After all, if you’ve seen one piece of silver jewelry, you’ve seen them all. But it turns out that’s not quite the case.
In fact, there are many different types of silver in jewelry, and it’s important to understand which is which. Otherwise, you could get snookered when buying silver items.
The silver used in jewelry—even the finest variety—is an alloy to a greater or lesser degree. That means it’s not pure silver, but a mixture of silver and some other element. The nature of this alloy can determine the purity of the silver, as well as other characteristics, like hardness and tarnish resistance.
So let’s look at five of the most common types of silver used in jewelry.
Fine .999 Silver
This is top-of-the-line silver; it’s the best you can get.
The “.999” indicates that it’s 99.9 percent pure silver, with just a few insignificant impurities lingering in the mix. Impurities will always exist in anything, so this is as close as you’ll get to pure silver.
Fine silver is very soft and malleable, which rather limits its usefulness in the jewelry-making trade. It’s oftenest found in some of the more delicate jewelry types, such as silver necklaces, or a small silver chain, rather than in rings, for instance, which receive more wear and tear.
Still, fine silver of this quality is rarely used in jewelry.
Sterling .925 Silver
Sterling silver, on the other hand, is easily the commonest form of silver used in jewelry.
The number indicates that it is 92.5 percent silver, with another metal added in to make up the difference. This is typically copper or nickel, which adds strength and hardness to the silver, making it ideal for use in ornaments like silver bracelets and rings.
Argentium Silver (.935 and .960)
Argentium is a special brand of tarnish-resistant sterling silver.
Rather than the traditional silver/copper mix, Argentium uses either 93.5% or 96% silver, and replaces some of the copper with germanium. The beauty of germanium is that it hardens the silver alloy, and makes it much more resistant to tarnishing.
However, all that durability comes with a somewhat pricier tag than sterling silver.
.900 Coin Silver
Coin silver is another silver/copper alloy, this time in the proportion of 90 to 10 percent.
The designation “coin silver” is misleading, since this silver was never actually used in coins; rather, it was derived from silver salvaged from scrap coins. These days, coins are minted from less expensive base metals.
Still, there was a time when coins actually contained valuable silver. The Morgan dollar, for instance, issued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was indeed 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.
This is a somewhat newfangled, and non-standardized, layered metal.
Silver-filled consists of five to ten percent sterling silver, which is lacquered onto a brass core. Since it is layered, it cannot be cast, and it’s obviously a low quality form of silver.
Know Your Silver Before You Buy
So there you have it: a short but comprehensive primer on the most common types of silver used in jewelry. Never settle for low-quality silver, and make sure you purchase your jewelry only from reputable sellers.
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