There’s a reason why the wealthy are called being born with a silver spoon in their mouths. While the least expensive of luxury jewelry metals compared to gold or platinum, silver has always been liked with wealth and heirlooms that have stood the test of time.
If you’re thinking about buying silver jewelry for yourself or your loved ones, you’re making a good choice investing in jewelry that will last you a lifetime – and can even be passed down to your descendants – compared to cheap, silver-plated ones sold almost anywhere. But buyer beware: if you’re making this huge investment, you’ll want your money’s worth. And to do that, you need to know the basics about buying genuine sterling silver jewelry.
What are the different types of silver jewelry? What does the “925 Italy” mean on silver? How do I make sure I’m getting genuine sterling silver? All your questions will be answered in this article.
Why Silver Has Been the Metal of Choice for Centuries
Silver has been used as a staple metal as early as the ancient Egyptian civilization. While both silver and gold were both luxury metals reserved for royalty, the Egyptians thought silver had a higher value because it was much rarer than gold in their region. Historical artifacts point to silver coins being the mode of currency by 500 BC.
It was during the early ages when humanity developed silver’s association with luxury and love. During the Greek civilization, the Olympian Apollo was always depicted with a silver bow which represented trust, wisdom, and love. Around this time, artists used silver’s luster to enhance their work.
After the 1400s, during the time Christopher Columbus discovered the New World and found major silver deposits in Central America, production has increased dramatically until the 1900s. Aside its luster, rarity, and appealing shine, silver production has been high due to its many uses. It conducts electricity well, hence its use in the industrial sector as well as in the medical and technological fields.
It is antibacterial, having particles that are toxic to bacteria but not to human cells. It’s why the wealthy ate with silver plates and silver utensils during the Bubonic Plague to avoid getting sick. It’s from this practice where the idiom “born with a silver spoon in their mouth” originated.
How Silver Is Made
After silver is mined, extracted from the earth and other minerals, and sorted based on its purity. It’s sent to manufacturers to be crafted into jewelry. The steps to jewelry casting and creation may vary between manufacturers, but this is how the Danish jewelry manufacturer Pandora creates their silver jewelry.
First, they cast their silver using lost-wax casting, an ancient technique dating back thousands of years old. Adding silver and other metals to their mold (we’ll explain why it isn’t pure later), this creates all the metal pieces they need for their jewelry. While inside the casting machine, the molds are all attached to a tree-like formation. Once the metal has set, the silver pieces are cut from the tree and inspected for any flaws. Finally, the jewel makers polish the uneven parts through grinding and prepare it for goldsmiths and stone setters to add in the precious gemstones.
Determining Genuine Silver
Luckily, determining genuine silver isn’t difficult if you’re buying jewelry from a trustworthy and established store. Silver is somewhat regulated in the industry, and it’s illegal to sell silver that isn’t labelled in terms of purity, as well as mislabeling silver as sterling silver when it really isn’t.
If you want to determine genuine silver, you first need to understand the different available types of silver. There are other types of silver sold on the market, but sterling silver, fine silver, and silver-plated jewelry are the three most common types.
Sterling silver is the high-end type of silver. It’s not exactly pure silver: it is composed of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metals, usually copper or nickel. The added minerals make the silver stronger, shinier, and more durable. Since the 1300’s, silver products must have at least 925 parts silver for every 75 parts other metals for it to be called sterling. It’s currently the quality standard and most used by high-end jewelers such as Bulgari, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co.
To determine if a piece of jewelry is genuine sterling silver, look for the label that says 925, .925, or S925. The number is usually followed by the place where it was made. So, if you look at a silver pendant that says “925 Italy,” for example, that simply means it is certified genuine silver sterling made in Italy.
While the 925 silver standard applies to all countries, it’s important to note that some products made in certain countries just have a better quality compared to the same products made in other countries. It’s why, for example, the best cheeses are in France, Spain, and Italy, while the best luxury watches are from Switzerland. This is why it’s important to take note of the place of origin on the silver label, so you’ll know the type of quality you can expect from the jewelry.
Buying Sterling Silver
If you’re hesitant about taking in its authenticity on face value, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the right quality for your money. Never buy your silver from just anyone; instead, buy from established jewelers with a reputation for high-quality silver and certified jewelers who understand every aspect of the silver you’re buying.
Test for purity with a magnet. Silver and gold are non-ferrous metals which do not have a magnetic attraction. If you place silver near a magnet and it is easily attracted to the magnet, then it is not sterling silver. Sterling silver has added metals, but not enough that it would be attracted. Instead, it may be stainless steel polished to resemble silver.
Check for oxidation. If you rub a soft piece of cloth on the jewelry, there should be black marks on the cloth because sterling silver oxidizes when exposed to air. It’s why sterling silver jewelry turns black over time and needs to be cleaned. If it comes out clean, it is not real sterling silver.
Lastly, check the price range. If someone offers to sell you sterling silver at an extremely cheap price, it’s probably too good to be true. While the most affordable luxury metal, it is still a luxury and it is actually a relatively high cost to pay for sterling silver jewelry.
Unlike sterling silver, fine silver is silver at its purest form. Fine silver must be at least 99.99 percent silver to be given the label 999, .999, or S999. The other 0.1 percent are small traces of metals and other elements that are insignificant to its overall composition.
While fine silver would be suitable for earrings and pendants, its composition is too soft to be used as a necklace or bracelet due to the wear and tear experience while wearing it. Over time, however, it loses its shape and is easily malleable, so it’s more practical to buy its sterling silver counterpart.
Silver Plated Jewelry
Silver-plated jewelry is the cheapest form of jewelry because the entire pendant or necklace is a cheap base metal. Instead of the high level of silver, you have a base metal coated in a thin layer of silver. The result looks similar to sterling silver, but it is prone to discoloration when the other metals inside discolor and the outer silver layer fades and wears off, exposing the oxidized metal underneath.
Caring for Silver Jewelry
With proper care, sterling silver jewelry can last you a lifetime and can even be passed down generations, but because of oxidation and the regular wear and tear, you’ll need to take care when wearing and cleaning your jewelry.
Cleaning Your Silver
Because the oxidation turns silver black over time, you’ll need to have your silver polished every now and then. You might find silver polishing liquids in hardware stores or specialty stores, but some jewelers do not recommend this because it could ruin some of the details. Improper silver polishing may also leave polish residue which could damage the silver’s composition. The best way to get it cleaned is to send it to professional jewelers for cleaning.
Maintaining Your Silver
When storing your silver, keep it in a box that won’t expose it to air. This slows down the oxidation process. I recommend getting an air-tight jewelry box with low humidity storage. Buy some silica gel packets (those packets you see in some products that says “Do Not Eat”) and keep it in the box to absorb any air.
After wearing your jewelry, be sure to wipe it down with a clean cloth before storing it. Your sweat, body oil, and the elements that have attached to it while you were wearing it can speed up the oxidation and tarnishing process.
Never wear your jewelry while swimming or showering, as water can speed up the oxidation. Set your jewelry aside when cleaning your home or if you are handling chemicals, latex, onions, cosmetics, and lotions. If you’re dressing up for a special occasion, wait for your lotion, perfumes, and other cosmetics to dry up before wearing your jewelry.
Buying silver jewelry can be a huge investment for yourself or your loved one. In either case, make sure you understand what to look for when buying silver and how to take care of it once you own it to extend its shine and quality for years to come. When spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on sterling silver, be sure to patronize legitimate businesses so that you know you’re getting certified sterling silver jewelry.