Sterling Silver: What Is Sterling Silver & Why Is It Used for Jewelry?
Alicia Briggs | September 26, 2023
Alicia Briggs | September 26, 2023
Sterling silver is a precious metal that has been commonly used since the 12th century. Today, sterling silver jewelry is one of the most popular types of fine jewelry. But what’s the difference between sterling silver and other types of silver, and why is it preferred for jewelry? Read on for everything you need to know about sterling silver. Shop VRAI's sterling silver jewelry collection for luxury designs with lab-grown diamonds at more affordable prices.
What Is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is a precious metal made from 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% metal alloy (typically copper). Sterling silver is also known as 925 silver, due to its composition. Not only is sterling silver a rare metal, but silver is also an element (Ag is its chemical symbol).
Types of Silver
There are three primary types of silver:
- Pure Silver: 99.9% silver.
- Sterling Silver: 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloy.
- Silver-plated: Metal coated with a thin layer of silver.
Is Sterling Silver Real Silver?
Sterling silver is real silver. Sterling silver is simply pure silver mixed with another metal alloy to create a more durable metal.
If you’re buying sterling silver jewelry, it’s important to verify that it’s sterling silver and not silver-plated. Silver-plated is far less durable and more affordable. If you’re paying for sterling silver, ensure that it’s genuine.
To check if sterling silver is real, look for markings on the jewelry’s back or clasp. Sterling silver is usually marked with .925, Sterling, or Ster.
If you already own the jewelry, and you don’t see any markings, you can use a magnet to check if it’s sterling silver. Silver is not magnetic, so only silver-plated jewelry will stick to a magnet.
Sterling Silver vs. Pure Silver
Sterling silver and pure silver have several key differences and benefits. Silver is naturally found in ores or alloys, where it’s mined and refined. This is why pure silver is 99.9% silver instead of 100%. Due to its origin, this is the highest purity level that silver can be refined to.
Pure silver is very soft and malleable. Silver was used for dishware, decor, and jewelry. It was also the first material used for coins, in the 6th century BCE. People still collect silver coins and bars today, as these items are considered rare and valuable.
Silver is now primarily used for manufacturing, including dental fillings, medical equipment, solar panels, and electronics. Due to silver’s antibacterial properties and high thermal conductivity, it’s being used and tested for a wide range of technological uses.
Sterling silver is 92.5% silver. It’s mixed with another metal alloy to increase its strength. This also makes sterling silver more affordable and more accessible than pure silver. Due to this, sterling silver replaced pure silver for most objects like tableware, coins, and decor. Sterling silver is the best type of silver for fine jewelry, as it’s more durable than pure silver.
Price Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver
Silver is considered a rare, precious, and valuable metal. Pure silver is typically more expensive than sterling silver as it’s more valuable.
The price difference between sterling silver and silver depends on their form and the silver spot price. The worth of silver changes constantly according to the silver spot price, which is determined by the global economy, supply and demand, and the U.S. dollar.
Pure silver coins and bars are considered investment items and are typically more valuable than sterling silver jewelry. Silver silvery jewelry varies in price, however, depending on the design, size, condition, and age. For example, a pristine piece of antique sterling silver jewelry is worth considerably more than brand-new sterling silver jewelry.
Is Pure Silver Used for Jewelry?
Pure silver is too soft to be used for jewelry. Pure silver jewelry is prone to scratches and warping, whereas sterling silver is considerably more durable.
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History of Using Sterling Silver
Pure silver has been used since 3000 BCE, but using sterling silver started in the 12th century. Sterling silver was initially linked to British currency. Sterling was the term for the weight of an English coin. The pound is officially “the pound sterling.”
During the 13th century, it was declared that all silver would have 925 parts silver. One pound of silver was coined at 240 pennies. Each penny was 925 parts silver with 75 parts copper. This is the composition for sterling silver and the British currency until 1920.
By the 13th century, sterling silver was also used for numerous objects, tableware, and decorations. Sterling silver then became an increasingly popular choice for jewelry.
