You may be familiar with sterling silver as a popular metal alloy used to create jewellery. It is famous for its beautiful lustre and strength. However, it often comes with a ‘925’ hallmark the meaning of which isn’t commonly known by buyers. Let’s take a look at sterling silver and what the hallmark means to decode the mystery.
What does sterling silver mean?
Pure silver cannot be used to make jewellery as it is too soft to be used on its own. As a result, it is combined with an additional metal in order to increase its solidity and to be workable by silversmiths. These two metals together form an alloy known as sterling silver. The additional metal tends to be zinc, nickel or copper. Copper is a great metal to use because it doesn’t detract from the brilliant lustre of the silver, it makes the alloy strong and it is hypoallergenic.
In sterling silver jewellery, what is the’ 925’ hallmark?
Look at the 925 stamp on a piece of jewellery as a representation of the quality and purity of the silver used. It all comes down to the’ millesimal fineness’ which is the official grading system applied to precious metal jewellery citing how many parts out of 1000 consist of precious metals (in this case, silver).
For example, in a sterling silver ring, there must be at least 925 parts of silver combined with 75 parts of another metal to qualify as sterling silver. This is the ‘sterling standard’. The hallmark is then stamped on the piece and it is considered genuine 925 sterling silver.
It is worth noting that not every country has the same stamp, so these may vary. But if there is no stamp at all then the quality of the piece cannot be verified and it may not be silver, wherever in the world you buy it.
Should I buy silver plated jewellery or sterling silver?
The main thing to bear in mind is that silver plated jewellery only has a thin alloy of silver with a vast percentage of the piece being composed of brass, nickel, copper or another metal. The plating may begin to fade in time, with the base metal coming through, potentially leaving a green mark.
Alternatively, sterling silver jewellery consists of pure silver and a small amount of an additional metal meaning that no base metal will be revealed after wear and tear. It may tarnish over time but this is easily rectified.
If in doubt, buy sterling silver jewellery. It looks better, lasts longer and is of a much higher quality.
How can I tell if silver is real or fake?
- Taking your piece of jewellery to an expert jewelers is a good way to find out the truth from a qualified professional.
- A hallmark will be a clear indication as to whether the silver is real or not.
- The magnet test. Precious metals are non magnetic so a magnet should not be attracted to real silver.
- Smell is a useful tool here as sterling silver is odourless. If there is a smell (usually a metallic smell) it is probably fake silver.
- Move the piece of jewellery with your fingers. Sterling silver is solid and firm but fake silver can be bendy and soft.
Does tarnishing silver mean it is fake?
Tarnishing is a natural process of oxidation which occurs when the alloy metal (usually copper) comes into contact with and reacts to trapped moisture, oils or any chemicals. It doesn’t mean the jewellery piece is fake, it just means it is time for a good clean and some regular upkeep to keep it looking shiny and new.
What are some good tips for looking after new silver jewellery?
- If you are hitting the gym, always remove your jewellery to avoid perspiration getting trapped and tarnish setting in.
- Take off your jewellery if you are going to get wet in any way – washing your hands, going swimming, taking a shower or bath, even moisturising.
- A quick clean when you see your jewellery losing its shine will mean there won’t be a lot of maintenance to do further down the line.
- Make sure you have a dry place to store your jewellery when it isn’t being worn. A soft jewellery box with compartments for each piece of jewellery or cloth pouches work well.
Integrating daily rituals around taking off your jewellery and storing it safely will lead you to not only forming great jewellery upkeep habits but you can relish in having pieces that look better for longer.