Sterling Silver vs. Pure Silver vs. Silver-Plated Jewelry: What are the Differences?
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Silver jewelry is a timeless accessory because it can spice up any outfit and can be worn casually, on date night, or to a fancy event. But not all silver jewelry is created equal! In fact, there are some major differences between sterling silver vs. silver vs. silver-plated jewelry that you should know before purchasing.
Let’s look at the differences between these popular silver choices and help you find the perfect piece that’s right for you!
What is Sterling Silver?
The most common form of jewelry is sterling silver jewelry, which is a silver alloy that contains pure silver, as well as a compound metal such as zinc or copper. High-quality sterling silver jewelry contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.
The reason why sterling silver jewelry is mixed with other metals is that pure silver is extremely soft and malleable. It is beautiful and can be cast into things like flatware, but trying to mold pure silver into decorative shapes, like necklaces, rings, and earrings, proves impossible because it is too delicate to keep its shape. Blending rigid metals with silver helps jewelry makers overcome the fragility of working with pure silver.
What is 925 Silver?
At Ozay Designs and Silpada, we exclusively sell 925 sterling silver jewelry because of its unmatched durability and beauty. A 925 sterling silver piece of jewelry is durable because it consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other compound metals, such as copper or zinc. This unique combination allows jewelry makers to create beautiful sterling silver rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more. Otherwise, the pure silver would be too soft.
Many people wonder “does sterling silver turn your finger green?” That answer depends on the quality of the silver and the other metals used. 925 sterling silver is a high-quality silver that is less likely to turn your finger green, while a sterling silver piece with a higher percentage of alloy metal may be more likely to react with moisture on your skin.
If you focus on buying high-quality sterling silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings, you can reduce the chances of your skin turning green.
Is Sterling Silver Real Silver?
When considering the differences between sterling silver vs. silver, many people wonder “is sterling silver real?” and the answer is: yes! Sterling silver is as real as pure silver, it’s just mixed with a compound metal so it can be turned into jewelry.
Sterling Silver vs. Pure Silver
When shopping for your next piece of silver jewelry, you want to make sure you get exactly what you want. As we just learned, sterling silver is a mix of pure silver and alloy metal, like copper. Pure silver is just that: 99.9% natural silver.
Let’s look at some other factors to consider when comparing sterling silver vs. silver:
One of the main differences between sterling silver and pure silver is cost. Since pure silver isn’t blended with other metals, it can be very expensive. With sterling silver, you can find affordable, high-quality pieces that are just as beautiful as pure silver with the ability to feature more intricate designs. With a little care and attention, you can even learn how to make your sterling silver jewelry shine like pure silver so that you can get the same look with a lower price tag.
To be considered pure silver, a piece must contain 99.9% pure silver and 0.1% trace elements. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and another rigid metal. The exact percentages depend on the jeweler or supplier, but 925 sterling silver is typically considered good quality.
As we mentioned, pure silver is extremely soft, which means that it’s difficult to make pure silver jewelry. The addition of other metals in sterling silver makes it stronger, tougher, and longer-lasting.
Pure silver doesn’t tarnish. If not cared for properly, sterling silver may tarnish over time because of other metals in the alloy. But, when you know how to clean sterling silver jewelry, you can keep your sterling silver jewelry as brilliant as pure silver.
925 sterling silver is identified using a silver stamp that reads 925, 92.5, STER, 925 Sterling Silver, 925 Silver, SS, or other similar identifications. Pure silver jewelry doesn’t typically have a standard identifying silver stamp.
What is Silver-Plated Jewelry?
Unlike sterling silver and pure silver jewelry, silver-plated jewelry isn’t actually made out of silver at all. In fact, silver-plated jewelry is made out of different base metals, such as brass or copper, and then painted with a sterling silver coating. As a result, silver-plated jewelry often doesn’t last long and is prone to chips and wear and tear. Silver-plated jewelry can be fine for pieces you are planning on only wearing a few times, but if you are investing in a long-lasting piece, sterling silver is much more durable and high-quality.
Sterling Silver vs. Silver-Plated Jewelry
There are many components to consider when comparing sterling silver vs. silver-plated jewelry. Here are some of the main factors you should think through before purchasing:
Since silver-plated jewelry isn’t made out of silver at all, it is much more affordable than sterling silver jewelry. Just remember that it won’t last as long. You might even find yourself buying more pieces of jewelry or frequently replacing tarnished pieces, which will cost more in the long run.
As mentioned before, most high-quality sterling silver jewelry is made up of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloy metal. In comparison, most silver-plated jewelry is made up almost entirely of another metal, such as brass or copper, and contains 0.15-0.25 mils of sterling silver over that base metal.
Sterling silver jewelry is much more durable than both pure silver and silver-plated jewelry. Silver-plated jewelry can chip, scratch, and dull quickly because the base metal is not silver.
Both sterling silver and silver-plated jewelry will tarnish over time, but the main difference is that sterling silver can easily be cleaned and polished to keep it looking new. Silver-plated jewelry is difficult, if not impossible, to clean. The thin layer of sterling silver often rubs off over time, exposing the base metal that will tarnish faster and can even leave a green residue on your skin.
Lastly, one of the main differences between sterling silver and silver-plated jewelry is its identification. As we mentioned, true sterling silver jewelry has a silver stamp that identifies the percentage of pure silver that’s found in the piece (925, SS, 92.5, etc.). Silver-plated jewelry won’t have this silver stamp. Sterling Silver vs. Silver vs. Silver-Plated: Which Kind of Silver is Best for You? Now that we’ve looked at some of the differences between sterling silver, silver, and silver-plated jewelry, we can dive into the pros and cons of each. Pros and Cons of Pure Silver Pure silver jewelry is made completely out of silver, which makes it the most valuable out of the three. That being said, it is also the softest metal and does not easily retain its shape. It’s hard to work with, which is why jewelers introduced an alloy metal to make it more durable.
Pros · Very valuable · Pure silver
Cons · Very soft · Chemical composition is not rigid enough to be made into jewelry
Pros and Cons of Silver-Plated Jewelry Silver-plated jewelry is very common, especially in the world of fashion and trendy accessories. It’s cheap, easy to produce, and can be made to look like higher-quality designs. But it’s not made out of silver and doesn’t stand the test of time like sterling silver.
Pros · Cheap · Lots of designs
Cons · Doesn’t hold up, will chip and tarnish · May leave a green residue on the skin
Pros and Cons of Sterling Silver Sterling silver is durable and beautiful and can be polished to perfection, even after years of wear. Plus, high-quality sterling silver is an affordable option when looking for amazing jewelry.
· Beautiful and shiny
· More affordable than pure silver
· More expensive than silver-plated jewelry