Your 101 guide to Silver: Silver Jewelry vs Sterling Silver
Have you heard the expression with a silver spoon?
It’s known that silver has antibacterial properties, and wealthy families would feed children with silver spoons because they believed this would kill any germs in the atmosphere placed on the food.
Probably you already know that silver is cheaper than gold. But, did you know that on earth there is less silver than gold? Yes. Despite all its properties, we often put silver in the background. We put more value on metals like gold or platinum. Actually, silver is more present in our lives than we think. There is silver in silverware, in some electronics and batteries, mirrors, photography, magnetic strips, solar panels, water filtration….
And why so? Well, silver is the best metal conductor of heat and electricity, antibacterial, and it’s a great reflector of visible light. Is also more abundant and less expensive than other metals.
It’s great for jewelry too, resulting in a good, durable, and relatively inexpensive material.
What is silver?
Silver is a metallic element represented on the Periodic Table of Elements by the symbol Ag. It was one of the first five elements discovered, along with gold, copper, lead, and iron and. This element is extremely soft and malleable, although is harder than gold, and second to it in malleability and ductility. An ounce of silver can be made into a wire 8,000 feet long.
Is one of the seven metals of antiquity that were known to prehistoric humans, the others being gold, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury.
Silver comer from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘seolfor’. And, at the same time, this word is derived from the Germanic ‘sidebar’.
In nature, silver is found uncombined in ores like argentite and chlorargyrite, but it’s mostly extracted from cooper, copper-nickel, and lead-zinc. There are about 20,000 tons of silver production per year.
Silver has been used since 3000BC, it’s believed that in Turkey and Greece people did mine workings on silver. They even found out how to refine the metal through a process called cupellation. This process consisted of heating the metal in a shallow cup while a strong draft of air was blowing over, rusting the other metals like lead and copper and leaving silver unaffected, separating them.
Silver has been used as money since around 700BC by the Lydians, then, was quickly adopted by the Greeks. In 1158, King Henry II coined the first silver currency in England.
Nowadays, of course, coins are made from less precious materials, but just until 1965, coins minted in the United States were made from 90% silver, after that, the percentage dropped to 40% until 1969. So, silver had this importance in money for some many time, that equivalent word for ‘silver’ and ‘money’ are the same in fourteen languages.
Silver in Jewelry: how started
Silver in Jewelry has its roots in royalty and fine jewelry design.
Back in the 13th century, King Edward I of England created a statute where the state required that every silver item had to have a purity of 92.5%. It also requires to mark the items with a leopard head by members of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, today is known as the Goldsmith’s Company.
When silver began to grow in the 19th century, the British government didn’t require jewelers any mark to silver jewels, so items that date back to the time are often devoid of any purity or makers’ marks.
It was in the Victorian era when fine silver jewelry became more popular, most pieces were manufactured. As silver’s malleability and bright white color, jewelers made designs inspired by nature and plants, and add many gemstones to decorate their pieces, especially colored ones.
With the industrial revolution, by the mid-Victorian period, silver jewelry (and actually all jewelry) went from fine handcrafted designs to more manufactured pieces
Nations were obsessed with mechanical and invention, so of course, jewels wouldn’t escape from that. By 1852 was developed a method for cutting and stamp silver, and this made that making jewelry became inexpensively and deftly.
Did you know Queen Victoria went into mourning since King Albert died (1861) until the last of her days? Silver mounting jewels featuring oxidized silver, dark gemstones like English Jet, and black onyx were a new style because that was what the Queen wore. By the late Victorian period, jewelry designs with an air of sentimentality, and silver charm bracelets emerged, so jewels became more playful, with stars, flowers, and hearts designs.
Many years later, Art Deco jewelry after World War II reflected the society's mood, people wanted to cheer lives up with some colorful gems, so statement style showed up.
Stores like Tiffany & Co and Cartier opened up, and in the jewel, the industry started a demand for austerity and modesty in the 1030s. World War II came, and again, jewels were not a necessity. But the war ended, and fine jewelry went back to classic styling.
Silver was used then especially for tableware because for jewelry, people preferred yellow gold.
Nowadays. Silver is a precious metal relatively accessible, used by many many designers, is very durable too, and has greater freedom of design than other materials.
So, what is Sterling Silver?
For jewels, it’s not easy to work silver. As it conducts heat so well, makes it more difficult to work at the moment of soldering.
Almost everything made from silver in jewelry it’s not pure. Jewelers mix silver with other elements to make it more durable and strong.
FINE .999 SILVER
This is the “Pure” silver jewelry. Its made from 99.9% silver, the remaining is from elements. This one has more luster than bright. Si jewelry is delicate, remember silver is very soft and malleable? Well, silver jewels with a .999 stamp will scratch, dent, and change shape more easily. It’s now jeweler’s favorite and is rarely found on the market. It’s mostly used for earrings and necklaces.
The quality stamp is expressed with .999 FS (fine silver) or just .999.
STERLING .925 SILVER
People and America’s favorite. This alloy is made up of 92.5% silver and the remaining 7.5% is from other materials, usually copper. Most jewels on the market are made from this kind of silver.
This 7.5% of other metals increases the hardness of the material, and make the jewel more durable. Also, it gives it a brighter and shiny aspect.
