The Difference between Silver, Sterling Silver, 900 Silver, 800 Silver, Alpaca, Nickel Silver and Silver Plated Jewelry

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Vintage Sterling Silver Wide Cuff Bracelet with Dimpled Rope Pattern (American Tribal, 1970’s)

This article looks at the difference between the various metals used for jewelry that include the word “silver” or are often mistaken for silver. It is a companion piece to our article on gold and gold jewelry. If you buy silver jewelry for collectible purposes, business purposes or simply because it’s beautiful, it is important to know exactly what you are buying. The purpose of this guide is to prepare you, as a consumer, when shopping for silver jewelry.

Before getting into jewelry specifics, it’s good to have a grasp on some of the fundamentals of silver. Silver, like gold, is an elemental metal. This means that pure silver is made up of nothing but silver atoms (represented on the periodic table by the symbol Ag). Other examples of elemental metals include copper, aluminum, platinum, iron and lead.

In its pure elemental form, silver has a white metallic appearance. It also has a high luster (shiny), is very soft (scratches easily) and is quite malleable (can be hammered into different shapes). When people discuss the “price of silver” or “spot price of silver” or “silver bullion prices” they are referring to pure elemental silver, or more exactly, 99.9% pure silver.

raw silver
Raw Natural SIlver with White Matrix

“Pure” metals, like elemental silver or elemental copper, are distinguished from metal alloys – which are metals made up of two “pure metals”. For example, brass is an alloy that is made up of copper and zinc. To make brass, copper and zinc are melted together. Likewise, one can make various silver alloys by combing silver with other elemental metals.

Silver jewelry can be made from near pure silver (99.9% silver known as “fine silver”) or one of any number of alloys. Fine silver (99.9%) jewelry is somewhat uncommon. The most common silver alloy used in jewelry today is “Sterling” silver, which consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% some other metal (often copper, but sometimes zinc). The majority of silver jewelry in the United States, and most developed nations, is made from “Sterling” (92.5%) or finer silver.

Fineness Marks and Hallmarks

Because different alloys of silver contain different percentages of pure silver, it is important to know which alloy was used to make a piece of jewelry. For several hundred years now, most major silver manufacturing countries use what are known as “fineness marks”, “hallmarks” or a combination of both.

A fineness mark is a mark put on a piece of jewelry to indicate the percentage of pure silver it contains. There are two common types of fineness marks for silver – word marks and numerical marks. The numerical marks usually represent the number of parts of pure silver out of 1000 contained in a piece of silver. For example, Sterling silver is 92.5% silver or 925 out of 1000 parts silver. This simply means that by weight, the piece is 925 parts silver and 75 parts some other metal. Therefore the “shorthand” mark “925” is used to indicate that something is sterling silver. Other common numerical marks include:

800  (80% silver or 800/1000)

PTDC0006

 

 

 

 

830  (83%silver of 830/1000)

830

 

 

 

835  (83.5% silver or 835/1000)

PTDC0015

 

 

 

 

 

 

900  (90% silver or 900/1000)

950  (95% silver or 950/1000)

950

 

 

 

 

 

980 (98% silver or 980/1000)

980

 

 

 

 

999  (99.9% silver or 999/1000)

As mentioned above, fineness can also be indicated by a word. The two most common words encountered in the United States are “Sterling” and “Coin”. Sterling is, as discussed above, 92.5% silver.PTDC0011

 

 

 

 

 

“Coin” means that the item is 90% silver. The term “coin” is a reference to early coins which were made out of 90% silver. It is very unusual to see the mark “Coin” on pieces made after 1900. Some silver jewelry is marked just “silver”. This is common on British territory (e.g. Chinese export silver) pieces and indicates “Sterling Silver”. Also, there are several abbreviations for Sterling Silver in use now or in the past including:

“SS” (this mark can be confusing because a lot of stainless steel is also marked SS)

“STG.”

“Stg. Sil.” (example photo below)

STG SIL

 

 

 

 

U.S. Law (and the law of most developed countries) prohibits the marking of any non-silver item with a silver purity mark. (See, for example, 15 U.S.C. 8 S. 296). However, a set of stamps to make these marks can be purchased online for about $20.00 —- by anyone. Therefore, the fineness mark can only be trusted as much as the person who put it there.

