Silver Jewelry Buying Guide
In ancient civilizations, people commonly used silver to control the spread of infections. It was also used to mint coins, as well as create beautiful cultural sculptures as tributes, symbols, and tokens of status. One of the shiniest precious metals, silver contains many properties which make it excellent for jewelry.
Just as gold, silver has been looked at as a sign of luxury and wealth. That’s why you often hear people say that they did or didn’t “grow up with a silver spoon in their mouth.” That statement is pretty much saying that a person did or did not grow up in wealth and privilege. Well sterling silver has taken that lap of luxury and wealth, and placed it into jewelry now.
Silver is one of the most elegant jewelry materials. It’s malleable enough to hold intricate designs, easy to clean and care for, and also has a relatively cheap price compared to the other precious metals. In fact, silver prices currently are 48% lower than they were in 2011, and seem to be on the rise, making it a great time to invest in silver.
Although it often takes a backseat to white gold and platinum, you can’t beat the low cost of silver and the classic elegance it adds to jewelry styles. To help you determine the difference between sterling silver and silver-plate, discover the pros and cons of silver, and provide buying tips, here’s our silver jewelry buying guide for all your questions.
The Benefits of Silver Jewelry
Silver jewelry, e.g. silver earrings, provides its own characteristics to jewelry that make it an interesting choice of jewelry metal. The best silver used in jewelry is sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals (added for hardness). Here are a few reasons why silver makes a good choice for jewelry:
In nature, pure silver is an incredibly lustrous metal that stands out from any other deposits around it. Sterling silver is really interesting compared to other jewelry metals because it can have a range of looks. When it starts to react with ozone, hydrogen sulfide in the air, colognes and hair sprays – it begins to tarnish.
The tarnish makes it less shiny, but gives it a more antiqued appearance. Some people like the look of tarnish, while others prefer its luster. Fortunately, cleaning sterling silver with a simple solution will instantly restore its brilliance.
Silver has been used as an antibacterial metal since around 1300 B.C. The Phoenicians preserved liquids in clay vases lined with silver, and the Persians and Greeks created water containers out of silver. Ironically, it was silver that helped Americans in the 1880s go west to look for gold – they put silver coins in their water canteens to keep it bacteria-free.;
Our hands are often exposed to a lot of germs on a regular basis, so it can be a relief to know that wearing silver rings is unlikely to harbor any bacteria on or under the jewelry.
Silver is one of the cheapest precious metals available. It’s pretty crazy that you can get the benefits of a classic precious metal for the price that it’s currently selling for. Because of this, sterling silver engagement rings are popular as an affordable alternative to gold and platinum rings.
Being a precious metal, sterling silver will always be relevant to the economy. It’s useful in both jewelry and technology, since it has the greatest electrical conductivity of all elements (copper is only more popular in wires due to its affordability).
If you ever get tired of your silver jewelry like a silver chain, it’s much easier to sell than jewelry made from other materials. Silver is easy to melt down, so even if your jewelry is broken, you can get your money back.
Many business moguls are buying tons of silver right now, preparing for when silver prices rise again. Currently, they’re about half as expensive as they were in 2011, but seem to be rising.
- The lowest price for silver was in 1932, when it sold for $0.25/oz
- The highest price for silver was in 1980 when it sold for $50.00/oz
Even if you don’t plan on selling your silver jewelry, it’s still nice to know that if you ever wanted to, you wouldn’t face much difficulty. Silver jewelry lasts long enough for you to wear and hold onto for years. That way if the silver price did go way up, you could sell even after getting a lot of wear out of it. The ultimate win-win scenario.
Silver Types and Hallmarks
Silver with its brilliant white metallic luster allows for a high degree of polish, which is why it has such a beautiful finish. This is a metal that can be worn for everyday purposes as well as be a breathtaking statement piece.
When buying silver, you want to make sure you’re getting the right bang for your buck. This means not overpaying for silver-plated jewelry or silver-filled jewelry. Do you know how to tell sterling silver and silver plated apart? Continue reading our guide to buying silver jewelry to learn the difference between them.
Sterling silver is the standard of silver that denotes high-quality silver. Sterling consists of 92.5% silver and a 7.5% metal alloy (usually copper, zinc, or nickel). That’s why it’s also called 925. There are no karats of silver, but sterling silver is pretty much the silver equivalent of 22K gold (91.7% gold content).
The reason sterling silver contains an alloy is for the same reason as gold – fine silver, its natural form, is too soft to create durable jewelry. Sterling is much more durable.
Pure silver, or fine silver, is 99.9% elemental silver. It’s used in the tech industry and in some works of art, but it’s not common in jewelry due to its softness.
In the middle ages, silversmiths started creating coins and other things out of silver and alloys. In 1300, the term “sterling” was created to establish a degree of quality and purity to regulate silver consistency.
