Sterling silver is a type of metal compound that is most often used when describing jewelry. Sometimes simply referred to as “sterling” or “925”, the term sterling silver indicates the content of the compound. So, what exactly is sterling silver?
The Composition of Sterling Silver
Like gold, silver is delicate and soft when found in its purest form, and unfortunately, this doesn’t make it a durable material. To make it more useful, pure silver is often combined with metal alloys like copper as a way of increasing the strength and durability. When pure silver is combined with less than 7.5% alloy, it is referred to as sterling silver. Sterling silver will contain at least 92.5% silver.
Identifying Sterling Silver
Do you have a piece of silver jewelry or silverware and wonder if the piece is actually sterling silver? There are a few steps that you can take to test your item:
- The white cloth test. Use a soft white cloth to gently rub down your item. If there are black marks on the cloth when you pull it away, this is a good sign that the material is sterling silver.
- The nitric acid test. Adding drops of nitric acid to real sterling silver won’t have any effect, but the same can’t be said about non-silver metals. When nitric acid is added to other options, they will lose their color.
- The magnet test. This is a fairly straightforward test, as magnets don’t have an effect on silver. If you hold a magnet up to your silver piece and find that the item is attracted to the magnet, this should be a clear sign that you don’t have a sterling silver object.
- The smell test. Take a whiff of your silver item. Smell something metallic? That means you’ve got something other than sterling silver, as too much copper is present. Sterling silver should not have an odor.
- The hidden marking test. Real sterling silver – especially jewelry – will have a hidden marking on it stating “Sterling Silver,” “925,” or “Ster.” If you don’t see any of these markings, you should be wary about whether or not you have the real thing.
Sterling silver doesn’t come cheap, and it requires a considerable investment, regardless of whether you are buying a silver antique or silver pendant. Fortunately, it is a worthwhile investment, as the value of the piece will increase with time.
Cleaning Your Sterling Silver
There are many metals out there that are tarnish-resistant, but unfortunately, sterling silver isn’t one of them. If you have a silver piece that you don’t wear or use often, it is possible for tarnish to build up on the surface. Regular polishing using a silver cleaning is a simple and effective solution, and it is important to clean off the tarnish before it has the chance to build. Otherwise, you may end up with long-term damage to your sterling silver piece.