Hallmarks Distinguished

Unlike a fineness mark, a hallmark is a mark that indicates that an official (usually a local assayer) in a particular country guarantees that the item is made from a certain percentage of silver. While hallmarks can also be counterfeited, it is somewhat unusual.  Hallmarks usually consist of a picture or a combination of a picture and text. Pictures used are often of local or historically important animals, current or prior rulers / sovereigns and certain plants.

The United States does not use hallmarks. However, many countries with far greater histories of silver-smithing employ or did employ at one time, a complex hallmarking system. There are a number of excellent guides available on the internet that can assist you in identifying a particular hallmark. Our favorite is 925-1000.com. Set forth  below is a common example of a hallmark previously used in Mexico and often encountered on vintage silver jewelry found at U.S. Fleamarkets, Yard Sales, and Estate Sales.

PTDC0008

 

 

 

 

This Mexican Mark is meant to represent an eagle. It really does not look anything like an eagle in most examples. Be weary of eagle head marks on Mexican jewelry. Those are counterfeit marks and are quite common on tourist bangles.

If you encounter an item that is not marked with a fineness mark or hallmark, or an item that does have such a mark but you suspect is not silver, you will need to test the item  or have it tested by someone else. With experience, it will become less and less necessary to test such items. See our article on testing silver for more info (to be published on or about June 15,2014) or simply google “silver testing”.

 Silver Plate and Silver Filled Jewelry 

In addition to real silver jewelry, there are two common substitutes that use small amounts of silver to mimic the real thing: Silver Plated Jewelry and Silver Filled Jewelry. There is nothing wrong with this type of jewelry  – as long as it’s not marked or sold as real silver jewelry.

Silver Plated jewelry is NOT real silver. It is brass, copper or other metal jewelry that has a very thin layer of silver applied on the surface. There is no calculable value to the amount of silver in silver plated jewelry so it should be judged on its aesthetic, artistic and collectible qualities rather than its inherent metal value. Most silver plated jewelry in the marketplace today is electro-plated. Electroplating is a chemical process where a base metal item (e.g. a copper brooch) is placed in an electrolytic solution and connected to the “cathode” end of an electrical circuit (e.g. a large battery).  A piece of silver is connected to the “anode” end of the circuit and then placed in the solution apart from the copper piece. Electrical current carries tiny silver “cations” from the silver bar to the surface of the copper piece. With sufficient time, a thin layer of silver forms over the copper piece. Once the process is complete, the copper piece appears to be made from silver.

Silver Plated jewelry often does not have any mark on it anywhere that would indicate it was silver plated. Occasionally you will, however, see the following marks:

“SP” – meaning Silver Plate

“Plate” – more common on flatware and table pieces

“EP” – meaning electroplated

“Quadruple Plate” – allegedly meaning the piece went through electrolysis four times

“EPNS” – meaning electroplated nickel silver

“S80” – this is a mark that appears on a lot of Chinese silver colored jewelry that is often also marked 925. This is not silver jewelry. It is merely plated with “925” Sterling Silver.  S80 Silver is apparently a plating compound in many emerging market countries.

Sometimes the silver plate mark is confusingly blended with marks that look like hallmarks. This is especially common on pieces imported from Britain and Holland. Do not be fooled by these marks. An example appears below. Another confusing mark on silver plated pieces is the name of a manufacturer that includes the word “silver” such as “International Silver Co.” or “American Silver Co.”. These names do not mean that the item is silver. Rather if there is no mark indicating purity on the piece (e.g. 925 of “Sterling” or a hallmark), then the piece is almost certainly silver plated.

PTDC0016
Example of the EP mark meaning “Electro Plated”

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Filled jewelry is jewelry that is made by taking two thin sheets of silver and pressing between them a sheet of brass, copper or other base metal. It is not very common. It is akin to “gold filled” jewelry. Silver Filled jewelry has a quantifiable amount of silver in it (often 1/5th by weight but also as low as 1/20th). Silver Filled jewelry goes in and out of use based on the spot price of silver. When silver becomes expensive, silver filled jewelry gets more popular. Common marks for silver filled jewelry are:

“Silver Filled”

“1/5th Sterling” (sometimes consisting of only one sheet of silver on top of brass, copper etc.).

