Sterling Silver vs. Regular Silver? Here's What You Need to Know

A silver and diamond ring hanging on the branch of a small plant.

Did you know that there’s a big difference between sterling silver and regular, pure silver, especially when it comes to your jewelry? While very similar in appearance, these metals possess two distinct makeups and lifespans, and the jewelry made from them requires the use of different care techniques to keep them looking lovely for as long as possible. Please continue reading to learn about what every fashion-forward jewelry lover needs to know about their stunning silver pieces. And, if you are currently in the market for a few new stunning pieces to add to your personal collection, take a look at the gorgeous, handcrafted artisan rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings proudly presented by LaCkore Couture.

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What is Pure Silver?

Two silver wedding rings hung together on a silver chain.

Pure silver, also commonly referred to as fine silver, or just silver is a natural element represented by the symbol Ag on the periodic table. It’s been used throughout human history as a symbol of wealth and is one of the most treasured metals in the world aside from gold.

The Chemical Makeup of Pure Silver 

To be classified as pure silver, an object must be composed of at least 99.9% elemental silver with very few trace elements of other metals (only about 0.01%).

The Uses and Drawbacks of Pure Silver 

Due to its high purity, fine silver tends to be too soft to be used effectively in most jewelry-making processes. The softness of pure silver also means that items made with it tend to be much less durable than those made with sterling silver, and they can easily be damaged, bent, or become misshapen with very little pressure or force. While fine silver can be used to craft delicate jewelry, it tends to be transformed into sterling silver by being mixed with other metals to make it harder and more effective for jewelry making.

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Stamp

Silver classified as being fine is typically stamped with a unique marker to indicate its purity. The stamp is usually written as “99.9,” “.999,” or “999” to show that it is composed of 99.9% pure silver.

Tarnish

Pure silver can quickly tarnish, which occurs when the gasses in the air react with the silver and cause fading, discoloring, and the development of a “dirty” looking layer on top of pure silver products over time.

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What is Sterling Silver?

Three silver wings sitting against a lovely pink and white background.

Sterling silver is a specialized silver alloy created when pure silver is mixed with a small number of other metals, such as copper, nickel, platinum, zinc, and germanium. However, copper is the most commonly used metal in the creation of most sterling silver. Adding in these other metals significantly strengthens and hardens the silver, making it much easier to use in creating several beautiful products, including jewelry. 

The Chemical Makeup of Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is typically composed of at least 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloy, which tends to be made of copper the majority of the time.

The Uses and Drawbacks of Sterling Silver

Aside from jewelry, sterling silver can also be used to create a range of other items that are less likely to be dented or damaged due to sterling silver’s reinforced durability. Some of these items include silverware, coffee and tea sets, plates and platters, and other gorgeous silver-plated items that can bring an elevated sense of class and sophistication to any lovely home. However, keep in mind that any object listed as “silver-plated” is most likely made of another metal entirely, with only a thin layer of sterling silver “plated” on top of the object to give it a more elegant look.

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Stamp

Much like pure silver, sterling silver is stamped to indicate that it is made of genuine sterling silver. The stamps are typically written as either “.925,” “92.5,” or “925” to indicate the purity of the silver within the object. However, some companies also use a simplified stamp to designate sterling silver products that merely read “ss.”

Tarnish

One notable drawback of sterling silver is that it is more easily tarnished than pure silver due to the alloy metals it contains, since copper, nickel, zink, and the other metals that can be added in are easily tarnished as well. Since these metals are present in sterling silver, the tarnishing process can occur faster and more efficiently. Those with a fondness for sterling silver jewelry and other products will need to remember to clean them with polish, along with occasional baths of white vinegar and baking soda to reverse any tarnishing that may occur.

Why Choose Sterling Silver Over Pure Silver?

Several benefits come with choosing sterling silver over pure silver, many of which you’ve likely already picked up on from the information above. Such benefits include its increased hardness and overall durability and its ability to be more easily shaped. Two additional benefits of sterling silver that people should know about also include its significantly lower cost compared to pure silver, as well as the fact that you’re more liable to find a wider range of sterling silver products. 

Caring For Your Pure and Sterling Silver Jewelry 

Whether you prefer pure silver or sterling silver, there are a few precautions that jewelry lovers should take to help ensure that their pieces look beautiful and last for as long as possible. Keep both types of silver in a dark place away from air and water when they’re not in use, and consider wiping them down with soft cloths and anti-tarnish liquids every once and a while. For pure silver, specifically, always treat it as delicately as possible and don’t overuse them. They’re best brought out for special occasions when you’d like your jewelry to make a statement.

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