The downside, these other materials oxides and cause the jewel to tarnish. Tarnish can be slowed down and cleaned, you cannot prevent it from happening.
The quality stamp is .925 STG (for sterling) or just .925
Here at JewelsGenie most of our products are made with Streling Silver. We think this kind of silver has the best balance between quality-price, and with proper care, following our tips to care your silver, it'll be a durable jewel.
Rhodium, Argentium Silver and Non-tarnish Alloys
Especially in Italy, some high-end sterling silver pieces are finished with rhodium to prevent that hideous tarnish. These jewels are more expensive, but they are also more durable. They have a minimum of 92.5% silver, some would have even more. The remaining is for copper and germanium in most cases.
Even though this process makes the alloy harder, the jewel can still tarnish in extreme circumstances. But they definitely are more durable and easier to take care of than regular sterling silver.
Everything has a price, and this kind of silver is much more expensive and harder to find.
Getting the authorization to use Argentinum® stamp is long and pricy, so most jewelers don’t do it, they use the same stamp as sterling silver (.925), and looks almost the same compared to sterling silver, so telling the differences is difficult.
Coin Silver or .900
Today is really rare to find a jewel made by coin silver, but there was a time /not long ago) where this was the favorite type of silver to make jewels.
It’s made from 90% and 10% other materials (again, usually copper)
And no. it’s not (or wasn’t) used to make coins.
The name originates because it used to be made from refined scrap coins
The quality stamp would be .900.
It’s not an alloy, instead, the jewel has a sterling silver on its surface and is filled with either 5% or 10% of sterling silver by weight fused with heat and pressure to a brass core.
It's not regularized in the US yet because this type of silver is very new. The silver coat is thick, but low quality, making it tarnish easily
There's also no legally approved quality stamp standard for this type.
The jewel is made from metal and has a thing plating layer of silver on the surface. The silver content is very low.
Is a very affordable type of jewelry, but be sure that it will tarnish more easily than a sterling, exposing the metal inside.
Does not require a quality stamp, but most manufactures will indicate it.
This kind of jewels doesn’t contain silver at all. It’s an alloy of copper with nickel or zinc and has a similar appearance to sterling silver.
The word “silver” does not refer to the metal, but the color of the nickel. The alloy is made from copper, nickel, and zinc. It’s also inexpensive.
Known as Alpaca silver or German silver, it’s used in the jewelry market because it’s soft and practical.
Compared to other metals like gold or platinum, silver is relatively inexpensive.
But this doesn’t mean it’s a less quality metal. Throughout history and as unbelievable as it would be, silver has been more expensive than gold.
Why my silver Tarnish?
Silver requires a little bit more care than other metals.
If you own a piece of silver jewelry probably you’ve noticed that silver tarnish. Tarnish consists of a layer of corrosion that forms over the metal due to a chemical reaction.
Silver alloys contain metals that react with hydrogen sulfide, found in moisture and the air, so jewelry often tarnishes with exposure to air and humidity. Tarnish would happen even quicker if the jewel is exposed to chemicals like makeup, perfume, lotions, sprays, and detergents.
So, Silver will tarnish no matter what you do, because air is everywhere; but there are a few things you can do to slow down the process:
Storage: Store your silver in a place where is not exposed to air. Silver tarnish due to the exposure to air and humidity, remember? So avoid them. An easy way is to put your silver in an airtight bag, if you don’t have one, a Ziploc, suck the air and close it. Then put it in a jewelry box like this one. To decrease the moisture in the air, put a silica gel or a piece of chalk to absorb de air.
Exposure: Put your perfume and every lotion, body oil, or cosmetics before, never spray perfume over your silver. Wait for your skin to absorb the product before putting your jewel on. Don’t get your silver in touch with water, meaning removing it before swimming and showering. Keep away from a chemical found in household cleaning products (take off your ring before dishes, hon), and from any sulfur-containing items like latex, wool, and onions.
Maintenance: There are a few things you have to do with your silver. To slow down the process of tarnishing, you should wash your jewelry. There are a lot of ways of doing it, but the easiest one is doing it with just soap and water. The gentleness of the soap and the water will not harm your silver, so, do this often. It will remove the small parts of tarnish, and the important thing will remove any dirt or product that could be store on the jewel. Try to do this with a soft brush, like a toothbrush.
Wear it!: yes, use your silver as much as you can. Your skin has natural oils that keep the silver bright and shiny.
If your silver is already tarnished,
- With a silver jewelry cleaner and a soft cloth, rub the silver until the coating disappears. Then wash the cleaner off rinsing the jewel with warm water.
- There are also silver polishing cloths, you just have to rub your jewel until the tarnish disappear
- Taking your silver to a professional so your jewel is taken care of by an expert AKA jeweler.
- Silver cleaning dip, there are a lot of brands on the market. You just have to submerge your jewel in the liquid, and magically the tarnish will disappear.
On a pyrex baking dish put a sheet of aluminum foil, fill the dish with about 3/4 of warm water, add 1/4 cup of baking soda, and put your jewels in the dish. Make sure silver touches the aluminum foil. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and MAGIC, tarnish should've disappeared. If your piece is heavily tarnished, we recommend you to repeat the process.
Take out your jewel and rinse in water. Don't forget to dry it afterward, remember water isn't silver best's friend.