Silver and silver-plated hold many similarities, and if you are to judge two pieces of jewelry, one that is plated and the other fine silver, it’s easy to confuse the two.
But who can blame you when they both look the same from the exterior?
Having been duped a few times and knowing friends and family who’ve ended up with silver-plated despite paying the full price for fine silver, we endeavored to lay out the differences between these two silvers.
Before we lay out the difference, let’s first check out the basics.
Sterling silver, better known as the genuine silver refers to a beautiful and very valuable precious metal. While it’s not as rare as diamonds or gold, it’s still regarded as one of the rare earth metals: it’s rare on its own accord. The unique property of this precious metal is that it’s quite soft and though we like to say that we are wearing pure silver jewelry, the truth is that the softness of pure silver makes it impossible for us to have jewelry of pure silver. So, to compensate for the malleability of sterling silver, pure silver is blended with other metals such as copper. Sterling silver, is regarded as the purer forms of silver as it has 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of the other metal, often copper. Sterling silver is relatively expensive though cheaper than gold. Thanks to the composition of sterling silver, you can always tell when you are dealing with sterling silver since genuine sterling silver bears a 925 hallmark or etching. This etching is absence from the silver-plated items.
Silver-plated jewelry, on the other hand, refers to jewelry that’s made primarily of other metals, but only coated with a thin layer of pure or sterling silver. The plating layer of silver is quite thin and also very susceptible to degradation, wear, and tear. This means that if you are wearing a piece of jewelry that is silver-plated, you should expect to see dullness and color change in some of the chipped or degraded areas.
How to Tell Genuine Silver and Silver-plated Items Apart
If you have two pieces of items that look like they could be made of silver, you could tell them apart in these ways:
Check the hallmark
As mentioned above, genuine sterling silver is etched, and it has a particular notation for sterling silver. If you are looking at a bracelet or a necklace or even silverware, check the edge or clasp for etching. Sterling silver will have different notations like 925, Sterling 9.25, Sterling, 925/1000, or S/S. If you cannot find any of these markings on the piece in question, then it’s highly likely that you are dealing with a silver-plated item.
Some jewelers will, however, have etchings on silver-plated pieces. In such cases, the markings you need to watch out for include EPNS, EP, and in other cases, Silver on Copper.
A genuine silver/ sterling silver item is glossier and less shiny with a somewhat colder tone compared to silver-plated silver items which tend to look shinier. Also, if that piece of silver has flaking areas or if it looks like it’s turning green, know that the piece is silver-plated.
Generally, silver-plated pieces have a color that’s lighter than genuine silver.
You could investigate two confusing pieces of silver to tell if they are genuine or plated by cleaning them gently. Don’t worry, this is not a complex process, and you will only need a soft white cloth.
If you are dealing with genuine silver, expect a black mark on the cloth from the oxidation of silver. The silver oxide film is the black mark on the cloth, and you have it smudged on that cloth from that slight friction. Note that while exposure to chemicals and air leads to the tarnishing of silver, you will not see any black smudges or marks on that piece of cloth if you are looking at fake silver.
If you perform all the tests above but remain doubtful of the piece’s authenticity, you could take it to a professional jeweler. Besides running most of the tests above, the professionals also run an acid test to test the material in question scientifically.
The test involves the use of nitric acid on the test items. We recommend that you have a professional run this test because nitric acid is rather harsh, and you don’t want any acid accidents at home.
In this test, if the test item is not genuine silver, you will notice a green coloration where the acid meets the metal. This green color often comes from the high copper content of the base metal. Poor quality silver, nickel silver, and even silver-plated brass turn green on contact with nitric acid,
But if the item is made of genuine silver, the reaction with nitric acid will yield silver nitrate which is creamy-white.
Before you run this test, note that nitric acid on the silver surface will cause permanent discoloration on the piece. So, before you run the test, pick a spot that will be inconspicuous.
Silver-plated pieces are cheaper than genuine silver pieces. Also, the plated pieces bear no intrinsic value, and they also have very little resale value, while genuine silver has a high resale value. Therefore, the plated tableware will have little or no resale value. The low resale value comes from the fact that the plated piece has a very thin layer of silver which cannot be reclaimed easily.
Sterling silver is more valuable and is more expensive than silver-plated pieces because it has a higher content of pure silver while the silver-plated items have very little silver, hence little value.
At the end of the day, however, you can use the features above to differentiate between silver and silver-plated. They have different marks of quality, color, finishes, and also, they react differently to oxidation.
Keep in mind that learning to differentiate silver from silver-plated is important, and it could save you money whether we are talking about jewelry or tableware.