How To Tell if Silver is Real: The Easy Guide to Avoiding Faux Fancy
How to tell if silver is real? Silver is one of those materials that can be tricky to tell the difference between real and faux. If you're not a professional jeweler or metalsmith, then it's hard to know what to look for in order to determine whether a jewelry piece is real or not.
So, you take home a piece of silver jewelry that is shiny and seems to be perfect for your style. A couple days later, something just feels off. The shine has dulled and the metal appears cloudy... is this genuine silver?
How do you know if that gorgeous necklace or bracelet is real? Can you tell if your silverware set is sterling? Are you sure your spoons are made of pure, unadulterated silver?
The good news? Just like there are ways to tell the authenticity of gold and other precious metals, there are some simple tests to find out if the shiny metal is German silver, pewter, or genuine silver.
A Brief History of Silver as Ornaments
Silver, the whitest of all metals. It's a symbol of purity and innocence, as well as wealth and prosperity. Silver has been used throughout history for currency because it is rare but valuable — perfect qualities for money.
The history of silver as decorative pieces and ornaments dates back to the royal tombs in 4,000 BCE. Its use, along with gold, as currency was abundant in the countries between the Indus and the Nile by 800 BCE. In the case of silver mining, it was arguably started sometime circa 3,000 BC in Turkey.
The Renaissance period saw the extensive use of silver ornaments because gold was too valuable and rare for daily use. The same thing happened during America's Industrial Revolution because of the rise of the middle class.
The company that has made jewelry of silver, particularly sterling or 925 silver, highly popular during this time is Tiffany & Co. It has created a legacy of manufacturing the finest quality 925 silver ornaments. The impeccable and unique silver craftsmanship brought the company a grand prize at the World's Fair in 1867.
The beautiful metal has many variations but the consumer favorite is sterling silver (which contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper). It's highly durable and never causes any allergic reactions like nickel and cobalt can. Its higher density makes it less susceptible to scratches or dents from regular wear and tear.
Silver is an affordable platinum substitute. Both metals look almost the same but silver is better for intricate jewelry designs because of its softer structure.
Types of Silver in Jewelry: What You Need to Know
Silver used in jewelry and ornaments features different alloys, colors, weights, and finishes. The type of silver is a part of what determines the price and other qualities. Learn about 9 types of silver that are available anywhere from costume to fine jewelry.
Be aware of jewelry pieces that are labeled as only "silver." There's a high chance that these pieces have just silver-plating, instead of anything solid. Silver plating wears off over time, exposing the cheap alloy metal underneath.
Because of the thin coating, these items could be sensitive to rubbing, scratches, and chemicals in soap and household items like lotions.
Made of 99.9% silver, it's the purest silver used in jewelry. The lustrous white metal can be worn as an everyday accessory without fear of allergies. The hallmark it features is either ".999" or ".999FS."
Due to its softer makeup, it can scratch easily and form dents when dropped or mishandled. So, you will see its use in only some particular ornaments like earrings and pendants.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: Sterling Silver
Containing 92.50% pure silver and a copper alloy, items made of this silver are durable and beautiful. It has a hypoallergenic quality, so people with metal allergies can wear it without experiencing any skin irritation.
Jewelry pieces made of this silver type tarnish more easily than other types of silver, so it may require more maintenance. The most common hallmark for this type is "925" or ".925 STG." Some vintage items may feature old stamps like "STERLING", "STG", or "STER."
An alloy of silver mixed with copper and germanium. It's a popular choice among jewelers because it doesn't tarnish like sterling, but it costs more.
Available in either 93.2% or 96% purity, Argentium silver is heavier and more durable than its sterling counterpart. A flying unicorn is the hallmark of this type and only authorized jewelers can use it.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: Coin Silver
This type is almost similar to 925 silver. The only difference is that it contains 90% of genuine silver. It tarnishes easily but lasts for many years if treated properly. The price for sterling silver tends to be higher because it contains a larger amount of authentic silver in the alloy.
