When it comes to jewelry, silver has always been a precious metal staple. Its luminous white shine pairs beautifully with colorful gemstones, it’s more affordable than gold or platinum, and it has a vintage, heirloom aesthetic that never goes out of style. But not all silver is created equal. If you’re in the market for new silver jewelry, it’s important to understand the differences between silver types so you can choose the best option.
Sterling Silver: The High Quality Standard
Sterling silver is the highest grade of silver used in jewelry. To qualify as sterling, silver must have a purity level of at least 92.5% actual silver.
The remaining 7.5% usually consists of copper or other metals which strengthen the silver and improve its durability. This high silver content gives sterling pieces a bright, mirror-like surface when polished.
The word “sterling” refers to Britain’s sterling silver standard which has been used since the 12th century. This consistent 92.5% minimum purity and quality benchmark is why sterling silver is generally regarded as the best and most valuable type of silver for high-end jewelry items.
Fine Silver: 99% Pure
Fine silver is 99% pure silver. Because it has less alloy metal content, fine silver jewelry has a soft, smooth appearance compared to sterling. However, without alloys to reinforce it, pure silver easily gets damaged. Jewelry items need hardness and durability to withstand daily wear and tear. Over time, fine silver pieces bend out of shape, scratch more noticeably, or require professional repair more often.
The extreme purity makes fine silver jewelry too soft for settings that secure diamonds and other precious gems. For this reason, fine silver is primarily used for decorative artisan pieces or metal components fused onto sterling cores. The dazzling white glow and lavish appearance of 99% pure silver does appeal to some jewelry buyers despite the higher maintenance.
Silver Plating: Surface Shine
Many affordable jewelry items are made with silver plating. This means the pieces have a thin layer of silver electrochemically bonded to a base metal beneath. Brass, copper, or nickel are common base metals used. The plating only covers the item’s surface, so wears away over time exposing the mixed metal interior.
Silver plated jewelry requires gentle care to help the thin coating last longer, but it generally doesn’t have the lasting potential or value of fine or sterling pieces. For costume, fashion, or budget-friendly silver looks, plated items can provide the coveted shine and aesthetic without the investment. Re-plating services can refresh old pieces too.
So Which is Best? Evaluating Your Silver Jewelry Options
When choosing silver jewelry, sterling silver provides the best combination of attractiveness, durability, and affordability for most buyers. The 92.5% silver purity offers gorgeous luster and higher value. And while no silver is hypoallergenic or tarnish-proof, sterling resists issues better than lower purity silver without being as delicate as fine silver. This balance makes sterling silver the go-to for jewelry from chunky earrings to engagement rings.
Fine silver with 99% purity has covetable shine too, but requires more babying and maintenance. This makes it less ideal for jewelry meant for everyday wear. The soft pure silver is best showcased in selective statement pieces. Silver plating offers surface-level sparkle at lower prices, but doesn’t have longevity. Replating restores appearance periodically, however. So for low commitment fashion jewelry, plating fits the bill.
Tips for Buying the Best Silver Jewelry
Keep these tips in mind when shopping to identify quality silver jewelry:
- Check markings – Sterling pieces are stamped “.925” and fine silver has a “.999” mark. Plated items usually say “silver-plated” or “silver color.”
- Notice weight – Sterling and fine silver have heft as solid metals. Lightweight jewelry tends to be plated.
- Consider costs – Sterling silver lands between fine silver and plating. Extremely cheap silver is likely plated, while extremely expensive is likely fine silver.
- Examine shine – Sterling and fine silver have crisp white glows, compared to plating’s duller sheen that fades over time.
Consider reading full guide: Expert Tips for Finding Fabulous Silver Jewelry
Caring for Your Silver Jewelry Investment
All silver types require some degree of care. Oils from skin, hair products, household chemicals, and air exposure causes silver to tarnish giving it a darker, dingy appearance. Without removing built up tarnish, new layers accumulate. Follow these tips to clean silver jewelry and maintain its original radiance:
- Use anti-tarnish bag storage when pieces aren’t being worn. Air tight bags prevent air flow that triggers toning.
- Wash frequently by hand or ultra-sonic cleaner, instead of risky chemical dips that cause excess metal loss. Use mild soap and water.
- Gently dry pieces with soft cloth. Avoid rubbing rough terry towels over items which causes light scratching called “scoring.”
- Use professional steam or dry cloth cleaning occasionally which removes embedded debris in crevices. Don’t over scrub!
- Consider low cost rhodium plating on sterling silver. It adds a protective barrier, extra shine, and white tone.
- For pure silver use extra care handling to prevent dents. Resize or repair early signs of damage.
The White Metals: How Silver Compares
Silver has distinguishing beauty from other white metals like platinum and white gold used in fine jewelry:
- Platinum – at 95% purity, platinum is more durable than silver and has heft. Its rarity increases prices significantly too. Platinum works well for major jewelry pieces, but isn’t as budget friendly.
- White Gold – an alloy of gold and white metals like nickel or palladium, white gold combines the warm undertones of gold with a silvery look. Like other gold jewelry, white gold has higher intrinsic value but requires rhodium plating for a bright sheen.
- Sterling Silver – affordably priced between metals, sterling silver offers comparable shine and durability to more expensive platinum or gold. Simple silver maintenance helps retain luster between professional cleaning.
Get More Knowledge Before You Buy!
Sterling silver strikes an optimal balance by mingling high purity silver with just enough alloys to protect jewelry pieces from damage while maintaining beautiful reflectivity. This hasn’t changed over centuries of jewelry-making tradition and consistent grading standards set by major silver manufacturers like Tiffany & Co. While personal style preferences vary, sterling silver’s glow, value, and longevity outperforms plating and rivals pricier fine jewelry metals. Arm yourself with savvy information before investing in timeless silver jewelry you’ll treasure for years.