While sterling silver is not the same as “real silver”, it’s a much better alternative, because it gives a similar appearance with more durability and versatility.
This doesn’t mean it’s a cheap or invaluable material; in fact, the value of sterling silver jewelry can increase over time.
Unfortunately, this means sterling silver is subject to dupes or fakes, and a lot of people get tricked into buying inferior pieces.
These dupes are sometimes very hard to discern with the naked eye. This means you need to perform tests to determine if the jewelry is genuine sterling silver.
Let’s explore 10 ways to help you find out if your sterling silver jewelry is real and which strategy works best:
Sterling Silver vs Pure Silver
When introduced to sterling silver, this is the first question most people ask: “Is sterling silver real silver?”
. The answer to that lies in the composition of both metals.
Sterling silver is made of 92.5% silver, and the remainder is made of copper, zinc and/or palladium.
These additions make it stronger and more durable, so much so that it can be worked on and re-worked without losing shape.
Popular jewelry company Tiffany’s even has an extensive collection of sterling silver jewelry, so that should tell you something about its quality and value.
Pure silver itself isn’t 100% silver. It’s made of 99.9% silver and the rest of its composition is other trace elements like copper.
Pure silver is soft and is not good for making jewelry or items that are used daily.
It can easily be bent, distorted and damaged, and is often reserved for other uses.
Pure silver has a brilliant shine, and so does sterling silver. They are both equally beautiful and it can be hard to tell them apart.
What does 925 mean?
Sterling silver is stamped with the number 925. This means that it has 92.5% silver content.
It is sometimes referred to as 925 sterling, 925 silver, . 925, or S925. If it’s stamped with 925 gold, it means the base material is 92.5% silver covered with gold plating.
You may encounter other silver stamps like 999 (fine silver), 950 (Britannia silver), 900 (coin silver), 835 (German silver), 800 (European/continental silver), and so on.
The same concept applies, but these types of silver have entirely different uses, such as making cutlery, coins, and flatware.
Less pure sterling silver has less than 92.5% silver.
Plated silver vs pure silver
You probably already know about gold-plated jewelry and materials, but did you know that silver can be plated?
Plated jewelry means that only the surface is covered with a relatively small amount of precious material.
Unlike pure silver, which is 99.9% silver, plated silver only contains a small amount of silver, less than 0.05%.
It gives the illusion of real silver, but it won’t be long until the plating wears away and the nickel or copper alloy beneath becomes visible.
Though affordable, it can cause green residue, and sometimes people can even have allergic reactions.
These days, it’s a bit harder to tell, especially when many companies mark silver plated jewelry as 925 silver.
Don’t worry though, there are many ways to find out if sterling silver is real.
Sterling Silver Tests
Usually, the sterling silver stamp gives us the answer to “Is sterling silver real?”
. But these days, fraudsters are getting more creative with their fakes. This means you, the buyer, will have to take certain precautions, like buying from credible jewelry stores and dealers to avoid getting caught in a scam.
If you already have sterling silver jewelry and you aren’t sure if it’s real, then you can perform any one of these tests.
Genuine sterling silver can pass all these tests, and they are accurate indications of authenticity.
Here are 10 ways to tell if sterling silver is real:
1. The Magnetic Test
The first on our list is the magnetic test. Silver, like gold and platinum, are non-ferrous metals.
This means they are not magnetic. Copper is also non-magnetic and makes up a little over 7% of sterling silver.
Hold a magnet against your sterling silver jewelry. If it sticks, it is likely silver-plated or highly polished stainless steel.
If it does not stick, then there’s a good chance it’s sterling silver.
This is a cheap method you can use to test your sterling silver at home. You can even bring a magnet with you while jewelry shopping so you don’t fall for any dupes.
2. Bleach Test
Next is the bleach test. Bleach is relatively inexpensive and easily accessible.
So, you should not have any problems finding the necessary tools for this test.
Do this with sterling silver you already own to avoid a situation where you have to buy the jewelry if you “break it”.
You will need some bleach, of course, along with the jewelry. Place a drop of the bleach onto it and see what happens.
It should tarnish to show that it is made of real silver, and revert to its glory after using a polishing cloth.
If there’s no visible difference, then the jewelry is likely made of fake silver.
3. Authentication Hallmarks
In the past, authentication hallmarks were a solid way to tell if silver or sterling silver was authentic.
However, scammers have become more creative and have begun to include falsified hallmarks on their jewelry.
Nevertheless, this method is still used by government and official jewelry bodies.
Sterling silver is stamped with 925, 925 silver, . 925, or other variations related to its 92.5% purity.
We do advise you to combine this with another method, just to make sure you get accurate results.
4. Ice Test (adapt this specifically for jewelry)
Did you know that silver has the highest thermal conductivity rate of all metals?
In other words, it conducts heat very fast. Ice melts faster on silver than other metals and surfaces, so that’s what you’ll be looking for with this test.