“1/20th Sterling”

“Sterling Cap” (always consisting of only one sheet of silver on top of brass, copper etc.).

Nickel Silver

Nickel Silver goes by many names and often looks exactly like silver to the untrained eye. However, the one thing it’s not, is silver. Nickel Silver contains absolutely NO silver — zilch, zero, nada. It is a metal alloy formed by combining copper, nickel and zinc. Except when newly polished, it has a luster and often “greens” (oxidizes) with age. It is very common in Mexican and Latin American tourist pieces where it is sometimes termed Alpaca.

Alpaca (Nickle SIlver) Cuff Bracelet
Alpaca (Nickle Silver) Cuff Bracelet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other common names and marks on Nickel Silver jewelry include:

German silver

NS

EPNS (electroplated nickel silver)

Electrum

There is nothing wrong with Nickel Silver jewelry and some of it is quite beautiful. However, it’s important to know you are buying nickel silver and not real silver. We are especially fond of early Mexican Alpaca jewelry that quite often features genuine gemstones. It has become a nice collectible in its own right and is much more affordable than silver jewelry.

Other Imitators

There exist countless other “silver” colored metals and even plastics that can be mistaken for real silver. When in doubt, have the items tested by a professional or learn to test silver yourself. In time, you will be able to distinguish all of these substitutes based solely on weight, look and feel. Please feel to free ask any questions or suggest additional details that might make this post more effective. Thanks as always for reading out blog!

 

125 comments on “The Difference between Silver, Sterling Silver, 900 Silver, 800 Silver, Alpaca, Nickel Silver and Silver Plated Jewelry

  1. I have a set of earrings which are marked simply ” 80,” no S. Would you say that they are S80 or 800? The google engine tried to correct it to 800. Tom

  2. I came across a native belt buckle aND it appears to be mostly pewter, but it reads AG 85 (which based on your blog, I’m assuming, means 85% silver), but it also says 805/481-0719. Can you help with this one?

  3. I have an old (from mother in law who died age 95) bracelet from Mexico, seems like a cheap stamped tourist item. The only marking on inside is [ 0.900 ]. I assume that means the same as 900. Can I infer anything about the date of manufacture from this specific marking?

  4. Happening upon your site by clicking one thing after another, I am so glad I stopped and read completely. About one year ago, I purchased a beautiful bracelet online that stated “800”. I thought it was great, that I was getting something with real silver even though it wasn’t that much. Upon looking at the bracelet recently, I found that the silver was coming off and under it was what looked like brass. It’s only when I read your material that what was 800 is in fact “800 S” which answers my puzzlement. So, the 800 S is actually 800 silver plate.

  5. I do have a pair of Japanese hand engraved cufflinks hallmarked E.P. STERLING 950
    Does it mean they are electroplated?
    Because there’s a difference between E.P. and EP, don’t you think ?
    Thank you

  6. I have a condiment caddy from Racine Silver P. Co. The mark says Quadruple. Below it is the number 8. Is that a model number or something else?
    Also. Do you, by chance, know if the jars are clear or a ruby type color?
    Thank you very much, James

    • Hi Shar
      This is from the article above…
      ” Sterling silver is 92.5% silver or 925 out of 1000 parts silver. This simply means that by weight, the piece is 925 parts silver and 75 parts some other metal. Therefore the “shorthand” mark “925” is used to indicate that something is sterling silver.”

      julia

  7. Hi there

    I was given by my grandparents a silver bracelet that has a small marking on the inside that says STG SIL and I can’t really tell the rest.. it smells like silver but I’m not 100% sure what is is to be exact.

    Thanks

  8. Recently purchased a vintage silver and tourmaline jewelry set. From the clasp on the bracelet, and the early screw back earrings, I’m making an assumption they are from around 1910. The bracelet and ring are marked with an impressed mark “SILVER”, nothing else. Has anyone else seen jewelry With just that mark?

  9. Any idea what ARG stands for on a silver ring? We think it’s Argentus but it also has a latin inscription on it and “2016”. Apparently argentus was only used in the 70s.

