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Difference between pure silver and sterling silver


Q. Hi, I am very confused. I would like to start a charm bracelet. However, the few silver pieces that I have are a pain to clean. Does sterling silver have to be cleaned like the normal silver pieces? I thought there was a type of silver that did not tarnish.

Thank you,

Sarah Dobbs
- Rockford, Illinois


A. Dear Sarah, pure silver is soft like lead, and as such, not suitable for charms, cups, chains or much else,because it bends, breaks and stretches too much. For this reason, manufacturing jewelers and silversmiths mix copper with it to give it some strength. A side effect of this is the tarnishing that goes with the inclusion of copper. Answer. Assemble your bracelet then take it all to a silver electroplater and have it all plated in pure silver. I did this with my wife's charms, and they look great. Tend to stay that way too!

Mark Gunn
- NSW, Australia


Q. What is the difference between silver and sterling silver?

I recently purchased a pair of silver earrings. They are silver snow flakes with some rhinestones in them but they have no shine whatsoever. Can I get them to shine like some of my sterling silver pieces of jewelry? They would look so much better if they were not so dull.

Please respond.
Thank you

Dianne Webb
- Milford, Delaware


A. Sterling silver means at least 92.5 percent silver, Dianne; see letter 27488 for more info. "Silver" without any adjective doesn't sound to me like it means anything definite. The lack of shine is probably more an issue of how they were polished (how smooth they are) than the purity of the silver though.

I suspect it's possible to polish them with metal polish and a buffing wheel in a Dremel [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] tool, but I don't know if that's really practical for you or only for your jeweler to do for you. Good luck.

Ted Mooney   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Q. I was wondering if a solid silver watch is better than a sterling silver?
I have read one of your other questions about a charm bracelet but is it the same for a watch ?

Eleanor Moore
- Leeds, UK


A. As previously mentioned, 'sterling silver' has a specific meaning: an alloy with 92.5 percent silver in it. There is no such thing as 100 percent pure anything, so 'solid silver' cannot mean 100 percent pure silver. So what does it mean? Maybe "4 nines" (99.99% pure)? Maybe not.

The purer the silver gets, the softer and less useable it would be for a watch case. So, to my limited knowledge, the term 'solid silver' has no real meaning for a watch case -- but I'm not a jeweler and I could be in error.

Ted Mooney,   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 25, 2009

Q. I have some silver that is light in color and some that looks much like stainless steel.
What is the significance of this difference. The lighter one almost looks like white gold. and like I said, the others are shinier and resemble stainless.

Jennette Walsh
- Richmond, Virginia


A. Hi, Jennette. A true expert might possibly be able to tell the purity of silver from its appearance, but I rather doubt it. After 40 years in the plating industry, not only can I not estimate the purity of the silver plating, there are still occasional items where I can't even say whether they are nickel plated or silver plated :-)   Sorry, I think an amateur has no chance of determining much about an item's make-up from just the appearance.

How do you know the flatware is "silver" rather than stainless steel if it looks like stainless steel? Or maybe you are using "silver" as slang for "flatware"?


Ted Mooney,   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

December 14, 2010


Earl Platt
- West Islip, New York, United States

December 15, 2010

A. Hi, Earl

Silver is a semi-precious metal. Although the value of precious metals and semi-precious metals varies, for round numbers figure a pound of silver is worth about as much as an ounce of gold.

Sterling silver is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent metals of little value. 99.99 percent pure silver would be worth about 99.99/92.5 times as much as sterling silver. But the point that is made above is that when someone just says something is "silver", it would be dicey to assume that they mean it is 100 percent solid silver. "Sterling silver" has a fixed legal and commercial meaning; "silver" doesn't, and might even just mean "silvery colored".


Ted Mooney,   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 14, 2011


- Baltimore Maryland USA

May 2011

A. Hi, Karol,

Can you try to express your question in terms of what has already been said, so that we can better understand where the difficulty lies? If we just keep repeating pretty much the same answer we're not on the best part of the learning curve :-)

Silver is a semi-precious metallic element. Silver is readily available 99.9% pure and even purer. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver with the other 7.5% of the jewelry being copper or other less expensive metal.

"Regular" silver has no meaning, kemosabe. When the Lone Ranger shouted "Hi Ho, Silver, away!", his "silver" horse usually caught up with the bad guys; he wasn't sitting frozen in place on a metal sculpture :-)


silver horse
Ted Mooney,   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

August 1, 2011

Q. Wow, I can't believe how many people ask the same question when they could just read any response and get their answer! I admire your patience with these individuals!

