Silver has a long and rich history as a sought-after precious metal. Its luster and utility have made it a popular component in jewellery, cutlery, and decorative items, as well as for wiring. But in a world where counterfeits are becoming more and more common, it is important to be able to distinguish between genuine silver and other metals .
This article will serve as a comprehensive guide to help you recognise real silver and learn how to distinguish it from sterling silver and other metals. We will explore the defining characteristics of real silver and the techniques experts use to distinguish it from counterfeits.
We will take a closer look at factors such as the metal’s appearance, markings and chemical reactions to distinguish genuine silver from its counterfeits . We will also discuss various testing methods that you can use to confirm the authenticity of silver in your own home.
By increasing your knowledge of real silver and its properties, you can become a more informed buyer and be sure that the silver items you own are truly of high quality. Let’s begin our journey by learning how to distinguish real silver from sterling silver and other metals.
Different types of silver
As all silver jewellery is usually made of different alloys, there are many different types of silver. However, it is enough to know the two most common types of silver (sterling silver and pure silver) and how to tell the difference between them and how to spot a fake coin.
Sterling silver is an alloy consisting of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals. This combination is used to improve the durability and strength of pure silver. Compared to pure silver, which is easily scratched or bent due to its softness, sterling silver is more robust and resistant.
The term sterling silver comes from the English silver coins called “sterlings”. And these were made of this very silver alloy. The word “sterling” is actually a colloquial abbreviation of the word “easterling”, which referred to the origin of the silver coins.
Sterling silver is often used to make jewellery, cutlery, china, and other decorative items. Jewellery designers appreciate sterling silver for its brilliant luster and elegant appearance.
An important property of sterling silver is its protection against discolouration . Over time, sterling silver tends to oxidise and darken. To counteract this effect, sterling silver is often provided with a rhodium or platinum coating. This coating forms an extra protective film that slows down discolouration and keeps the silver shiny and beautiful for longer.
When caring for sterling silver, it is important to treat it properly. Regular polishing with a soft cloth will help maintain the shine. It is advisable to avoid contact with strong chemicals such as household cleaners or perfumes as they can damage the silver.
Another aspect of sterling silver is its value. Although not as expensive as gold, sterling silver has significant value due to its silver content . The value of sterling silver is often affected by the current silver price, which fluctuates on the world market.
Generally speaking, sterling silver is a popular choice for jewellery and other decorative items due to its beauty, durability and value . It is important to properly care for sterling silver to extend its life and preserve its beauty.
Silver is a relatively common natural resource compared to gold. The largest mining areas a are currently located in Mexico, Peru and China, which together account for more than 50% of the world’s silver exports. However, pure silver, also called fine silver with a purity of 99.9%, is only suitable for processing to a limited extent due to its softness. For this reason it is alloyed.
At Tavex, we only sell pure silver, also known as investment silver. See our entire selection here!
In an alloy, two or more metals are fused together and mixed to modify certain properties, e.g. conductivity and hardness. Sterling silver is a well-known silver alloy for jewellery. It is ideal for jewellery making because of its hardness, while 800 silver is used for cutlery. The number indicates the silver content in parts per thousand .
For example, 935 silver contains 93.5% silver and 6.5% copper.
Silver occurs about 20 times more often than gold. Therefore, the price of silver is much cheaper than the price of gold . Currently, a kilo of 999/- fine silver costs about €590. Therefore, silver is also a good and safe investment. Pure gold has no alloy of other metals.
Properties of silver:
- Decorative : Silver has a beautiful and brilliant luster that makes it a popular choice for jewelry and decorative items.
- Conductor of heat and electricity : Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity, making it useful in electronics and industry.
- High reflectivity : Silver has a high ability to reflect light, making it ideal for mirrors, optics and photography.
- Resistant to corrosion : Silver is resistant to corrosion and oxidation, making it long-lasting and durable over time.
- Antibacterial property : Silver has a natural ability to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, which has led to its use in medical applications and healthcare.
- Soft and malleable : Silver is a relatively soft metal, which makes it easy to shape and bend into different shapes and patterns.
- Low toxicity : Silver has low toxicity and is thus safer to use in contact with people and food compared to some other metals.
- Easy to polish : Silver is easy to polish to a high shine and can be restored to its original appearance with proper care and maintenance.
- High value : Silver has historically been valuable and sought after, making it an investment and a symbol of wealth and status.
In addition, silver is also a super durable material as it can always be added to the recycling process! These properties are some of the reasons why silver is used in a variety of industries and is considered a high-quality precious metal.
How to tell the difference between sterling silver and ordinary silver?
The difference between ordinary silver and sterling silver is of great importance both in terms of appearance and value .
Sterling silver has a unique ability to catch the light in a way that no other metal can, which is why we are fascinated by its shine and choose to use it in cutlery, vases, jewellery and decorative details. In addition, real silver has a high market value, which means that items made of sterling silver often command a higher price tag than those that are only silver-coloured.
It is therefore important to be able to distinguish between real silver and imitations, not just for cost reasons. People who are allergic or sensitive to other metals need to be sure that their jewellery is made of real silver in order to wear it without experiencing negative reactions.