    • Arg is often used for Argentium Silver. Argentium silver 935 (marked as 935 & sometimes marked Arg) is a modern sterling silver alloy, containing 93.5% silver, in which the traditional alloy (92.5% silver + 7.5% copper) is modified by removing some of the copper and adding the metalloid germanium. It is a high purity Sterling Silver alloy that meets the Hallmarking requirements in the USA for Sterling Silver

      Argentium silver 960 (marked as 960 & sometimes marked Arg) is a high-purity jewellery alloy that meets the hallmarking requirements for the U.K. Britannia standard. The 960 alloy modifies the conventional Britannia silver composition (95.84 silver, balance copper) with the addition of germanium

  10. Hi..I have a bracelet with a Indian dancer on it..with different color stones on it like pearl but they small pieces of stone.. it has the initial. NS on it twice.a jeweler told me I should it appraised.. . but I don’t know where to take it.. to find out anything about it.t he other stones I don’t know wat they are..I know it’s like a baby blue color on..It. Can anyone help me…???????

  11. I have an item that’s marks with 1 large triangle and then 4 triangles inside of it with 3 streams also in it. Amy help identifying it would be appreciated….

  12. Just to make it clear to me, I bought a bangle many years ago for my mother in a tiny swanky jewellers in Corfu. It has 900 imprinted on it twice, so can I assume that means 900th of the metals used is silver?

    Whatever, it’s a very simple but classy piece, with a stone set in the middle of it, and reminds of a time before she began succumbing to dementia. I’ve started wearing it now, and I don’t care a monkey’s uncle what anyone thinks of me.

    • Well Robert, good for you! And I hope you are carrying on wearing the bracelet you bought for your mother. There’s no value whatsoever that can be put on those memories.

  13. Thank you so much for this write-up, by far and away the best and most informative I have come across.
    I do have a question I’m hoping you could expand on, it’s regarding the section about items Hallmarked just “Silver”…. Some silver jewelry is marked just “silver”. This is common on British territory (e.g. Chinese export silver) pieces and indicates “Sterling Silver”.
    Can you define a specific age group to them, as I’m assuming when you refer to”British Territory” it was actually whilst they were under British Rule, any further information would be greatly appreciated
    Thank you
    Anthony

  14. I inherited this pheasant table ornament that is made in Germany (has germany stamped under tail) and on the top of the tail almost at the tip it has alpacca (with 2 c’s) and another thing stamped which looks like an “E” and a small tree and an “S” on the other side. I cannot find out anything about it, as anything that comes up is sterling silver which this is not. Anyone have a clue?

    • Alpaca Silver (sometimes appears as ‘Alpacca’) refers to an alloy that imitates sterling silver. This non-precious bright silvery-grey metal alloy is made up of copper, zinc and nickel and sometimes iron. Alpaca Silver does NOT contain any real silver; it is just another name for “Nickel Silver.”

    • Én meg azt nézem majd meg, hogy meddig lesz az a falban, mert ha nálunk valaki valamit kitesz, akkor az 10 perc múlva sehol. Emlékszem, hogy a szemét konténer percek alatt kiürült és a tulajdonosa ott szentségelt, hogy nem kellett volna konténert rendelnie 13000 forintért, mivel magyarisztánban élünk vagy mi a szösz.

  15. I got this necklace that looks like silver but I found no numbers just some lettering on the back side b. ESPLAIN can you tell me more about this piece

  16. What does the mark 146 mean? I’m sure the piece is platted, but I can’t find the meaning of the 146 stamped marking.

  17. I bought a gorgeous ring with many tiny pearls and a small emerald stone from a vintage store in France. On the inside of the band is 925 on one side (I know what this means) but the word “STEM” is stamped on the opposite. I have been looking everywhere online for this and haven’t been able to find out what this means, can you help?

  18. Only buying for my pleasure. But see all kinds of numbers, initials and descriptions on pieces especially when I’m browsing the internet. Thank you so much for your article. It’s the most useful information I’ve come across. Puts an end to my confusion.