So, I understand the difference between "pure" silver and sterling. If I wanted to sell some, how would the value be ascertained? Is there a way to test unmarked silver to see how much silver vs. alloy metals it contains? Can it be melted down to remove the alloy metals?

If, very hypothetically, silver was selling for $100/ounce and I had exactly one ounce of sterling earrings and necklaces, would I be able to expect $92.50 for it, or is there another way that value is calculated?

I ask these questions because I've never sold jewelry before, and I am worried that I am going to go into a transaction uninformed and come out with a $5 gift card to McDonalds!! Any help is greatly appreciated! :)

Bob Smith
- Tampa, Florida

August 1, 2011

thumbsup2 Hi, Bob. Thanks for the kind words! ... but running this website is my fabulous job that I could never complain about :-)

There are expensive x-ray fluorescence machines and atomic absorption spectrophotometers that can determine silver content exactly and positively, but there are also test acids and test stones which I understand do a good job very inexpensively. See letter 27488 (especially the June 26, 2009 response) and letter 42765. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Silver Test Kit

December 3, 2011

A. I thank the author of this page for all the valuable information about silver, sterling silver, silver plating, etc. Your page is very informative and you have been very clear about what sterling silver is. I'm so perplexed about how many people keep asking the very same questions even though you have explained it very clear and simple each time.

To the people that ask about other 'markings' found on inherited items or gifts; Some of this markings could be markings of the designer, artist, country of origin- etc. Sometimes all you need to do is "google" the markings and you'll be surprised how much information you will find.

I have sterling .925 silver jewelry (some new, some very old) and I have noticed nothing happens to it if you bathe or shower with it. In some cases, it might turn a little dark but I clean it-buff it- with a soft cloth and it shines like new again. You should also be able to find silver "polishing" products at your jewelers.

Best Regards,

Leah Hale
- San Antonio, Texas

Thanks Leah!


pic of Ted Mooney   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 2, 2012

Q. Hi, I'm a dental technology student and I'm looking to cast a custom pendant for my sister's birthday with old silver jewelry that my mother has given me for it. Some of the pieces she had she couldn't remember if they were real silver or sterling silver so we just took our best guess and separated them by their colour. My question is would there be any issues if I were to mix the two (silver and sterling silver), or even mix two pieces of silver with different purities? By any issues, I mean any substantial change in the melting range, the appearance or abundant porosity in the cooled metal. I don't know much about the composition of sterling silver, since that's not an alloy used in the oral cavity, and really, silver isn't so popular in restorations either because they do oxidize over time and change the colour of porcelain restorations and can even tattoo the gingiva. Casting in a centrifugal casting well tends to be a one shot deal, so I want to make sure that I don't make any mistakes that could have easily been prevented, like mixing the two alloys.

I hope this wasn't too far over anyone's head and thanks to anyone in advance for taking the time to read this.

Cat Pie
- Toronto, ON, Canada

May 5, 2015

Q. Hi. I've just recently purchased a solid silver chain for my partner as a gift ... can you tell me, it being solid silver, if it's real ... I'd bought another chain but it went brown after placing it in washing up liquid trying to clean it ... silly mistake I know but hopefully with this new one that won't happen to it.

Yvonne Shepherd
- Glasgow, Scotland

May 6, 2015

A. Cat and Yvonne,
Fine silver is very rarely used for jewelry worn regularly due to the fact that it is fairly soft and easily damaged. This is true of antique jewelry as well. Based on this fact, the chances are great that all of your items are sterling silver.

Blake Kneedler
Feather Hollow Eng. - Santa Clara, California

June 14, 2015

Q. Thanks for all of the information!

Just wanted to confirm, when items online state "Solid sterling silver", does this mean it is made with sterling silver throughout? Is this possible? Or is SS typically used as a plating agent?

Katie Marks
- Ontario, Canada

August 2015

A. Hi Katie. In theory at least, sellers are not allowed to be deceptive. So if it says "sterling silver" it means the item is made of sterling silver -- of the total weight of the thing, 92.5% is silver; there is not just a layer of silver plating. The additional word "solid" is just adspeak.


pic of Ted Mooney   Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

If it's more than 92.5% silver, or the 7.5% isn't copper, is it still "Sterling Silver"?

August 4, 2015

Q. I get what you're saying about Sterling sliver being 92.5%, but I was wondering if unrefined sliver, melted down and containing between 92 and 96% silver is different then sterling silver. And also, if the percent of silver is higher then 92.5% silver what would it be known as? Ex. Silver 97.5%. (Would it not be called sterling or silver but referred to as the percent it contains)

Sol Murray
- Victoria, BC, Canada

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