It's a type of silver where only a thin layer of actual silver covers the base metal. Don't wear these ornaments while swimming because they will quickly show signs of oxidation and corrosion.
Silver plating is good for inexpensive costume jewelry, but not for anything more luxurious. Since the amount of silver is almost negligible, there is no dedicated stamp for this type.
Silver filled jewelry is a kind of silver plating where a thick coat of silver is bonded onto a base metal. Unlike the silver plated items, it contains at least 5% to 10% of silver.
These jewelry pieces are affordable than solid silver and also less prone to scratching. The inside white metal will not show through the surface coating like it would on regular plated items.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: Nickel Silver
Also known as German Silver, Argentan Silver, and Alpaca Silver, nickel silver is an alloy that contains copper, zinc, and nickel. It has a white appearance that can compete with the brightness of 925 silver. However, this is just a nickel alloy with no trace of silver in it.
Due to its inexpensiveness and malleability, it's good for making costume jewelry. People with metal allergies should avoid this type of jewelry because nickel silver is not hypoallergenic.
Tribal silver ornaments feature a lot of intricate detail that you can't find on other types. It often has geometric patterns, designs with animals and nature, or symbols related to the wearer's culture like totem poles or drums.
However, like nickel silver, it may not contain any silver at all. The use of a different metal alloy keeps the cost down but those elements can be harmful to the skin.
How to Tell If Silver Is Real: The Testing Methods
Silver has been a precious metal for centuries, so it's natural to be worried about spending too much on fake silver. You may also be wondering how to tell if your family heirlooms are made from the real thing or not. Follow these methods of testing to find out!
The "Hallmark" Test
If the silver has a hallmark on it, this is a sign that it's real. If the hallmark is illegible, make sure that it's not a fake by checking for other signs of authenticity.
You will need a magnifying glass to spot hallmarks like "999" (fine silver), "925" (sterling silver), and similar symbols. It generally indicates the percentage of silver in the piece.
If you can't find any hallmarks or they are faded so much as to be unrecognizable, then move on to another method of testing.
The "Magnet" Test
Since silver is paramagnetic, performing a magnetic test is the easiest way to tell if your silver has a high level of purity. The piece is authentic if it does not react, or reacts minimally (meaning without any visible movement).
You have to use a strong magnet like a neodymium magnet. However, some metal alloys may not react to a magnet and can still look like silver. So, it's better to perform other tests too to be completely sure.
If you have a silver bar, keep the magnet on it and hold it at a 45-degree angle. The magnet should slide slowly down the bar, given that it's authentic silver. Neodymium creates eddy currents in silver, which slows down its movement.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: The "Ice Cube" Test
This is another popular method for testing how to tell if silver is real. Among all metals, silver has the highest electrical conductivity. This means that it conducts heat and electric charge very quickly, which can be seen when you put an ice cube on a silver bar or coin.
If the ice cube starts melting immediately, it could be authentic silver. Put another ice cube on a different metal or plastic surface to understand the change better.
The "Odor" Test
Put some of the silver in your palm, and hold it up to your nose. If there's no aroma or a very light one, then you know that the metal is real.
If you smell something metallic, it's probably made of other metal alloys. However, silver-plated jewelry will also discharge a funky smell because it contains almost no silver.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: The Weight Test
Silver is a dense metal, so its weight should be proportional to its size and diameter. The weight of a silver dollar coin is 26.73 grams and a bar is between 930 and 1,080 ounces. Take an idea from these weight standards and compare that to your silver piece.
If your silver is too light, there's a good chance it has been plated with another metal. If it weighs more, there could be lead in the core alloy.
In case you have an original piece of silver, compare its weight with that of the piece in question.
The Bleach Test
How to tell if silver is real? Perform a bleach test! Take a cotton swab with some sodium hypochlorite (household laundry bleach) on it and rub over the silver object. Genuine silver will quickly react with bleach and turn black.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: The Acid Test
Purchase a silver acid test kit and use protective gloves and goggles because the acid is corrosive. Use a jeweler's file to scratch on a small corner of your item. Scratch to the point that it cuts deeper beyond the exterior surface.
