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Sterling Silver 101

When we say jewelry is “Silver” we are usually referring to “Sterling Silver” but there are different types of Silver used for jewelry and it is important to know what distinguishes one from another. Silver is a relatively soft metal and other metals are often added to make an alloy that is durable enough for jewelry manufacturing.

Pure Silver or Fine Silver is composed of 99.9% Silver. It is too soft to use for most jewelry but can be used for keepsakes, coins and high end jewelry that does not contain stones. It is very malleable and can be bent out of shape or even broken easily.

Argentium Silver can be either 96% silver or 93.2% silver. It is mixed with copper or germanium to strengthen the silver. It doesn’t tarnish and only authorized jewelers are allowed to use the stamp. It is hypoallergenic and doesn’t contain any nickel.

Sterling Silver is an alloy that is comprised of 92.5% Silver and 7.5% of another metal (usually copper but sometimes nickel or zinc). If someone says they are allergic to silver, it is usually the copper, nickel or zinc components of Sterling Silver that cause the allergic reaction. When jewelers manufacture a piece of Sterling Silver jewelry, they are supposed to stamp it with the number “925” that signifies to the end recipient that it is in fact Sterling Silver. ****Jewelry that is made from 95% Silver is also considered “Sterling Silver” it is just a higher and more valuable quality as it contains only 5% other metals instead of 7.5%. We carry a line of jewelry made by Charles Albert who uses 95% Silver in his pieces. The price tag is either, but the quality is superb.

German Silver does not actually contain silver. It is made from copper, zinc and nickel and sometimes contains lead or tin. It was named German Silver because of its silvery-white color. It is non corrosive and very durable and is used to make electronics and costume jewelry. On the other hand, Germany has a lower standard for their real silver to be considered “Sterling”. If an alloy is at least 80% Silver it may be considered Sterling Silver in Germany. Other European countries, as well as Mexico, also have a lower standard for the percentage of silver required to be considered “Sterling”.

Silver plated jewelry is usually made from copper, brass, nickel or another base metal and a thin layer of silver is on top. The silver plating wears off over time revealing the true color of the base metal beneath. We do not sell sterling silver plated jewelry, but we do carry inexpensive electroplated stone jewelry in our under $20 section of the store.


Q: Can Sterling Silver rings be sized? A: Absolutely. You can safely size a ring up or down 2-3 sizes. If it is a thin ring then 2 sizes would be the max but for a heavier band 3 sizes would be safe. More than that and the structural integrity of the ring is compromised and then stones can pop out or the band can crack and/or break.

Q: Can you bring a Silver ring to any jewelry to be sized? A: Usually not. Find a local jewelry repair shop that is not part of a chain store such as Kay, Zales, Jared, etc. The jewelers that size rings at the big box stores usually don’t have experience working with Sterling Silver and will sometimes lie to customers and tell them that it simply “can’t be done” when in actuality it is just that the jeweler doesn’t have the skills to do the job. Some stones that are porous can not take the heat of the torch in which case the ring would have to be laser welded in order to be sized. All semi precious stones are safe to size using traditional methods. Q: Can Sterling Silver Jewelry be worn to bed or in the shower? A: It is not recommended. When we sleep at night we toss and turn and chains especially can get stretched out and will eventually break. It weakens the metal over time and we excrete more body oils while sleeping which end up being absorbed by the porous silver metal. The chlorine and other chemicals present in tap water showers and swimming pools can do irreversible damage to some gemstones and they dull the metal significantly over time. Soap scum build up is also no fun to try and remove from some jewelry. All Jewelry should be removed before bedtime or any water activity including showering and swimming. Q: Is there a way to keep Sterling Silver jewelry from tarnishing? A: Yes and No. The tarnish that we see on Sterling Silver jewelry is a result of oxidation. As long as we have oxygen, there will be tarnish. Humidity also contributes to rapid tarnishing of jewelry. If you live in a dry climate, there will be less tarnish. Anyone who lives along the coast line or in the South will need to clean their jewelry regularly. You may keep the Sterling Silver jewelry in a ziplock bag with the air pressed out and sealed when you are not wearing it and it will keep the piece tarnish free longer. No oxygen = No tarnish. Keeping Sterling Silver jewelry open in a jewelry box will usually result in rapid tarnish because of the stale environment where oxygen is trapped within the box. Q: What is the best way to clean Sterling Silver jewelry? A: The number one recommended method is a polishing cloth. Not only does it remove tarnish, it also has an anti-tarnish agent that it is dipped in that will help prevent the silver from tarnishing as quickly after the piece has been polished. Liquid Sterling Silver cleansers and dips are okay for Silver and Gold, but it can strip some gemstones of their luster sometimes ruining the piece of jewelry. A good rule of thumb is “If you can’t see through the stone, don’t dip it”. Opaque stones such as Turquoise, Pearls, Onyx, Lapis, etc. have a high level of porosity and the polished surface will absorb the liquid cleaning chemical resulting in a permanently dull stone after exposure. Q: Is there any way to bring back the shine and polish of a damaged or old Sterling Silver piece of jewelry? A: If the silver has scratches, appears worn or is very dull, you will have to take the piece to a jeweler who will use a polishing machine to buff through the top layer of metal that is worn. Although this will bring back the silver shine, it does weaken the jewelry piece by making it thinner because the top layer of metal is essentially removed. For porous or opaque stones that have become dull, rubbing mineral oil on them regularly can help bring back some of the luster. Just be sure to wipe off the excess oil with a soft cloth so it doesn’t rub off on your clothes. Q: Is there any test that can be done to find out whether a piece of jewelry is Sterling Silver? A: Yes. There is a liquid & test block kit that you can purchase inexpensively online. Take the suspect piece of jewelry and gently rub a less visible area of the jewelry piece against the scratch plate. You only need to do this enough to make a visible scratch. You then squeeze a drop of the liquid onto the scratch and wait to see what color changes may take place. Follow the testing kit chart to then determine whether the piece is sterling silver or another metal.

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