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topic 20443

Difference between pure silver and sterling silver

A discussion started in 2003 but continuing through 2019


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

affil. link
3M Silver Protector Strips


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 may not mean anything definite; it might even mean nothing more than "silvery in color". 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 [affiliate link to product info on 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. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


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, of course, no such thing as absolutely 100 percent pure anything, but 'solid silver' might mean "4 nines" (99.99% pure) or 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 exact meaning for a watch case -- but I'm not a jeweler and could well be in error.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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 stuff 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. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

May 14, 2011


- Baltimore Maryland USA

May 2011

A. Hi, Karol,

silver horse

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 and keep moving forward? If we just keep repeating pretty much the same question and answer, none of us is on the best part of our 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 horse usually caught up with the bad guys; the horse wasn't a frozen-in-place metal sculpture :-)


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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

affil. link
Silver Test Kit

August 1, 2011

thumbs up sign Hi, Bob. Thanks for the kind words! ... but running this website is a wonderful gig 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. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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

thumbs up sign Thanks Leah!


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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
Blake Kneedler
Feather Hollow Eng. - Stockton, 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
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

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

October 7, 2015


- ELKTON Maryland USA

October 2015

thumbs up signHi Barbara. We don't get into evaluations here for a number of reasons, but one practical reason is that thousands of people have asked for them here and not a single reader has ever offered one :-)

Sure, if it really is AG999 (99.9% pure silver), like fine silver coins are, it would be worth more as scrap than 92.5% silver. But I don't trust anything from China to be what it says it is; you could take it to a "We Buy Gold" shop and they will tell you. As scrap it's probably worth 30X what you paid for it if it's really AG999. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

October 3, 2015

Q. My wife has a sterling silver ring which is causing an infection in her ring finger. That is to say, the skin is red and beginning to die. I am finding online that she probably has an allergy to the nickel which is used in manufacturing the ring. Is there anyway I can purchase her a pure silver ring, meaning without any nickel in it? Or is "pure" just a fallacy?

Keith Roberts
- Warren, Ohio, USA

December 2015

A. Hi Keith. "999 fine silver" rings ares available, but I'd be careful about playing amateur dermatologist. I suppose it could be an aggravated case of nickel allergy, but if it goes beyond a little redness and is actually an infection, that's for a doctor to look at, not for me to comment on :-)


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

December 14, 2015

Q. What's the difference between a silver finish stainless steel watch and a sterling silver watch? Is a silver finish stainless steel watch real or not?

Mikiko Canady
- Swainsboro Georgia USA

December 2015

A. Hi Mikiko. It may be a real watch and it may be real stainless steel, but it's certainly not silver. "Silver finish" means "in my opinion (the opinion of the person calling it 'silver finish'), it looks sort of like silver".


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

affil. link
Puritest gold, silver, platinum test kit

December 16, 2016

A. Answering Leah from San Antonio, TX
I have a hobby as a metal detectorist and have purchased the Gold testing kit PuriTEST Solutions which contains six little bottles of acid with varying strengths for testing gold for 10K, 14K, 18K and 22K, and two additional bottles for testing silver or platinum. According to the SILVER purity tests it lists the silver will change colors based on purity! e.g.,
90%-100% = Dark Red
80%-90% = Light Red or Brownish
65%-75% = Light Green

The test bottles run approx. $9.00 plus shipping @ or you can buy the complete kit around $45.00 US.

Don Fulton
- San Antonio, Texas

Sterling silver or not?

June 24, 2017

Q. I have searched and searched and can't find any information at all to answer my question. I was bequeathed a what says, a sterling tea and coffee set. On the bottom it says the name of the manufacturer Brand-Chatillon and the numbers 293. Since I can find no info anywhere about those markings, does this mean they are 29.3% sterling silver? I'm confused because I thought in order for something to be called sterling it had to have the numbers 925. Also there's a 3rd pot with 645 B, a 2 below that and - 7. Any idea what all this means?

wendy rutkin
- New York USA

June 2017

A. Hi Wendy. Sorry, I'm finding your wording confusing. Is it or is it not stamped "Sterling"? From my scant knowledge it seems that most Brand-Chatillon was sterling. If it's stamped "Sterling", it's sterling silver, i.e., 92.5% silver. If it's not stamped "Sterling" or "925" it's probably silverplate, which is of no intrinsic value. The other numbers can be anything: pattern number 645B, model number 2-7, no. 293 of a run, etc.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

June 24, 2017

A. The info below is mainly for US pieces.

If it was made in the last 100 years by a known company and if it's not marked 925 (or 800) or Sterling (or more rarely, STER or STG), the chances are about 1000 to 1, or better, that it's plated and not sterling silver.

Think about it. If a company goes to the expense of making an object out of sterling silver, why would they not mark it as such? If they were solid sterling silver without the proper legal identifying mark, these pieces would be almost impossible to sell. Sterling is far, far, far superior than plate, so why not tell the world that it is sterling?

In doing this for 51 years and having evaluated 1000's of pieces. I have seen only a few sterling objects that weren't properly marked. These were either centuries old or were made as unique pieces by an person working alone. Even those individual artisans usually mark their pieces. They are proud of them - much more so than if they were just plated. They would be stupid not to mark them.

Silver plate will tend to wear off with usage and polishing, especially on the edges and on areas that protrude. Use a magnifier and look closely at these areas. If you can see any layering or a color that is not as white as silver, it is plated. Silver is the whitest metal on the planet when there is no tarnish present. There are more definite ways of testing for silver plate, but most all are somewhat destructive.

