Sterling Silver Vs. Regular Silver
Silver has been used to make jewelry and precious items throughout history, and is one of our most prized metals. When looking at silver jewelry, usually there will be a choice between regular silver and what is known as ‘sterling silver.’ But what actually is sterling silver? Is it real silver? And which is better between the two?
What Is The Difference Between Sterling Silver And Regular Silver?
So what actually is the difference between sterling silver and regular silver? Silver is a natural element, with the symbol Ag on the periodic table. Silver, known as pure silver or fine silver, has an actual silver content of 99.9%. Because of its high purity, fine silver is too soft to be used in the making of jewelry and other items, so it is often mixed with other metals to make it harder.
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.
Sterling silver was developed in Europe as early as the 12 th century. It was used in the United Kingdom in coinage and trading before spreading to the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries associated with the British Empire from the 19th century up to the mid-20th century.
Around the time of the World War II, as the cost of labor rose due to the war and the fact that sterling silver pieces were all still mostly handmade, and as only the wealthiest could afford it, it fell out of fashion for a time before coming back to popularity later in the 20th century.
What Is Better, Sterling Silver or Silver?
There are several benefits to using sterling silver instead of fine or pure silver. The first and most obvious benefit is the cost. Fine silver has a higher purity percentage of silver, which will make it more expensive compared to the less pure sterling silver. However, sterling silver still looks just as good as fine silver.
The durability and malleability of sterling silver means you can get more affordable pieces and a higher range of different products for a much lower price.
There's also the durability factor. Sterling silver is much more durable compared to fine silver because of the added metal alloys. This can help your piece last and stay looking the best it possibly can for longer.
Because of the fact sterling silver is an alloy, it makes it more sensitive to air and water, which in turn makes it more susceptible to tarnishing on the surface. Pure silver, with its higher purity, is more like real gold, which does not tarnish even if it is in constant contact with air and water.
What Is The Highest Quality Silver?
There are many different standards of silver. Below is a brief description of the more common types.
Silver standards refer to the standards of millesimal fineness for the silver alloy used in the manufacture or crafting of silver objects. The fineness of precious metals, including platinum and gold, are measured in parts of 1000, so the higher the number, the purer the metal.
Pure silver, as mentioned, is the purest form of silver. It has a millesimal fineness of 999. Also known as "three nines fine", pure silver contains 99.9% silver, with the balance made up of trace amounts of impurities. This grade of silver is used to make bullion bars for international trading and investment in silver. As we mentioned earlier, pure silver is too malleable and soft for day-to-day use.
Britannia silver has a millesimal fineness of at least 958. This alloy is 95.84% pure silver and 4.16% copper or other metals.
The French 1st standard has a millesimal fineness of 950. The French 1st alloy is 95% silver and 5% copper or other metals.
Sterling silver has a millesimal fineness of 925. As we mentioned before, sterling silver alloy is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper or other metals. Sterling silver is also stamped to indicate that it is true sterling silver. These stamps are usually "925" or "92.5" or ".925" to indicate the purity of the silver within it. However, you can also sometimes see "ss" as a sterling silver stamp as well.
Coin silver has a millesimal fineness of 900. The term "coin silver" was derived from the fact that much of it was made from melting down silver coins. It is important here to note that there are differences between the coin silver standard and the coin silver alloy, as actually used in making silver objects.
Scandinavian silver has a millesimal fineness of 830. The Scandinavian silver alloy contains 83% pure silver and 17% copper or other metals.
German silver will be marked with a millesimal fineness of 800 or 835 (80% or 83.5% pure silver). Generally items simply marked "German silver", "nickel silver" or "Alpaca" have no silver content at all, but are mere alloys of other metals.
Taking Care of Your Sterling Silver
With proper care, quality sterling silver will last a lifetime. However, because of the alloy mixed to make sterling silver is more susceptible to tarnish and corrosion than regular silver. To minimize such damage, it is important to store your sterling silver jewelry either in a cloth pouch or in a separate compartment in your jewelry box. Avoid exposing it to household chemicals when cleaning with bleach or ammonia, or when swimming in water containing chlorine such as a swimming pool, as these chemicals can damage silver.
Care should also be taken to prevent silver tarnish build-up, a dulling that naturally occurs when silver reacts with sulfur or hydrogen sulfide in the air. To clean your silver, use polishes specifically designated to remove tarnish. Although wearing your silver jewelry often is the best way to prevent tarnish from building up, regular cleanings of all your silver items will prevent tarnish and keep your silver bright and sparkling.