Silver is a unique metal that requires special purchasing considerations and care. Read on to learn more about different grades of silver, silver alloys, and the proper care of silver jewelry.
Most fine gold and silver jewelry retailers only sell sterling silver, which is the highest-quality silver available. Sterling silver contains over 90% pure silver, with the remaining 10% consisting of alloys to give the metal more durability and strength. Fine jewelers prefer sterling silver because of pure silver, or fine silver, is fairly malleable, soft, and damaged easily. Consequently, like gold, silver is usually mixed with other metals to make the jewelry more durable. Sterling silver is the most popular silver alloy, containing 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
Although silver can be mixed with any other metal to produce a sterling silver alloy, copper is the most common choice. Copper increases silver’s durability and hardness without detracting from its natural color. The small percentage of copper included in sterling silver does not affect the value of silver jewelry. Rather, the value of silver jewelry is determined by the labor required to make the piece, the craftsman’s skill, and the complexity of the piece’s design.
Gold and silver jewelry differ in their quality metrics. While gold’s quality is largely expressed in karatage, the quality of silver jewelry is confirmed with a stamp from the maker. This stamp of quality, or “fineness,” reveals the precious metal composition of the piece. According to federal law, the quality mark of silver jewelry must also have a registered trademark or the manufacturer’s mark with it.
Since pure silver is very soft, this form of the metal is only used when the craftsperson needs malleability, as with hand-made jewelry with weaving designs. For most gold and silver jewelry, however, alloys are used rather than the pure form. Here are the commonly accepted marks of quality for sterling silver jewelry:
Silver jewelry will tarnish over time, but proper care can prevent this from happening. Tarnishing occurs when silver metal interacts with the hydrogen sulfide or sulfur in the air. Silver polishes are sold by most gold and silver jewelry stores and will remove any build-up of tarnish. Remember to store your silver pieces in soft pouches to prevent scratching and contact with other jewelry. Always remove your silver jewelry when cleaning, as chemicals like bleach and ammonia will harm silver. Likewise, take your silver jewelry off when you swim. Chlorine will also damage silver metal. Contact us with any questions.