Are you buying silver jewelry? Then you’ve probably seen the term “sterling silver” and wondered if it’s any different than regular silver.
The answer is that, yes, sterling silver and pure silver are two different types of jewelry metal. And today we’ll explain how they’re different and which you should choose.
Here at Blush and Bar, we proudly sell sterling silver jewelry. Check out some of our bestsellers below, or keep reading!
Swarovski Stud Earrings
Cara Zirconia Ring
Clementine 3 in 1 Choker Necklace
Understanding sterling silver vs. silver
Both pure silver and sterling silver are made from the same element—the precious metal silver that’s mined naturally from the ground.
The metal is then refined into pure silver bullion, which is made of 99.9% silver. (It’s impossible to remove all trace elements, which is what the other 0.1% consists of.)
But silver is similar to pure gold in that it’s too soft for use in fine jewelry. To make it stronger, silver is mixed with other metals in what is known as an alloy.
Sterling silver is the most common alloy used today, with 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% strengthening metals—commonly copper, zinc, or nickel. It’s an old English standard that’s been around for over 600 years.
Let’s look at four of these silver types’ most important properties to understand the differences better.
Silver by itself doesn’t irritate most people’s skin. But sometimes, the alloy metals mixed into sterling silver can be allergens. Most types of sterling silver include nickel, which is well-known as an allergenic metal.
The solution is to look for nickel-free sterling silver. A safer alloy will include metals like copper or zinc instead of nickel. All the jewelry we sell here at Blush and Bar is nickel-free.
Are you wondering which type of silver is worth more? That’s easy—pure silver. Since it’s made up of 99.9% precious metal, fine silver will always be worth more than even the best genuine sterling silver.
But the difference is slight. A sterling silver item still contains 92.5% pure silver, meaning it holds its value well while staying durable. By comparison, 10k gold is only 41.6% pure gold.
If you have a silver coin, chances are it’s even less pure than sterling silver—most U.S. silver coins are only 80-90% pure, compared with 92.5% in sterling silver.
Sorry to disappoint, but German silver—also known as nickel silver—isn’t silver at all. It’s a mix of copper, nickel, and zinc that looks like silver.
While it looks like silver, German silver is not a precious metal.
Unlike German silver, which is a fancy name for a completely different metal, Mexican silver is real silver that’s mined in Mexico. Most Mexican silver is sterling silver but comes in pure form and other alloys as well.
Rhodium is an extremely valuable metal (more expensive than gold) that has a bright white color and never tarnishes. Sometimes silver has a rhodium plating to give it a brilliant shine.
There is most commonly sterling silver underneath, which will show once the thin rhodium layer wears off.
A silver plated jewelry piece is made of a base metal like brass, covered in a thin silver plating layer. In general, we don’t recommend jewelry made from silver plate as it has virtually no resale value and may turn your finger greenonce the silver layer wears off in a few months.
Argentium silver is a patented metal alloy that combines 93.5% or 96% pure silver with other alloyed metals, including germanium. This metal is tarnish-resistant, and the resulting alloy is seven times more tarnish-resistant than sterling silver.
The only downside to Argentium silver is its high price. It’s a patented process that uses the expensive element germanium, making Argentium silver much more costly than sterling silver.
How to find high-quality silver
Whenever you buy any silver jewelry, you should look for a stamp somewhere on the piece. It’s a three-digit number representing the “millesimal fineness,” or purity percentage, of a silver time.
A real sterling silver stamp should say “925” (due to its 92.5% purity). While the phrases are not as common, the symbol might also read “SS,” “S925,” or even “Sterling” or “Ster.”
Other types of silver will have their relevant millesimal fineness stamp. Pure silver bullion will say “999,” and different alloy mixes might say “900,” “800,” or another number.
The stamp “SP” refers to silver plated items, which we’d recommend avoiding.
Finally, you might see gold jewelry with a “925” stamp. This symbol means that it’s gold vermeil—a piece of sterling silver coated in a layer of gold. In addition to sterling silver, we sell gold vermeil here at Blush and Bar.