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What Is Sterling Silver?

How to Buy and Care for Sterling Silver Jewelry


Kyanite Sterling Silver Hammered Circle Bracelet
Kristin Smith/Flickr

Sterling Silver Jewelry

Silver has been used to make jewelry since ancient times, but the exploration of continents in the western hemisphere uncovered productive silver mines that greatly increased the supply of this precious metal. The result -- more silver has been mined and used since the late 1700's than in all prior centuries combined.

About Silver

Pure silver is very soft, too soft to create durable jewelry, so the metal is usually mixed with other metals to enhance its performance. Metal mixes are known as alloys, and one popular silver alloy is known as sterling silver.

Sterling Silver Requirements and Markings

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates that jewelry sold in the United States cannot bear silver markings or be described as silver, solid silver, sterling silver, sterling, or with the abbreviation Ster. unless it contains at least 92.5 percent pure silver.

The minimum silver content can also be stated as 925 parts per thousand of pure silver, so you might see the figures 925 or 92.5 inscribed on jewelry or other items to designate silver content.

Copper is Often Added to Silver

Copper is the metal most commonly used to make up the remaining 7.5 percent content of a sterling silver mix. Copper makes the silver harder, but gives it a tendency to tarnish, a darkening that occurs when sterling silver reacts with gases in the air or with other substances that it comes in contact with.

Caring for Sterling Silver Jewelry

Store your sterling silver jewelry in tarnish prevention cloths or bags. The treated cloth slows down the tarnishing process and keeps the jewelry from rubbing against harder jewelry that might scratch it. Try to to keep your sterling silver jewelry in a cool, dry place.

Cleaning Your Sterling Silver Jewelry

Polishing cloths are an excellent choice for cleaning your sterling silver jewelry. You might read recommendations to use toothpaste to clean sterling silver, but avoid doing that -- toothpaste is abrasive and can leave scratches.

Sterling Silver Patina

Sterling silver jewelry that is worn continually often develops a lovely patina, a kind of glow combined with darkened areas. If you like the look, leave it alone. If you prefer a bright and shiny look for your sterling silver, use a polish cloth to restore the jewelry to its original appearance.

Silver and Platinum Combination

In 2003, Marc “Doc” Robinson created 3 formulas of platinum enhanced sterling silver for ABI Precious Metals in Carson, California. His sterling with platinum alloy is harder than sterling/copper blends and is tarnish resistant. Expect to see the new, more expensive alloys used to create fine silver jewelry.

Sterling Silver Affordability

Sterling silver jewelry is beautiful... and still affordable, even though the price of silver has escalated in recent years. Sterling silver jewelry and components are within reach of nearly any budget, ours and the pocketbooks of artisans who create the sterling silver jewelry we love so much.

Related Video
How to Polish Silver Jewelry
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