Sterling Silver vs. Regular Silver? Here's What You Need to Know
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?
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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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.
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?
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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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.”
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.
What To Avoid When Wearing Silver Pieces
Since you already know that sterling silver is the better choice for jewelry, what should you avoid when wearing this metal? By avoiding these situations, you can slow down the tarnishing process.
Moisture is the enemy of sterling silver. That excess humidity will tarnish your jewelry. While a quick dip in the water will not cause immediate tarnish, you should avoid it when possible. If your sterling silver does become wet, wipe it down with a non-abrasive cloth. Allow it to dry before wearing the piece again completely.
You will also want to keep your sterling silver away from chemicals or household cleaners. If you need to do a few chores around the house, place those pieces in a safe place, like a jewelry box. The chemical can corrode your jewelry, causing irreparable damage.
Unfortunately, air can gradually tarnish your sterling silver jewelry. That doesn't mean you must keep the piece covered as you wear it. Make sure to never store your sterling silver jewelry for any length of time in the open air.
If you want to wear your sterling silver every day, make sure to avoid certain activities. In some cases, you will want to keep the piece in storage.
Showers and baths
Staying clean is essential, but you should think about safely storing that jewelry. In the shower, you will encounter moisture and chemicals in the soap, causing tarnish.
Take off your jewelry before swimming in the pool. Pool water and hot tubs have high amounts of chlorine. Those chemicals are very harsh, and they will cause damage to your sterling silver.
You might be using the gentlest of soaps, but when water comes into contact with sterling silver, it can start the tarnishing process. While it is not the end of the world, if you don't take off your sterling silver rings to wash your hand, make sure to dry them off with a non-abrasive cloth.
Along with tarnishing, you will want to prevent your jewelry from scratching. Sterling silver is easier to scratch than other materials. Therefore, you will want to be mindful when participating in these activities.
You should be careful if you handle other metals when wearing sterling silver. Sterling silver is on the lower end of the Mohs Scale of Hardness. While it is more durable than pure silver, it is not resistant to scratching. Tungsten, titanium, steel, and iron could easily scratch the jewelry's surface. If you are working in the kitchen, avoid wearing your jewelry.
Outdoor activities can cause damage to your sterling silver jewelry. If you love to hike or spend time outdoors, keep the sterling silver at home. Even if you bump into rocks or coarse materials, like sand, it could cause irreparable damage or scratches to your jewelry.
With these tips, you can prevent significant damage to your silver pieces. While sterling silver is more durable than pure silver, you still need to take the appropriate steps to protect it.
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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