6 tests that show if you have real silver
Being able to tell real silver from fakes is important to protect yourself against fraud and ensure you get the valuable material you pay for. Here are six tests that can help you identify if you have real silver.
Stamp of authenticity
Begin by carefully inspecting the surface of the silver with a magnifying glass. Look for stamps or markings . Internationally sold silver usually has stamps indicating the silver content. If your silver item does not have a stamp, you should be careful.
Stamps such as 925, 900 or 800 indicate the percentage of silver. Use the magnifying glass to read these numbers and determine the percentage of fine silver in the item. For example, 925 means that the item is 92.5 percent silver (sterling silver). A stamp of 900 or 800 means that the object is 90 or 80 percent silver and is often called “coin silver”.
Also check for letters like “STER” and “IS” on the silver. “STER” stands for sterling, indicating that the silver is 92.5 percent pure silver. “IS” stands for “international silver” and means that the object is made of real silver.
If “IS” is not followed by a number stamp, it may indicate that the silver content is low or that you have a silver-plated item. To ensure whether the item is silver plated or genuine silver, you can use the acid test and the magnetic test.
Place a strong magnet near the silver and see if it sticks. Silver is paramagnetic and shows only weak magnetic effects . If your magnet sticks strongly to the object, it has a magnetic core of a cheaper metal and is not pure silver.
There are some metals that won’t stick to a magnet but can look like silver. Do the magnet test in conjunction with another test to ensure the core is not a different metal.
Try with an ice cube
Take some ice cubes for this test. Store the ice in the freezer until you need them for the test (they should not be wet). Although it might not seem like ice and silver go together, silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any common metal or alloy (even copper comes in close behind).
Place an ice cube on the silver and observe if it melts quickly. If the silver is real, the ice will start to melt immediately, as if it is on something hot instead of something that is just room temperature. This is because silver has a very high thermal conductivity. It may be helpful to place another piece of ice on a different surface at room temperature to compare melting times.
Perform a sound test on a silver coin. Silver makes a beautiful bell-like sound when you tap it, especially if you tap it with another metal. If you want to try this before tapping your questionable silver.
Drop the coin on a table and listen for a high-pitched ringing sound. Hold the coin above a flat surface and release it. If the coin makes a sound like a bell ringing, you have a genuine silver coin in your hand. If it sounds duller, the silver is probably mixed with other metals.
Only do an acid test if there is no stamp indicating that there is silver in your item or if there is no other way to test the material. Note that the acid can damage the material or the tester.
Make sure you wear gloves as you will be using a caustic acid to test the purity of the silver. If you suspect you have a valuable item, it may be better to try to determine the silver content using one of the other methods.
Buy an acid test kit for silver. You can buy these tests online or at jewellery stores. Acid tests for silver work best for pure silver, but if you think your item is silver plated, use a small jewellers file to make a mark and reveal what’s underneath the plating.
Find an invisible spot on the silver and make a small scratch . This scratch is necessary for the acid to reach the underlying metal of silver plated items. Scrape the item with a metal file, using firm pressure to get past any silver plating.
If you don’t want to scratch your object, you can use a black stone slab. These usually come with the acid test kit, or you can buy one separately. Rub your silver against the surface of the black stone so that it leaves a thick and relatively large impression. Aim for a line about 1.3 to 2.5cm thick.
Put a drop of acid on the scratched surface . If the acid comes into contact with any area of the object that is not scratched, it will affect the polished appearance of the object. If you are using a black stone slab, drip the acid along the line you made with the stone.
Look closely at the scratched surface with acid on it. Note the colour that emerges as the acid sinks into the object. Be sure to follow the instructions and colour chart for your specific acid test kit.
In general, the colour scale looks as follows:
- Light Red: Pure Silver
- Darker Red: 925
- Silver Brown: 800\Silver Green: 500
- Silver Yellow: Lead or Pewter
- Dark Brown: Brass
- Blue: Nickel
Using bleach as a test to distinguish between genuine silver and counterfeits can be a useful tool. Here’s how to complete the test:
Put a drop of bleach on your silverware. Silver oxidises extremely quickly when exposed to a powerful oxidising agent, such as regular bleach.
Observe whether the silver gets tarnished or not. If it quickly tarnishes and turns black, then the item is genuine silver. However, note that silver-plated items can pass this test. Remember that if your silver gets tarnished and turns black, you can easily clean it with toothpaste, baking soda or silver polish.
In conclusion, the world of silver can be both captivating and intricate, and distinguishing genuine silver from imitations is paramount in preserving its value and beauty. We’ve covered various aspects of silver, from sterling silver’s durability and elegance to the allure of pure silver’s rarity and versatility.
To ensure you’re dealing with real silver, we’ve shared six tests you can perform, including checking for stamps of authenticity, employing the magnetic test, using ice cubes for thermal conductivity, conducting a sound test, attempting the acid test as a last resort, and the bleach test for rapid tarnishing.
By equipping yourself with this knowledge and applying these tests when necessary, you can confidently identify genuine silver and protect yourself against counterfeits. Whether you’re a collector, investor, or simply appreciate the timeless beauty of silver, being able to distinguish the real deal from the imitation is a valuable skill that ensures your silver treasures continue to shine brightly for generations to come.