silver and prevent tarnishing. Unfortunately, while Rhodium does prevent tarnish, it comes with other maintenance issues because Rhodium plating will eventually wear through. When that happens, you'll have to pay a jeweller to 'dip,' or re-plate, your ring for you. Likewise, if you need to have your 925 Silver ring resized, you'll similarly need to have the Rhodium reapplied afterwards.
Many claims that pure (99.99%) silver (also known as Fine Silver) doesn't tarnish, but it absolutely can. It's possible primarily because even 'pure' silver isn't 100% pure. Approximately .01% of the total metal is made up of trace amounts of copper and other metals that naturally get mixed in during formation. Removing these trace amounts of metals that exist in this silver would be too expensive to be practical.
This means that even fine silver has small amounts of foreign metals in it that can react and oxidise. The following image shows a Silver coin that's 99.99% pure (like any silver that's considered 'fine' or 'pure,' but you can see that it's quite tarnished. In this case, it didn't take much time for the tarnish to appear.
Don't be afraid of tarnish, and it isn't likely to be much of a concern for your rings and other jewellery—particularly if you wear them regularly. Tarnish is also easily treated if it begins to accumulate.
There is a new process for creating Sterling Silver that is incredibly tarnished resistant. In addition, the process incorporates germanium in place of some of the Copper that would otherwise be added to create Sterling Silver. This new type of Sterling Silver is referred to as Argentium Silver.
Things to Know When Buying Sterling Silver Jewellery
We've learned that there's no difference between sterling silver and 925 silver, but the same can't be said for other items in the jewellery marketplace. The truth is, the term "silver" alone is quite complex. This word is popularly used as a label, when in fact, silver should always be identified with a hallmark representing its standard grade and quality.
With that information in mind, always look for the hallmark as jewellers and artisans are legally obligated to stamp their pieces for potential buyers.
If you don't see a stamp, shop elsewhere. It's not worth buying a low-quality metal disguised with a coating of sterling silver, which ultimately wears off, looks cheap and can lead to skin irritation.
That's right, and cheap metals can irritate the skin and result in allergic reactions, making sterling silver a great option for sensitive skin. On the other hand, inexpensive metals like nickel or brass can cause infections, especially with earrings.
Bottom line: Sterling silver, aka 925 silver, is hypoallergenic, high quality, stylish and safe.
Because pure silver is much too soft to be used in jewellery, it is often combined with other metals to create a more durable metal. For example, when 92.5% of pure silver is mixed with 7.5% of other metals (often copper, nickel or zinc), the resulting alloy is called sterling silver. The number 925 is stamped upon the silver, often in a remote part of the jewellery, to identify it as such.
This number is known as the hallmark and denotes the percentage of silver purity in the alloy. In other words, 925 is the same as sterling silver, meaning that if there is any other stamp on the metal, it is not sterling silver. Alternately, the hallmarks STER, STG, S.S. and Sterling Silver may be stamped in place of 925.
However, there is a caveat to this.
This strict standard is followed in the USA, but other countries may have their own sterling silver grades. For example, the French standard for sterling silver requires 95% purity, which is higher than other countries. Therefore, always check the purity of the silver before you buy.
So, to wrap up, there is no difference between the terms sterling silver and 925 silver. However, the standards of sterling silver may differ depending on the country it comes from.