Whether you are a customer looking for silver jewelry or a craftsman dealing with the silver metal jewelry, everyone must know the details of this and the other metals closely related to it. Usually, sterling silver does not imply and cannot be interchangeably used for all kinds of silver jewelry. There are numerous grades or types of silver that are molded to make delicate pieces of jewelry.
To understand the various types of silver, people must be aware of the following concepts:
1. Silver Alloys
An alloy means a combination of two or more elements. It is significant to note that silver has a physical property of being malleable, implying that it is easily bendable. Hence, silver alone cannot make very durable pieces of jewelry. Therefore, the silver used in jewelry is mostly an alloy silver combined with other similar metallic elements from the periodic table.
2. Quality Marks or Stamps
Quality marks or stamps are the quickest and simplest ways of knowing what grade or kind of silver is used in the jewelry. It is a requirement of the law that the jewelry must have a stamp of quality on it. However, due to the delicacy of the design or size, some jewelry pieces cannot be marked with this stamp. In such cases, it is important to get the receipt indicating the type of silver your jewelry is made of.
Types or Grades of Silver
To understand and comprehend the quality stamps or marks on silver jewelry, it is important to know what types of silver are there. These types or grades of silver have respective quality marks or stamps that indicate their making. Following are the various types of silver:
1. Fine Silver aka .999
This grade of silver is the closest to the actual pure silver metal, as it has about 99.9% pure silver in it. The remaining 0.1% consists of trace metals that are important to add because pure silver is too easily bendable and cannot be made into durable pieces of jewelry. This is also called as fine silver and has a more glass-like appearance, making it look a tad bit dull than the other grades of silver.
Fine silver is very fragile and soft. Jewelry pieces stamped .999 silver can easily dent or scratch when bumped. They do not last long for the same reasons. On the other hand, using fine silver for making jewelry is very convenient as it takes shapes easily. However, this type of silver is fairly vulnerable to tarnish. The best jewelry pieces made from fine or .999 silver are earrings or necklaces compared to rings or bracelets that are more prone to getting scratched or bent.
2. .925, aka Sterling Silver
Sterling silver is the most usual or common type of silver used in jewelry making throughout the US and most other parts of the world. The .925 stamp or quality mark indicates that this type is also an alloy of silver, with about 92.5% silver mixed with 7.5% of another metallic element, such as copper. This proportion in the silver alloy increases the hardness of the metal, thus, making it more durable. This alloy also results in enhanced luster and shine that is valuable in crafting jewelry pieces.
Sterling silver, though an alloy with more hardness than the fine silver, is still prone to tarnish. However, the tarnish can be easily cleaned off with polishing agents. Sterling silver might be harder than the fine silver but is softer than the other types. This is why chains made of sterling silver can easily be stretched when they are pulled.
One advantage of sterling silver jewelry is that it can be repeatedly melted, soldered, and formed.
3. Argentium Silver
This one is relatively new in the market. It is a brand of silver that is, like sterling silver, 92.5% silver, but its proportions might vary. It forms an alloy of silver with germanium. Germanium renders this silver as harder and more resistant to tarnish. Jewelry pieces made with Argentium silver are indicated with a quality stamp of .925 but with an ‘r.’
This silver requires less maintenance than the previous two forms. Argentium silver is also soft and can be soldered without using solder. Though Argentium is preferred over sterling, it is not readily available in the market.
4. Coin Silver
This was once considered the most common silver alloy in the US, but now it is quite rare. As the name indicates, this alloy was previously made by melting the scrap coin metal. This was in practice when the metals used in making coins were pure and real.
Most countries, including the US, do not have monetary coins made of precious metals these days. They are made of inexpensive base metals that are more durable than pure silver or copper. Nevertheless, you can still find some collectible coins made with real metals. Such coins have a stamp or mark of quality given to them after the metalsmith obtains certificates of authenticity. Jewelry made of this type of silver usually bears the stamp of .990.
To know if the jewelry is made of silver, you need to check for the quality stamp to determine which type or grade of silver is used in it. This is because “silver” is a term that is loosely used by many. People would term anything silver, even if it has a little shine and luster like silver. Therefore, it is pertinent to determine the type and grade of silver used in making jewelry.
As it is cheaper than gold, the demand for silver jewelry and items increases during a recession. Silver-filled is a relatively latest layered metal that befitted the demand for silver. It cannot be termed as an alloy as the proportion of metals is not uniform. This layered metal becomes about 5 or 10% sterling silver after being fused with heat. Though it is widely used, it is still not standardized in the US.
The layer of this metal is much thicker than silver plating, but it is of lesser quality than sterling silver. This metal is also prone to tarnishing, and it requires special soldering equipment. As this metal still awaits standardization in the US, there is no legalized stamp allotted to it. Nevertheless, a stamp of .925 SF usually represents this metal.
A type of base metal, silver-plated, is used as an extremely thin layer of silver on various surfaces such as silver-plated jewelry. Jewelry items having silver-plating are mostly the affordable ones known as costume jewelry. Aside from this advantage of being cheaper than other varieties, this metal also has its cons.
Silver plating is highly vulnerable to tarnish, and it eventually comes off with wear and tear; thus, exposing the base metal. This type or grade of silver usually does not have a quality stamp or mark.
8. Nickel Silver
This term for describing a type of silver is misleading as nickel silver is not silver metal. Also known as Alpaca or German silver, nickel silver is a base metal alloy of copper and nickel or zinc. It only looks and shines like sterling silver – which is why it is used and sold as silver. It is also widely used in making costume jewelry, but if someone develops an allergy, it is most likely nickel as many people are allergic to it.
9. Tibetan Silver, aka Tribal Silver
This is also a misleading type or grade of silver as this is an alloy which may or may not contain silver metal at all. It is only related to silver in its physical appearance and luster. Items made from this kind of silver are mostly imported from exotic lands in the US and contain dangerous metals, such as lead.
10. Bali, Mexican, or Thai Silver
Though the imports from the countries mentioned above are high, a quality stamp must be used for full disclosure. Silver imported from these countries has often proven to be of really low quality encompassing low-grade silver alloys. Also, if you buy just for the sake of the name of the country of origin, then beware of the quality.
Grades of Silver – The Takeaway
Numerous commonly practiced tests determine the quality of silver used in various items. You can take your valuables for an X-ray testing, which is a non-destructible form of testing for the quality of the metal. This is considered a highly accurate form of testing. Another way is through wet chemical testing or analysis that takes away a part of your jewelry for testing; therefore, it is considered a destructive test. No matter how high or low of a price you pay, it is essential to know the quality or grade of silver used in jewelry or other silver items. For this, it is significant that you know the types or grades of silver.