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Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver

silver-coins-pdSilver vs. Sterling Silver

Often, sterling silver and silver are described as the same thing, but in reality, sterling silver is only an alloy of silver. Silver, which is usually called fine silver, consists of 99.9% pure silver. On the other hand, sterling silver consists of approximately 92.5% silver, and the remaining 7.5% (or even more) is of other metals. Because of the high percentage of silver in ‘pure silver,’ it cannot be used to make those daily rough and tuff items. Pure silver is just too soft if it is to be made or shaped into such items.

Therefore, metal experts add other metals like copper, steel, or iron as substitutes for silver, but they will only serve to fill 7.5 to 8% of the entire metal so that the items made from the combination can stay in their shapes. When one adds other metals to silver to stabilize its shape, he or she is in the process of making sterling silver. The most common use of such is seen in making various utensils, like forks, knives, spoons, coffee sets and many others.

Sterling silver easily loses its luster in many situations; but in the case of pure silver, it will remain non-responsive to tarnish on its surface. This is because tarnish is more responsive in alloy metals. To test the tarnish tendency of a metal or alloy, you simply have to rub your finger tightly over a shiny piece of your sample material. In sterling silvers, you usually find some dull smudges on your skin. Nevertheless, you can keep your sterling silver items shiny by using a cloth or cotton to regularly and gently clean its surface. Moreover, if you do not use your sterling silver items for a prolonged period of time, you may notice that tarnish starts to appear.

As far as the uses of silver are concerned, it is used to make fine jewelry and silverware items, as it is a very ductile and lustrous metal. In addition, one of the main characteristics of silver is that it can stay stable in oxygen and water, but it also gets tarnished when it is exposed to sulfur compounds in the air or in a water medium, resulting in a black sulfide layer. Nearly 35% of silver products are used in the photographic industry as well. Lastly, even if silver is known as a nontoxic metal, its salt sometimes tends to be poisonous.

In summary, there are two major differences between silver and sterling silver:

1. Sterling silver is mainly an alloy of silver, consisting of nearly 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% other metals, like copper, which make it less expensive. Fine silver is composed of 99.9% pure silver, and it is a bit more expensive. That’s why it is used for making jewelry, and also in the photography industry.

2. Sterling silver is very sensitive to air and water, and it can easily get tarnished on its surface, whereas silver is like gold, which does not tarnish even if it is in constant contact with air and water.

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  1. Marvelous Site! Aswered my question perfectly and clearly, thank you. Regards, A. Geeves.

  2. Answered what i was looking for and in great detail really interesting site.
    Thank you
    Regards S Davis.

  3. Thanks. Useful description.

  4. Informative but there at the end I have to point out that pure silver does in fact tarnish, unlike gold, when prolonged exposure to air and water due to the sulfur in the air and water if you don’t have it well protected. Exposure to chlorine and bromine will also tarnish pure silver. It starts off as a light discoloration called patina and then a dark tarnish… both easily cleaned without damage if you’re careful in how & what you use to clean the silver with so you don’t scratch up your silver while cleaning.

  5. I have always had problems with silver rings because of nickel alloy. Is nickel used less and less? Or. Is it used just as often? Think I dare it just once? It has been 51 years!?!

  6. Most jewelry i’ve seen is stamped with 925, meaning it is not fine silver. This article says most jewelry is made of fine silver, but i disagree.

  7. Nice work done on the article man.

  8. Thank you for this useful information. May Allah bless you always.

  9. Thanks to sharing your knowledge about jewelry. I really like your blog.

  10. Well written.
    Pandora’s barrel clasp bracelet is 92.5% sterling silver. It tarnished in a drawer over years. Am researching cleaning it now.

  11. What compound or chemicals can you use to verify silver or sterling

  12. I clean my sterling silver jewellery using lectric soda covering the jewellery pieces placed in a glass bowl (inside of bowl covered in aluminium foul). Then I pour hot water into the bowl. When fizzling stops I then take out jewellery pieces and rinse them in cold water.

    This method works well for cleaning sterling silver jewellery. Lectric soda works better than epsom salt.

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