What do you do when the jewelry gifted to you by your grandmother or partner doesn’t have any markings, yet everyone claims that they are silver? Many of us take the word of the jewelry seller to be the truth and live by these words, but what happens when you get an allergic reaction, and you cannot even determine the root cause because the jewelry is not marked? How do you take care of the jewelry pieces if you’re not sure what it’s made of?
Let’s face it – people will do anything to make money today, which is why there is a lot of counterfeit jewelry on the market today. In as much as you might like to save money, it’s important to be sure about what makes up a piece of jewelry before you spend the money anyway.
So, whether you’re interested in a ‘silver’ necklace, ring, or even a teapot, it’s important to know the exact material you are dealing with.
But before we check out ways of identifying unmarked jewelry (metal) as silver, silver-plated, or any other metal, let’s first look at some of the markings you should expect in legit silver.
Ordinarily, jewelry, cookware, or any other metal items made of silver will have markings to show the same. For example, Sterling silver in the US has a 925 mark which shows that the item you are looking at has 92.5% silver. Here is a post that will teach you what is the 925 meaning and what stands for in detail.
The jewelry could also be marked Sterling Silver, the abbreviation STER, or it could have number markings. Silver number markings range from 800-950 which means 80% – 95% silver respectively.
How to Tell If Something Is Silver Without Markings
Now that we have the basics covered, here’s a look at some of the ways of identifying whether the unmarked item in your hand is silver or not.
1.The Magnetic Test
The use of magnets is one of the best and the most reliable tests for detecting whether the jewelry you just bought is made of silver or not.
For this test, you will need a strong magnet such as the rare-earth magnet made of neodymium.
Hold the magnet up to the jewelry piece.
Silver is a paramagnetic metal with weak magnetic effects. Given silver’s weak electromagnetic/ magnetic power, the jewelry’s attraction to the magnet should be minimal or non-existent. Therefore, if the piece marketed as Sterling Silver sticks to the magnet, you will know that you are not dealing with silver.
Note that silver-plated jewelry will have a slight magnetic pull, especially if nickel is the base metal. So, if the jewelry is unmarked and it has a magnetic pull, you might want to avoid it.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are other metals that don’t stick to magnets and are not silver. Therefore, you should perform the other tests below in addition to the magnetic test just to be sure that the core material used for that item isn’t made from another magnetic metal.
You could also try the sliding test – the sliding test involves the use of a magnet to test whether you are dealing with silver or not.
For the sliding test, you need to angle one of the test items at a 45-degree angle and then slide your magnet down the jewelry piece/ coin. If the item is made of silver, your magnet will slide down slowly, while facing away from the bar.
Although this sounds counterintuitive given the paramagnetism of silver, the magnet slides off because the magnet (neodymium – rare earth magnet) will induce some electric eddy current in the test silver material and these currents act as electromagnets, creating a braking effect that slows down the magnet’s descent.
2.The Ice Test
The ice test is the other method used to test whether an item is really made of silver or not. The ice test will, however, work best with coins rather than jewelry. So, if you have seemingly precious coins that you are unsure of, you could use this test.
For the test, you will need ice straight from the freezer placed on the coin directly. Essentially, if the coin is made of silver, the ice will melt immediately on contact with the coin. The reason for this is that silver is a great thermal conductor when compared with other metals like nickel and gold.
Did you know that silver coins and even jewelry will produce a bell-like sound when dropped? The next time you are unsure about coins or jewelry (especially the bigger pieces), you might want to drop the coin/ jewelry piece on the ground from about 6 inches above the ground/ table. Real silver will produce a bell-sound upon hitting the ground.
If you doubt this sound/ ring test, you might want to look for a US quarter that was made before 1965 – these coins were made of 90% silver, and they give off a high-pitched and clear ringing sound when dripped. The new quarters are made of copper-nickel alloys, and they only give a thumping sound when dropped.
You need to be extra careful with this test because you don’t want to deal with bleach in your eyes or on your hands. So, you might want to start the test by wearing high-quality protective gloves.
Whether you are interested in testing jewelry or coins, start the test by pouring a drop of bleach carefully on the jewelry piece or coin in question.
If the item on the test is actual silver, exposure to bleach will cause immediate tarnishing with the item turning black in seconds. This tarnishing is unexpected if dealing with a non-silver material.
5.Nitric Acid Test
Now, while this is the most reliable test for silver, we recommend that you have the test performed by a professional jeweler, an experienced pawnshop attendant, or even a laboratory guy.
Nitric acid is quite dangerous, and it could cause bad burns if you are not careful.
If you run this test, you should know that a positive test for nitric acid results in a creamy-white frothing/ bubbling. On the other hand, the absence of silver will be shown by a color change to the green from the original color of the item being tested.
In this case, if you are testing a silver-plated piece, you should gorge it out a little bit using a file or some other metal before pouring a few drops of acid on the gorged and the surrounding areas.
Keep in mind that the silver-plated areas will have the creamy-white bubbling while the gorged (non-silver) area will turn green.
These are some of the most effective tests for silver if you are dealing with unmarked pieces. Just be careful when running tests using acid or bleach.