  19. Hello thanks for educating us especially about the Japanese mark of just “silver”. I dont really do jewelry, most Japanese VIntage and Antiques but thought i would add some for Christmas, now am wondering if it was such a great idea. Anyway, I am always supportive of Etsy stores on google+ Pinterest and so on. That being said, I have a Japanese piece that is either marked. SI or IS. I think, it was meant to identify that it just met the International standards of that time?. My silver testing liquid I received being dead and am just ordering another, am wondering if you can tell by looking what you think, or if you have heard of that mark being used on Japanese pieces? If so how would one post a picture? Thanks so much!

  20. Does anyone know about a pendant or charm with Silver front being stamped on the back? I have tried googling it but i havent found anything yet>

    • Nicole — Hi and thanks for reading the blog. Yes, this was more common in the 1940s and 1950s than it is today. It means that the front of the piece has a solid silver cap on top of base metal.

      • I own a few American belt buckles and watch chain fobs from the 1910s to 1940s marked “silver front.” When you say “solid silver cap on top of base metal,” do you mean solid sterling silver? How would that differ from silver plate? Thickness? I’ve wondered about this for years and would be thrilled to know more.

  21. We recently had a 925 silver jewelry piece analyzed, with the following result, Ag 95.4%, Cu 4.18%, Zn 0.071%, Ni 0.371%.
    My question, can this be classed as Nickel free (because the Ni amount is very small) and would this level of Ni cause any allergy symptoms?

    • This is a good question. I am not aware of a U.S. standard for nickel free items. The EU has one (see Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_Directive) that allows 0.2 micrograms per square centimeter of silver. We really need a math gal/guy to do this right, but I think 0.2 micrograms per cm2 is somewhwere around 50 parts per million. 0.371% is a lot more than 50ppm. As to the allergy impact, I don’t know how much nickel it takes to trigger one.

    • It shouldn’t with moderate / occasional use but if it’s something to be worn on a more permanent basis it could possibly react with the wearer.

    • Hi Sig and thanks for reading our blog. I’ve not encountered copper pans that were tinned with silver, but I don’t see why not. The only issue would be that you would probably get some oxides, maybe silver sulphide from the heating and cooking process and those might not be the best thing to ingest.

      • Ingesting small amounts of Silver is a practice that might be familiar to some of our Grandmothers, and some of them would even swear to the value of drinking a glass of water each day that has had a sterling Silver spoon standing in it overnight.
        This practice also extends to the use of purifying standing water in rain tanks and such, by hanging a pure Silver item in the tank, and I’ve had encouraging results in a basic experiment that I tried.
        I filled two sterile jars with water from our rain tank, adding a few pure silver filings to just one jar. After a month or two, the jar with plain tank water began to look mossy inside the glass, while the other with Silver filings still looks clear over two years later.
        Apparently bandages can also be infused with Silver, because it is known to assist in healing burns and other wounds, and preventing infection.
        I doubt using a pan lined with Silver would have adverse health affects, especially since any Silver ingested would probably be in minute quantities.

  22. I have received two so called sterling silver pendants from a website which described the items as 925 sterling silver but there is no 925 stamp on either piece. Instead they are both stamped with “silver”. I have lots of 925 stamped silver and am concerned that these pieces are not what they claim to be. The price was about right for sterling silver. The items are brand new, not vintage.

    • I am no expert but as I understand there are still no rules for Japan and they are the only ones I know of that use the mark “silver” oh and China/ Asia?. See Hunter Ridge comments about this mark above. so if that is the case I would guess they could still export that way? with the same mark, but best bet is get the silver testing stuff, and test the liquid first to make sure it is not expired. (with the silver sample they send, and as I ran into that problem after fighting with it for a few weeks they would not refund me). Sharon

    • Hi Helen and thanks for contacting us! Sorry for the delayed response. There are still jurisdictions using the “Silver” mark to denote silver purity – mostly in South East Asia and a few in North Africa. Its unusual, as you noted, to encounter this mark on modern pieces. I would have them tested.

  23. I just had my cute little guilloche butterfly necklace tested and it tested 60%silver, 35% iron, with a tiny bit of gold, copper. What is this alloy. I work with jewelry and have never seen this.

  24. I used to think till date silver jewelry that I buy is made of silver only. I also get it now that other metals (like zinc) are added to improve it’s hardness. From now on I will also be able to know the meaning of marks on jewellery.