Apply a drop of acid onto that scratched line. Examine the color as it indicates the type of metal the piece is made of. Yellow, dark brown, and blue colors mean materials other than silver.
Green and brown colors mean 500 and 800 silver, which are not quite high-quality. However, if the acid turns dark red, the item is 925 silver. On the other hand, a bright red shade means it's genuine fine silver.
If you want a safer and less complicated method, try using coca cola. If you have a tarnished silver piece, sink it into a cup of coke. Take it off after a few minutes and wash with lukewarm water. If it's a genuine piece, the tarnish will be removed.
The Sound (Ring) Test
For this test, you will need to use silver coins. Strike the item with your coin and listen for a high-pitched ringing sound or an echo bounce off of it. If a dull thumping sound is made upon contact, then it might be a counterfeit silver-plated metal item. You can also tap the coins with another metal object and the real ones will make a nice ringing sound.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: The Polish Test
Rub your silver ring or necklace with a soft white cloth. If it's genuine silver, it will leave black marks on the cloth. It happens because silver oxidizes when it comes in contact with air. That oxidation is transferred to the cloth when you rub the surface with it.
No black mark means the piece is not silver and does not even have a silver plating.
The Lighter Test
Choose a rather inconspicuous area of your jewelry piece for this test. Heat that area moderately with a lighter and watch the reaction. A dark black stain means the metal is authentic silver.
You can do the same test with two matchsticks. Break the head of one matchstick and put it on that area. Light another matchstick and use it to light up the head of the first stick. When the fire is doused, check for a dark black stain on the jewelry surface. If it's there, it's authentic silver.
The stain will go away if you rub the spot with a small amount of vinegar.
There are a number of ways to test the authenticity of silver, but you should be aware that not all of these methods will work on every piece. If your family heirlooms have sentimental value and can't be replaced with something else, it's best to take them to an appraiser who has experience testing antique pieces. However, if you're shopping for new jewelry or just want confirmation before buying second-hand pieces, these are the methods for how to tell if silver is real.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: FAQs
How can you tell if something's genuine silver?
Investigate for hallmarks and stamps (printed symbols on metal) of authenticity, such as assay marks from trusted suppliers. Hallmarks often denote the percentage of metals in the item, where an object was made, and what year it came out.
Testing with a magnet, ice cube, and bleach are also popular as these don't cause any damage to the piece. Do a lighter or acid test only if you are confident that you won't damage the jewelry.
How do you test for silver acid?
Nitric acid is commonly used for the acid test. But if you don't know the proper concentration, purchase a silver acid testing kit. Genuine silver will turn the acid bright red while 925 silver will make it dark red.
How can you tell if something is silver or silver plated?
If a piece of silver is genuine, it will be heavier than a silver plated item. The coating of a silver plated piece will flake off over time, which won't happen to a solid silver item. Also, you can find the difference by checking the hallmark or through the sound, acid, and odor tests.
How To Tell if Silver is Real: does real silver turn colors?
Yes. Tarnishing happens as silver reacts with oxygen in the air. In fact, it's not the silver that reacts or changes colors but the metal alloy in it. For this reason, genuine silver does not tarnish or rust. On the other hand, 925 silver tarnishes because the copper alloy in it reacts with air elements and turns the piece yellowish or blacking.
How do you test silver with a magnet?
When you hold a magnet to silver, the magnet will not stick. If it does stick then you know that your piece is not made of authentic silver. You have to use a strong permanent magnet like neodymium to perform the test.
How much is a 925 silver chain worth?
Weight and brand value are the two main factors that go into determining the price of a 925 silver necklace. It may cost anywhere between $20 and a couple hundred dollars. Of course, a vintage piece will have a much higher price.
What is 1g of silver worth?
The price of silver can fluctuate a bit depending on the market situation. Based on the current market value, a one-gram silver bar costs $0.74.