As a buyer and refiner, I have to carefully watch out for plated pieces that are fraudulently marked 925 or Sterling, although it doesn't occur that often. Also, we refiners know that a Sterling piece rarely (if, ever) contains the 92.5% silver that it should. The average is usually around 90 to 91% silver. Like karat gold, I have never seen a piece of sterling that exceeded it's stamped value and I can't remember a piece that was even plumb. They always seems to be a bit low. I'm sure there are people out there making plumb sterling pieces. It's just that I have never seen one.

Although most countries of the world have now adopted the 925 mark, most scrap you'll find will be at least several decades old and the marks you see will probably not be that uniform from country to country.

Chris Owen
- Benton, Arkansas, USA

July 20, 2017

Why don't they have a fine to deal with items being sold without a mark on the silver?

Brian cooper
- Davao Philippines

July 2017

A. Hi Brian. Do you want marks on all items that are not silver to tell you that they are not silver, or do you feel that a craftsperson selling a one-of-a-kind handwork in real silver failed to mark it, or what? I thought Chris Owen's posting was super helpful, so please be specific about the situation you are unhappy with. Thanks!


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

Fine silver plating on Sterling silver

July 29, 2017

Q. Hi,

I produce Sterling Silver Jewellery and I'm looking for a way to speed up polishing and remove fine polishing lines.

I've seen some small jewellery design companies silver plate a Sterling silver item to give it a perfect finish. I was wondering how this would affect wear of the jewellery? Would it tarnish quicker?

I really love the look of fine silver, would tarnish be worse if I used fine silver plate over Sterling silver?

I'm not looking for it to stop tarnish as I will put on a final anti tarnish coating, I'm looking to do a very small flash coating for decorative purposes to hide very very fine polishing lines and give a uniform finish.


Lynda Collins
- Gillingham, Kent, UK

July 2017

A. Hi Lynda. My understanding is that fine silver plating will tarnish significantly slower than sterling silver. However, I doubt that silver plating would level out those fine polishing lines. Maybe another reader will offer encouragement.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

August 1, 2017

A. I agree that the fine silver surface seems to not tarnish as fast as sterling silver. If the lines from polishing are fine enough a good fine silver layer will cover and brighten your jewelry.

Neil Bell
Red Sky Plating

supporting advertiser
Albuquerque, New Mexico
red sky banner ad

December 9, 2017

Q. Hello! I recently purchased a sterling silver finish chain. I have read all questions on this page to keep from asking something already covered but didn't see it or looked it over. I understand my purchase is far from the real deal but I am wondering if this is going to turn the skin green or the chain loses its color? When you buy cheap usually you get cheap... Is this one of those situations? ;) thank you for your time and your site!

Casey Boyd
- Colorado Springs, Colorado USA

February 23, 2018

Q. Hello, need some help. I recently dug up a old fiddleback spoon that says solid Cassilla Silver on stem. I cannot find info on Cassilla manufacturer. Can you help? Thanks.

Thomas Bullock
- Montgomery, Louisiana

February 2018

A. Hi Thomas. I'm no antiques expert, but from receiving thousands of similar questions on this site over the years, I can say that there are/were many thousands of small manufacturers you'll probably not find much info about. But there is currently a Cassilla Silver Spoon for sale on E-bay for $2.99, and some other pieces, none approaching $20, so it's not fabulously valuable.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

March 10, 2018

Q. Today I took some silver jewelry and flatware to a jeweler to be appraised for a small resale shop I volunteer at. Specifically, I was interested in the value of the flatware which was marked "Gorham Sterling" or simply "sterling" for a customer who wanted to purchase it to make jewelry. I was told by the jeweler that if it did not say "sterling silver" or ".925, it was not really considered silver, because it contained more metals. Would this flatware with these markings be malleable enough to make jewelry (rings and bracelets) out of?

Thanks for any help you can give me!


Sherry Wheeler
Churches United in Caring - Huffman, Texas

March 2018

A. Hi Sherry, I'm not a crafter, but I've seen pictures of rings and other custom jewelry made from sterling silver flatware. So, yes, sterling is malleable enough.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

April 12, 2018

Q. I have a sterling silver tea set that sits on an ornate tray it was my great grand mother's and has a number engraved that reads 555. Not sure what to do with it. I live in Tampa Fl and my family is not interested in it. Any suggestions?

Al P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Tampa Florida US

April 2018

A. Hi Al. I'm not sure whether you know for sure that it's sterling silver, or if it might just be silverplate and you are using 'sterling' as sort of a visual aid. If it really is sterling, most "We Buy Gold" shops on any street corner will buy it for melting down.

You can certainly list it on E-bay or Craigslist, but attics around the country are sagging from old silver service. It used to be very popular and is now very unpopular, with most families, like yours, not interested in it, so silverplate essentially has no value at all. Please see

Luck and Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

July 6, 2019

Q. Hi
This question might be a little difficult to answer, but I am hoping that you might have some insight on it.

I was wondering if the way sterling silver is produced (or maybe the (purity of the)alloys they use)has changed a little bit over time?
Because I have noticed that "modern" silver is a little different in color, lighter and brighter, than some of the older pieces I have, which seem to have a darker grey tone to it (even after giving them a good clean).

To add to it: I am 100 % certain no special coatings were used on the silver pieces I bought recently to alter their appearance , because the owner of the store prefers to sell only "natural" pieces. The older pieces are some earrings that used to belong to my mom (I think they are from the 80's) and some from my own childhood in the early 90's. All have the 925 markings.

Thank you.

Sarah Steffens
- Mechelen, Antwerpen, Belgium

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