Silver is probably one of the most useful metals ever discovered by man. It also continues to be ultimately helpful to people. Manufacturers continue using silver for various applications, from electronics to cutlery to fine jewelry.
Silver is found in several forms in nature. The most common occurrence is the silver ore, where the silver can either be the majority element in the metal or the minority element, with other items or minerals comprising the bulk of the ore.
Elemental or pure silver can also occur in naturally alloyed metals (this is the second most abundant form of silver). It’s rare to find lodes in natural that are just pure silver, so silver ores have to be continually processed to maintain the availability or supply of silver in the world market.
With so many silver categories, it is easy for many people to be confused about how these categories differ, especially when it comes to sterling silver and pure silver – and that’s what we are going to tackle at length today.
Table of Contents
What is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is an alloy composed of 92.5% silver and 7.5% of another metal (usually copper). Sterling silver is considered real or genuine silver, and it is a standard form of silver that is more durable because of the alloying.
One major thing that you should be aware of when dealing with any silverware or silver jewelry is that elemental silver is quite soft, and it is not the most durable of elements. Like gold, silver has to be alloyed or combined with another metal, so it becomes worthier and durable for daily use.
Sterling silver answers the need for more durable silver that won’t bend or become deformed when it is worn regularly. The demand for sterling silver can be seen clearly in the manufacture of jewelry, especially rings.
Rings take a lot of impacts and knocking, and being squeezed between fingers means a softer metal will become oval or oblong in a few weeks. The tension and pressure are constant, making sense to harden the silver first before turning it into jewelry.
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What is 925 Silver?
925 silver and sterling silver is the same thing. “925” refers to the stamp that is placed on silverware and silver products to indicate that the item has 92.5% silver. Some variations in the stamping include 92.5 or even .925. In some instances, the manufacturers mark their sterling silver with “ss.”
There may be regional differences in the stamping. Still, wherever you may be purchasing silver, you can probably ask people about the stamping standard for that country, if you are buying abroad.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, many manufacturers indicate the sterling silver quality mark with a lion’s head instead of 925 or .925.
In some instances, words or letters may be used instead to indicate the sterling silver category. For example, you may find “TSG” or “STER.” Variations such as “STERLING” and “STERLING SILVER” are also sometimes used.
In France, they have stricter standards that reduce the alloy content of sterling silver to just 5%, so their French sterling silver may have a 95-5 ratio instead of 92.5-7.5. But don’t worry – for the rest of the world, the original 92.5-7.5 rate applies widely.
What is Pure Silver
Pure silver is very close, but not quite identical to, elemental silver. Elemental silver is 100% silver, but pure silver or fine silver is 99.9% silver purity.
The measly 0.01% is negligible, but it is best to make these distinctions because once silver is processed, it is never purely elemental silver. Pure silver or fine silver is the pricier variant of silver because it has more silver than 925 silver. Pure silver is used to manufacture plates, vases, and cutlery and, in rare instances, jewelry.
Again, the main reason why the majority of silver jewelry is made with 925 silver is that sterling silver is much more durable than pure silver. The copper alloying lends plenty of hardness to the silver, and the silver becomes practical daily wear.
Pure silver is often marked with 999 or .999 to indicate the metal’s highest level of purity. In France, the silver manufacturers suggest the metal purity with the stamp of a vase.
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What are the Differences between 925 Silver and Pure Silver?
The main difference between the two types of silver is the alloy content. 999 silver is not alloyed with other metals in substantial quantities, while sterling silver is an alloyed metal because it has to be harder and more durable.
In terms of purity, pure silver or fine silver outranks sterling silver because it is almost entirely made of silver. In terms of durability sterling, silver will always beat fine silver because copper is much harder than silver. However, both types of silver can still be bent by hand if you choose to do so, and they are both highly reactive to the environment.
What a lot of people don’t know is that genuine silver is reactive to oxygen and moisture.
Sterling silver and pure silver will eventually be blacked due to tarnishing. Tarnishing is a kind of corrosive process that occurs naturally as silver continues to come into contact with the air and your skin. Our natural body oils, sweat, and grime all contribute to the tarnishing of silver.
On the brighter side, if your jewelry does turn black because of continued use, then you can be sure of its quality, and you were able to purchase the genuine article.
Which Silver is Best for Jewelry?
The best type of silver for jewelry based purely on its durability is 925 silver or sterling silver. 925 silver is just as beautiful as pure silver and has no physical weaknesses of pure silver or fine silver. Sterling silver is the standard type of silver for robust and high-quality silver jewelry that will last for years despite regular use.
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