Silver-plated jewelry is not thoroughly silver. In fact, it may contain only 5% or less fine silver. There is no set amount of silver that has to be in jewelry for it to qualify as silver-plated.
Silver-plated jewelry is made of a base metal, such as nickel, copper, or iron. It is then dipped in a solution for the plating process, where the metal is electrically charged to attract silver particles. This creates a thin outer coating of silver, giving it the appearance of fine silver.
The outer layer is very thin, and it may wear off over time, leaving the jewelry absent of silver. At this point, it’s base metal may react with water and oxygen and turn green or have other discoloration.
Silver plate is much cheaper than sterling silver because it contains only trace amounts of pure silver.
Silver filled jewelry contains more silver than silver-plated, but less than sterling silver. It’s made of a base metal such as copper or nickel, that has been pressed between two thin sheets of sterling silver.
Silver filled is at least better than silver-plate in that there are regulations for its percentage of silver. Silver-filled jewelry will be labelled according to its percentage of silver, such as 1/5th sterling, or 1/20th sterling.
Unfortunately, silver filled does not have as much resale value as sterling silver. Silver filled jewelry was a lot more common around 1980, and other years where the price of sterling silver is high.
How to Tell if Silver is Real
When it comes to sterling silver vs. silver-plate and silver filled jewelry, sterling silver has certain distinguishing factors that can help you identify real silver.
- Look for a stamp or hallmark. Real sterling silver will be stamped as 925 or .925. European sterling will have a hallmark symbol stamped on it as well, such as a lion, anchor, leopard head, etc and a letter. Vintage Mexican silver may have a hallmark of an Eagle head, but it doesn’t usually resemble an eagle, so if there is a clear eagle head mark, it may be fake.
- If the silver has a mark such as “800”, it’s not sterling silver but it may still be real silver. This is called a fineness mark and it just means that it’s 80% pure silver. Silver forms besides 92.5% are not as common in the U.S. or U.K., but it’s more common in other countries.
- If it’s marked as EP, EPNS, SP, SF, or some other variation, it’s silver-plated or silver-filled, and not real sterling silver.
- Test it with a magnet. Silver, like gold, is not magnetic. If a magnet is drawn to your silver jewelry, it’s not real silver. Silver-plated jewelry can be magnetic.
- Smell it. If the silver jewelry in question has an odor that’s metallic or like sulfur, it’s not sterling silver. More likely silver-plated.
- Polish it with a soft white cloth. If it’s tarnished, real silver will produce black residue on the cloth. If it’s rusty, it’s not silver.
- Scratch the surface. If silver pieces flake off and reveal a metal beneath, it’s not sterling.
If you’re still uncertain and don’t know how to buy silver jewelry, and don’t want to risk damaging it with further tests, take your silver to a jeweler, who can test it using a jeweler’s scale.
Did you know that sterling silver is extremely durable? Initially it was thought that sterling silver was only used in earrings, but it has come such a long way. Sterling silver can actually last an entire lifetime, if you take care of it properly. When we say lifetime, we’re talking family heirlooms that can be passed down from generation to generation...that’s how long sterling can hold up.
Now, true sterling silver is no cheap item, but it is definitely well worth the price for the quality of metal you’ll be getting. True sterling silver will have a 925 sterling silver stamp, so that stamp is something to look for when picking out the sterling silver piece that speaks to you.
Having sterling silver does come with a responsibility of proper upkeep as mentioned earlier. In fact, many people stopped buying silver at one point because of the tarnishing effect that can happen over time.
Unfortunately, sterling silver will oxidize/tarnish; it’s just something that comes along with silver. Tarnish appears as a slightly hazy film over the silver, and builds up over time to a dim, grayish-black coating over the metal.
What Causes Silver to Tarnish?
Sterling silver contains a small percentage of other metals mixed with the pure silver to give it strength. These metals often will react to ozone and sulphur in air particles, lotions, colognes and perfumes, and sweating. The reaction creates a change in the metals’ appearance.
The first signs of tarnish aren’t significant, but it will become more prominent as it tarnishes further. If you don’t like the look of tarnish, it’s a good idea to keep up with cleaning your silver and removing the tarnish safely.
Pros of Tarnish
An interesting thing about tarnish is that if the silver jewelry has engravings or etched details, when the silver tarnishes, you can wipe the outside with a tarnish remover, and leave the tarnish in the details. This can add depth to the jewelry, making it appear to be made out of two kinds of metals.
For example, this sterling silver ring is engraved with a New York City boroughs map. It looks nice when it’s shiny, but if you prefer a more antiquated look, allowing the ring to tarnish could enhance the design and make the ring look older.
Some people desire the look that tarnish adds to their jewelry, and even follow guides for how to oxidize silver when they want to speed up the process.
How to Prevent Tarnish
You can slow down the time it takes for silver to oxidize if you want it to remain its shiniest. Here are the steps to reduce tarnish:
- Wear sterling silver rings frequently (wearing them daily can keep the inside of the rings shiny, and washing your hands with a gentle soap can also help them stay clean.)
