One thing most people do not understand when they buy silver jewelry is that the silver used is an alloy. Silver in its pure form is too soft to be used for jewelry and has to be mixed with another metal. Most silver jewelry has a stamp, which is the quickest way to gauge the piece’s quality. The markings on the jewelry are only visible under a magnifying glass. The different types of silver used in jewelry include:
Fine silver is closer to pure silver. The mark .999 is an indicator that the silver is 99.9% pure. The remaining 0.1% contains trace elements in tiny quantities. Fine silver has a vitreous luster, which makes it gray and a bit dull.
Fine silver is very soft and malleable, dents, and scratches easily. These qualities make it unsuitable for jewelry. Fine silver has benefits such as fusing without solder; it is easy to craft and is highly tarnish resistant. Fine silver is suitable for earrings or a silver heart necklace, instead of bracelets or rings, which get scratched more easily. The quality stamp on this metal is .99 or .99 FS.
Sterling .925 Silver
In the U.S and the rest of the world, the jewelry quality standard is sterling, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper or nickel. The silver is more durable when it has other metals and adds luster to the silver, which is attractive to consumers.
Sterling silver is shiny, tarnishes easily, but can be cleaned using polishing agents that are readily available. Fine silver is harder compared to fine silver but is still soft when compared to other metals. Jewelry made from sterling silver can be dented or scratched if handled roughly. Sterling can be annealed and soldered, with the most common stamps being .925.
Argentium and other non-tarnishing alloys
Argentium is among the non-tarnish alloys. These alloys are made up of a minimum of 92.5% silver, but some might have slightly higher silver content. The remaining percentage consists of copper and germanium element. Germanium makes the alloy resistant to tarnish and harder. If a non-tarnish alloy is left in extreme conditions for long periods, it can still tarnish.
Non-tarnish silver alloys need less maintenance compared to sterling silver. Argentium fuses without solder and is more costly than sterling, as well as rarer. Argentium and sterling are difficult to distinguish since both bear the .925 stamp.
Coin silver is not easily available as it once was in the U.S. Coin silver alloy is .900 silver, which is 90% silver and the remaining 10% copper. The name coin silver originated from metal smiths melting scrap coin metal. Back then, coins were made from precious metal compared to today’s coins, which are made from cheaper and more long-lasting base metals.
Collectible coins have a high silver content, are marked with a quality stamp, and come with an authentication certificate. Coin jewelry bears a quality stamp of .900 and most often will be antiques.
Silver-plated is a base metal silver that has a very thin silver layer plating applied to its surface. Even when a piece of jewelry is marked as fine silver-plated, the silver content is usually a very tiny fraction. Silver plating can quickly tarnish and wear off after some time, exposing the base metal.
Tribal or Tibetan Silver
These types of silver called Tribal or Tibetan silver are just base metal alloys that only look like silver. The alloy contents vary, and most contain zero silver. Some of these alloys might contain lead, you should buy such jewelry with caution, and children should never wear them. Most people purchase Tribal jewelry for their aesthetic design, and never for the metal value.
Silver comes in various standards, and you have to check the jewelry stamp to confirm what you are buying. There are frauds in the market, so if you intend to buy a piece of jewelry, take it to a jeweler for appraisal since the stamp can only be seen via a magnifying glass.