All you’ll need is some cubes of ice and a flat surface. Lay your silver on the surface, and place a cube of ice on top of it.
Then, place another cube on the bare surface. The ice cube atop the silver should melt faster than the ice on the bare surface.
Another way to conduct the ice test is to place the ice cubes in a bowl with an inch of water.
Place your jewelry into the water, with another piece made of a different metal.
After ten seconds, remove both pieces. The silver piece should be colder to the touch than the other metal.
5. The Odor Test
Your vision isn’t the only thing you can use to tell if sterling silver is real.
You can use your nose to get accurate results. And, the best part is, you don’t need any tools to perform this test.
Real sterling silver is virtually odorless. This means that when you smell a clean piece, it should not have a smell.
Fake silver on the other hand can smell of sulfur or another metal.
6. The Polish Test
Now it’s time to pull out your polishing cloth. Usually, you get one free with jewelry, so you should already have one at home.
Silver is a metal that can tarnish and oxidize over time. The reason we polish it is to restore shine and for general maintenance.
If the jewelry does not produce any black residue during polishing, then it’s likely not silver.
If there’s evidence of rust, it is definitely not silver.
This test is easy to conduct, and the results are a good indication of authenticity.
You can combine this with your hallmark test or magnetic test.
7. The Flake Test
This next test is a bit more aggressive, so if you don’t mind potentially ruining the piece you just got, then this is for you.
When jewelry is silver-plated, over time, it will begin to produce flakes that indicate the plating is wearing away.
Pay close attention because it can reveal a different color underneath. You can even scratch it with your fingernails to force the plating to flake off.
This method can also tell you if jade is real.
Again, you should only perform this test if you don’t care much about the piece.
Even if it isn’t real silver or sterling silver, you can still find a use for it.
8. The Oxidation Test
Silver begins to oxidize when exposed to the air. Without maintenance, it will begin to tarnish and have a black tint.
But, unlike metals such as iron, this process does not have a damaging effect.
One way to test for oxidation is using a light-colored cloth to rub the jewelry.
Afterward, inspect the cloth. If there are black marks, the jewelry is silver or sterling silver.
Otherwise, it’s a fake.
This test is easy to complete, and you can likely find a piece of cloth at home.
9. The Malleability Test
Silver is a soft metal, so it bends and deforms with time and added pressure without breaking.
A great way to tell if your jewelry is made of silver or sterling silver is to attempt to bend it with your hands.
If the jewelry bends easily, it’s likely made of pure silver or sterling silver.
If it doesn’t, it’s likely not. This test is accurate only to an extent since there are other malleable metals like white gold and platinum that may mimic the appearance of silver.
10. The Nitric Acid Test (“Scientific Test”)
If you want to get more scientific with testing your sterling silver jewelry, the nitric acid test is for you.
Besides nitric acid, you’ll need protective gear like goggles and gloves to safely conduct the test.
Nitric acid has a high copper content, and when it comes in contact with non-silver items, it causes them to become green.
Find an area that isn’t obvious and place a drop of the acid on it. If it becomes green, it’s not silver or sterling silver.
If nothing happens, or if you see a cream color, it’s likely real silver.
This is the most accurate way to test for silver, and it’s even used by professionals.
If you can’t get a nitric acid test kit, consult someone with access to the chemical to conduct the test for you.
How to care for your sterling silver jewelry
Once you are satisfied with the results of your test(s), you can use these tips to help you properly care for your sterling silver jewelry:
- Store your jewelry in a clean, dark place away from sunlight. Avoid storing it in the bathroom or moist areas.
- Store sterling silver separately to avoid nicks and scratches.
- Gently polish with a soft cloth every now and then to maintain shine.
- Remove sterling silver before any physical activity, including swimming and other forms of exercise, and before doing household chores
- Warm water and soap are usually enough to clean sterling silver, but for tough tarnish, you may want to use a baking soda and vinegar/water paste.
- Wear your sterling silver jewelry as much as possible. The natural oils from our bodies help to keep them shiny and tarnish free.
- When getting ready, put on your sterling silver jewelry last to avoid lotions and other products building up on the surface.
How can you tell if silver is real?
There are quite a few tests you can conduct at home to tell if your piece is real silver.
For example, the magnet test, the ice test, the odor test, the polish test, the flake test, the oxidation test, the malleability test and the nitric acid test.
Is all sterling silver marked?
Yes, this is an industry standard that helps to identify the purity of the metal.
It’s called an authentication hallmark.
How do you test silver with vinegar?
Test silver with vinegar by making a scratch on the jewelry and observing the changes after the vinegar is applied.
If the spot changes color, it is not silver.
How can you tell if something is solid silver or silver plated?
You can tell something is solid silver if it is colder, malleable, non-magnetic, odorless and non-flaky.
You can also check the authentication hallmark.