- Store silver jewelry properly when not wearing it. Keep it in a plastic zip-lock bag, or a jewelry box with a tight-fitting lid. Add moisture-absorbing compounds like silica gel or activated charcoal if storing it for an extended amount of time.
- Wash your silver jewelry every once in a while with a bit of dish-soap. This can delay the time needed to break out the tarnish remover.
- Take off your jewelry before sweating or using sprays/lotions, or clean it once you get sweat or spray on it. If the silver jewelry sits for a long time with lotion residue, sweat, or cologne, it can tarnish more quickly.
- Avoid wearing sterling silver to the beach, or in humid environments.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry
Cleaning silver jewelry is fortunately not difficult, but there are a few things you need to avoid removing any silver particles from your jewelry. Here are the steps to properly clean silver jewelry:
- Use a stealing silver cleaner that is reputable and safe for silver jewelry. Do a little research before buying the cleaner – not all silver tarnish removers are created equal. The Tiffany Silver Polish spray is an example of a reputable jewelry cleaner that will not remove silver from your jewelry.
- You can also create your own silver cleaner for a really affordable solution. There are many different types of cleaner you can make, but one of the best and easiest DIY tarnish removal methods is to use aluminum foil, baking soda, and hot water.
- Rub the silver gently and slowly in the cleaning solution (with a gentle cloth, soft toothbrush, or your hands).
- Rinse the silver jewerly in warm water. Hard water is better than soft water for cleaning silver as it is less corrosive than soft water.
- Las Vegas, Tampa, and San Antonio typically have hard tap water. Other places have softer tap water, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Oregon. NYC water is neutral (about 7.2 pH), but some tap water in New York is soft.
- To increase water pH for jewelry cleaning, you can add a small amount of sodium carbonate (or soda ash, washing soda, Na2CO3) to a container of water and clean your silver there. This can help remove tarnish as well.
- Take a cloth or towel and dab your silver jewelry until it’s dry.
If you have a large piece of silver jewelry or a complicated one, you may prefer to take it to an experienced jeweler to clean it and remove the tarnish.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Silver
The biggest worry about cleaning silver incorrectly is that it may remove a small amount of silver from your jewelry. This won’t really be noticeable, but it’s best to avoid it to keep your sterling silver jewelry looking new for many years. Avoid these common silver jewelry cleaning mistakes:
- Avoid using bleach or other harsh cleaning chemicals.
- Don’t use boiling water or very hot water.
- Avoid lemon juice or other acidic substances.
- Vinegar works to clean many things, but can damage precious metals and gemstones.
- Don’t use too much baking soda in home cleaning methods.
- Avoid using ammonia and Mr. Clean.
- Toothpaste is too abrasive, as well as most toothbrushes.
If you’re cleaning your silver jewelry yourself, make sure you have the time to spare to put in the right amount of effort.
The more you keep up with cleaning your jewelry regularly with some soap and water, the less often you’ll have to clean it to remove tarnish.
How to Choose Silver Jewelry
When buying silver jewelry, you want to consider the price, craftsmanship, and designs of the silver jewelry you like.
- To buy the best silver jewelry for a fair price, do a price check on similar silver items to the one you’re interested in. Silver prices all tend to follow market fluctuations.
- Look at sales prices – are they too cheap? Silver jewelry prices never dip below the price of the silver’s worth in weight. If it’s too cheap, it could be fake.
- Look for silver-grade specifications, hallmarks, and details about the silver.
- Ask the seller any questions you have about the product. They should be knowledgeable about their merchandise and display clear knowledge of what they’re selling.
Let’s look at some questions you may wish to ask.
Questions to Ask a Seller When Buying Silver
Asking questions is a good way to ensure you’re buying quality silver jewelry. Some websites don’t provide enough information, so you should inquire more to avoid getting a bad deal.
- Ask what the markings on it are if it’s not apparent.
- Inquire as to the origin of the jewelry if you suspect it may be fake or stolen.
- Ask about the quality of the craftsmanship.
- Ask about any warranties or what the return policy is. The seller should be up-front with you and these policies should be listed on the website or in the store.
- Ask how long they’ve been in business or what their qualifications are.
- Ask about jewelry care and if their jewelry has any specific requirements.
- If there aren’t many product reviews or there is other missing information, don’t be afraid to ask the seller about it.
A good seller should welcome questions, as it shows a buyer’s interest. If they get annoyed or don’t respond for lengths of time, the seller might not be the most reliable.
Most good silver jewelry sellers wish to establish themselves as trustworthy. If you’ve found one that communicates well, has competitive prices, and a wide variety of quality silver jewelry options, you’re probably going to get the most out of your sterling silver jewelry purchase. If you’re still unsure how to buy silver jewelry, feel free to contact us directly.