What’s the difference between silver that is sterling, fine, plated, etc?

Do you know the difference between silver that is sterling, fine, plated, etc?  First, a little background information on metals. As early as 6000 BC, metals were used by ancient people like the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for a variety of uses, only one of which was jewelry making. Over time, jewelry making continued to evolve as new metals were discovered starting with Gold (6000 BC) and continuing with Copper (4200 BC) and Silver (4000 BC). Silver is a precious metal and very popular for jewelry e.g., it is lustrous, adaptable for casual and formal wear, flatters all skin tones, affordable, etc. NOTE: Base Metal is any non-precious metal e.g., nickel, steel, tin or copper.

Sterling silver is .925 silver meaning .075 of sterling silver is another base metal, normally copper making sterling silver an alloy (mixture of metals). Copper is used because it has been found to be the best metal to alloy with the silver to not discolor it and makes the silver harder. You can tell if your silver is sterling by a mark of either sterling or .925 (some may show 925/1000), which shows the level of purity. If the silver does not have one of these marks then it is not sterling, it is probably silver-plated. Obviously, sterling silver is much more expensive than plated. Moreover, sterling silver does tarnish and oxidize and is still relatively soft.

Fine silver is 99.9 percent pure (called pure silver) and is very soft. Fine silver does not tarnish, but it is not typically used for jewelry because it is more susceptible to bending, scratches, and dents.

Silver-plating (silver tone) is a chemical process that adds a very thin layer of silver to the item, which is made of a different metal. Over time, the silver plating can come off and the base metal below will show through. Typically copper, brass, pewter, etc, is the base metal that is plated with a layer of pure silver. Silver Plate is considered the most cost effective alternative to the more expensive forms of solid silver jewelry.

Silver filled uses a bonding process of either fine silver or sterling silver. Silver-filled is made in two qualities: 1/20 silver-filled (contains 5% sterling silver) and 1/10 silver-filled (contains 10% sterling silver). The fraction indicates how much precious metal is bonded to the substrate.

German or Nickel Silver is a alloy (mixture) with 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. It’s called silver because of the appearance but it contains NO silver. Additionally, as I mentioned in my July newsletter, nickel has been associated with some metal allergies.  

Silver overlay is a process of applying a thick layer of sterling silver to nickel silver. The plating is thicker than silver-plated. Sterling overlay is more expensive than plated but less than sterling silver.

Argentium® sterling silver is a trademarked brand of sterling silver that resists tarnish and is more expensive than standard sterling silver. It combines silver and germanium verses silver and copper. As I mentioned in my July and August newsletters, the majority of my fused glass jewelry is silver plated but can be changed to sterling silver for the price of the silver finding (e.g., rings $15, Pendants, or earrings). If you would like me to do another “Did you know..” on Gold or the difference between Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous, Base vs. Noble, or Precious vs. Non-Precious metals please let me know.

This information came from various internet sites.

Please let me know if you have any questions.