“Like the moon it’s been associated with for millennia, silver reflects the light that plays on its surface, treating the eye to shades of grays that range from smoldering and smoky to brilliant and brassy.” – Collectors Weekly
This quote from CW reminds me of a song my grandfather used to sing called “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” To this day, while I associate gold with the warmth of the sun, I think of cool, pure moonlight when I reflect on my sterling silver jewelry collection. Whether you’re shopping for new or vintage sterling silver jewelry (or trying to I.D. a family heirloom), it’s important to know that it’s truly sterling silver, not something posing as sterling silver. Here are a few handy tips for how to identify real sterling silver jewelry…and for keeping your investment shining moonlight bright.
What is Sterling Silver?
Pure silver is actually too soft and malleable to use in making jewelry. Today, most good silver jewelry is made of the precious metal sterling silver. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver and the remaining 7.2% is an alloy added for strength—usually copper. All sterling silver jewelry manufactured or sold in the U.S. must be stamped “925,” “Sterling,” or “Sterling Silver.” Other countries have their own standards and hallmarks.
Note: Some manufacturers use silver plating to get the shine of solid silver jewelry while using less of the metal to reduce their costs. This thin coating of silver is somewhat durable but will wear over time. These pieces of silver plate jewelry may be marked with SP, EPS, or EP.
Tip: To make sure your jewelry is sterling silver, look carefully for a 925, Sterling, or Sterling Silver mark on jewelry clasps, on the backs of earrings, bracelets and necklaces, and on the inside of rings. If you see other marks and suspect your piece has been made outside the U.S., there’s a brand new website to help you identify international and antique jewelry hallmarks (400 and counting). Head to researchjewel.com.
Tests to See if Your Jewelry Is Sterling Silver
Let’s say you found a silver bracelet in your grandmother’s old jewelry box. It looks like there once were markings but they are mostly worn off. Here are some DIY tests you can try to see if the piece is actually sterling silver. Of course, the best way to find out is to ask a reputable jeweler.
- The smell test. Really…stop and smell the jewelry! Sterling silver has no odor, so if your piece has a distinct smell it is because it contains too much copper (or other metals) and it is not sterling.
- The magnet test. Magnets have no effect on sterling silver. If your silver jewelry is attracted to a magnet it is definitely not sterling silver.
- The acid test…don’t try this at home! Jewelers test for sterling silver by dropping a few drops of nitric acid on the jewelry in question. If the piece is made of sterling the test area will turn creamy in color; if it’s another metal it will appear green.
Tip: Since professionals advise wearing gloves and goggles while using this powerful acid, we don’t recommend the at-home testing kits sold online. Bring your jewelry to your local jeweler and ask her or him to perform this test…leave it to the pros!