  25. I have a very small silver cat – about 1.75cm square. It has an 800 silver mark, which I understand, and another mark that is a “star shape 451 F1”. Could you explain this for me, please?

  26. I’m really hoping you can help. I have acquired a set of 11 goblets or chalices, not sure which word would be correct. They are all made by W & S Blackinton. Nine clearly indicate they are E.P. on brass. One indicates E.P. on brass white metal mounts, and I take this to mean that the stem is white metal although it looks identical to the rest of the piece. The last one is a puzzle. The stamp for W & S Blackinton is barely readable as it just didn’t seem to stamp evenly across the bottom. There’s no evidence that it was rubbed off or has worn off. But deeply stamped in the middle is the number 5. There is no indication that this piece is silver plate. What is your take on this? Is it more likely silver than silver plate? What would the number 5 represent? Thanks so much for your help!

    • Hi Judy and thanks for your Question! My instinct is that this is a model number or mold number. It may be older than the other pieces, but I do not think it is silver. Blakinton was a well established company that made both silver and silver plate. If the piece was silver, it would have a fineness mark indicating the same.

  27. Hi, I have a Japanese piece that is marked “Silver” and “Japan”. The Pure test kit is not resulting anything, (not too sure about this test kit). So I know it has silver in it, but the silver testing liquid is not changing color at all.. I thought i had read somewhere that this was the old mark for Sterling in Japan but i could be wrong and cannot find what I read. Do you know? If so do you know what years this mark was used in Japan? I also read somewhere that there were laws passed in 1920s and 1950s about putting the purity number t for silver on pieces including Japan but I dont see it happening on any of the pieces I have, at the most they are marked “Sterling Silver”. Any help is appreciated, and I do have pictures. thanks, Sharon

  28. Hi, I came across a picture frame that is hammered silver on the front and smooth silver on the back. It weights 502 grams. I used acid on the hammered part and it was dark brown, on the back it was like a darkish green. There are no markings anywhere. Any thoughts on what this could be. Perhaps 800 German or Italian?
    Thanx

    • Hi Teri and thanks for reading our blog! Were you using silver test acid? If so, my guess would be that this piece is either a lower grade silver or silver plate. Green is almost always an indication of high nickel / copper content. There are a number of cultures that used 50% (or roughly 50%) silver for handicrafts. Often this silver was obtained by melting down local or foreign coins in the 50% silver range.

  29. Hi I have a metal belt with a belt buckle that has either a crocodile or alligator within a lozenge shape marked 100%. I have tried to find anything similar on the internet to no avail. Could you maybe help me. I have tried to take a picture but it always seems unclear. Haze.

  30. Hi! This is great info!

    I have some vintage & antique silver jewelry that is simply marked “SILVER.” Have you seen jewelry marked as such, and if so, did it test sterling?

    • Hi and thanks for reading our blog! Items that marked just “Silver” with no other marks, are often pieces that were manufactured in the far east (or any number of British / American colonies and territories) and then exported to the West. Rather than use the purity or hallmarking system native to the country of manufacture, the pieces were simply marked in english “SILVER”. Silver content varies but is usually at least 900. Japanese pieces then to run in the 950-999 range and Chinese export pieces tend to hit a little over Sterling in our experience. Based on the style of the piece, you can usually figure out where it was made and can then research local silver standards. If you send a photo we’d be happy to throw a guess in the ring. Thanks again.

  31. Thank you for this informative article. I feel more confident about the silver I’m looking at and the right questions to ask a seller!

  32. hi and thanks for the valuable info. I received a cuttlery set as a present, and the mark on all of the pieces states 900 and next to it 24.80. What does this mean? The knives e.g. have a silver handle but the sharp part is of stainless steel.

    • Hi and thanks for your question. My expectation is that the handles are 900 silver. However, i have to note that often the manufacturers of flatware will use a number to indicate the amount of silver that was used in the plating process for plated pieces. I do not think that is the case here, but it warrants additional research. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.