By the 1800s, sterling silver tableware had made its way to America, and shortly after, so did sterling silver jewelry. Sterling silver became the premier choice for fine jewelry and jewelry settings until the 1950s when consumers began to favor gold jewelry.
Why Sterling Silver Is Used for Jewelry
Today, sterling silver is widely used for fine jewelry; beloved for its sleek appearance, durability, and affordability. Sterling silver is a precious metal, but it’s less precious than gold. This makes sterling silver a more affordable option for fine jewelry.
Sterling silver has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It feels lightweight when wearing it, but it’s durable and unlikely to break.
Sterling Silver vs. White Gold Jewelry
Sterling silver and white gold are often compared because of their similar appearance and prevalence in jewelry.
There are several key differences between gold and silver, as they are completely different metals. Like silver, white gold is a metal alloy comprised of gold and another alloy, such as copper, to increase durability.
Both sterling silver and white gold are mixed with alloys to be used in fine jewelry, but their composition is different. Sterling silver is almost entirely made of pure silver alloys (92.5% silver). White gold jewelry is typically 14k white gold (58% gold), or 18k white gold (75% gold).
Silver is more plentiful than gold, which is why it’s considered less precious than gold. As such, sterling silver jewelry is noticeably less expensive than white gold jewelry.
When it comes to durability and care, sterling silver is slightly softer than gold. This means sterling silver is less durable than white gold. Both metals require maintenance to remain in pristine condition.
Sterling silver will tarnish over time, so it's important to properly polish and clean silver. White gold jewelry is usually plated to maintain its lustrous white color. When exposed to water, chemicals, and repeated wear, this finish can break down. If not properly cared for, white gold jewelry may need to be re-plated.
As far as color is concerned, silver resembles white gold, but it’s often less shiny and has grayish tones. Both silver and white gold are timeless choices for jewelry and are consistently sought after.
How to Buy Sterling Silver Jewelry
If you’d like to buy sterling silver jewelry, choose a reputable jeweler to ensure you’re investing in real, expertly crafted sterling silver jewelry.
All VRAI sterling silver jewelry designs are made to order and made to last. VRAI sterling silver jewelry features VRAI created diamonds, grown in the world's first zero-emission foundry. Our lab-grown diamond jewelry is the only Carbon Neutral Certified fine jewelry.
You can buy VRAI sterling silver jewelry on our website. Explore our selection of sterling silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings. Choose your favorite design, select the metal (sterling silver), and any remaining customizable details before purchasing. Your jewelry is then created by our master craftsman and shipped directly to you.
Sterling Silver FAQs
Read on for answers to the most commonly asked questions about sterling silver.
Is Sterling Silver Good Quality?
Sterling silver is considered a high-quality, premium material. With proper care, it should last a lifetime and beyond.
Is Sterling Silver Hypoallergenic?
Sterling silver is hypoallergenic. It’s a popular choice for people with sensitive skin or who are allergic to other metals.
Does Sterling Silver Turn Green?
Sterling silver jewelry that’s exposed to high humidity or moisture can cause a temporary green mark on your body while wearing. This is due to copper’s chemical reaction to moisture and your skin. To prevent this, keep your skin clean and dry and regularly clean your jewelry.
Does Sterling Silver Rust?
Real sterling silver will not rust over time.
How Do I Keep Sterling Silver From Tarnishing?
All sterling silver jewelry can tarnish, but it’s easy to clean and prevent. The elements and chemicals we’re exposed to, primarily moisture, cause sterling silver to tarnish.
Regularly cleaning, and wearing your sterling silver jewelry will help prevent tarnishing. Properly store your jewelry in an air-tight, cool container that’s protected from direct light.
Is Stainless Steel Better Than Sterling Silver?
Stainless steel and sterling silver are both commonly used in jewelry. Stainless steel is also a metal alloy, with numerous different compositions. Stainless steel is known for its optimal strength. It’s more durable and affordable than sterling silver.
However, sterling silver is more precious, malleable, and lightweight. For fine jewelry, sterling silver is better and more valuable. Stainless steel makes an excellent choice for affordable, low-maintenance, everyday jewelry. It’s the perfect choice for younger shoppers who are just starting to wear jewelry.
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