    • Hi and thanks for reading our blog. Hill tribe is a term used to refer to jewelry, accessories and utilitarian objects manufactured in the “hinterlands” of Thailand by various peoples who trace their origins to mainland China. It is almost impossible to determine whether a piece is authentic Hill Tribe unless you can accurately identify the provenance (similar to the problems with Native American pieces in the USA). In terms of silver content, authentic pieces are usually somewhere between 85% and 99% silver.

  33. I periodically shop for sterling on ebay and see many listing under sterling that are clearly plate I quite often receive items that have been represented as sterling that are claimed to test sterling but do not have a sterling mark; some of these pieces are marked Alpaca, German, or Tibetan which you have address; others test positive for magnetic susceptibility and I am curious if it is100% reliable to determine an item is not sterling using magnetic susceptibility? I have heard that a clasp that is positive for magnetic susceptibility may be due to a spring in the mechanism but I only accept this explanation if the clasp has a sterling stamp. I suspect that acid testing reliability is subject to the skill of the tester. Thoughts?

    • Hi and thanks for your question! When it comes to buying precious metal jewelry, the best thing you can do is to but from a trusted seller who will stand behind there product. I believe that most of the time people sell non-silver items by mistake. There is a lot of confusion regarding what is, and what isn’t silver – especially on ebay. To answer your question, — NO — magnets are not a reliable test for silver. It goes both ways — many non-silver items (e.g. silver plated) brass will pass the test and many genuine silver items will fail the test. Genuine silver items fail for a number of reasons — some are plated with a magnetic top coat, some have steel parts (such as the spring you mentioned – or a pin, or a staibilizer). Also, very strong magnets (e.g. rare earth) will react to the the metals used to make silver alloys (for example cobalt). Acid testing is pretty straight forward– esepcially for a presence /absence test on silver. We don’t sell test kits but I’d be happy to recommend one if you are interested. Thanks again!

      • Does acid testing leave a noticeable mark on the piece tested? I have a Danish piece that I believe to be silver, but has only a maker’s mark (initials). I would be prepared to have it professionally tested too, but imagine that they too would use acid testing.

        • Hi and thanks for reading our blog. A skilled jeweler or appraiser will be able to test the item without damaging it. Acid testing with a touchstone is OK. DO NOT allow the person performing the test to apply acid directly to the piece or to file into the piece – neither is necessary.

  34. I have several items that are marked 925 that tarnish to look almost like copper; I polish them with baking soda and they look like silver again. I was hoping someone might have information to share on this topic.

    • Hi and thanks for your question. Silver tarnish can show up in a variety of colors from black to brown to tan to even a purplish iridescent. It depends on the type of silver alloy and the air / contaminants to which the the item is exposed. Do you have indoor pool? Sometimes the presence of chlorine from a pool will tarnish silver to more of a brown color (rather than the usual black).

  35. Your Description of the ‘Different’ Classifications used is MOST interesting. started making
    ‘REAL SILVER jewelry as a hobby over 50 years ago, and used to buy my silver from ‘Johnson Mathey’ who supplied me with ‘SHEET’ or ‘WIRE’ as I ordered.
    I came across ALL this Silver Jewelry from China and ‘KNEW’ that it was too good to be true to be SOLID SILVER at the prices, but I still got Sucked in and Bought a number of pieces to give as gifts. before the first one arrived. They keep coming and DO NOT LOOK too bad, but knowing that they are NOT Silver, puts a damper on things and I definitely will NOT be giting them.
    Surely something can be done to STOP these people from Advertising and Selling this ‘CRAP’ as ‘925’ or ‘STERLING SILVER’. I STILL do not know HOW they can make the articles out of ANY Material and sell it for the prices they do and Ship it across the world. I live in Canada and Wish we had the luxury to be able to produce sooooo inexpensively.
    Thanks for your explanation and awakening to the NEW World that GREED has created.

    • get a refund and keep items on ebay or thru paypal and beat them at their own game of greed. lol. Item not as described claim upholds your right as a consumer.

    • The good news is if you purchase items using paypal or on ebay, you can get a refund and usually (always in my experience), keep the item. just let the vender and ebay or paypal know that item not as described, if it fails silver testing and was presented as 925 silver in the USA market.

      Customer guarantee holds so if merchant faios to refund, then paypal or ebay will do so.

    • Hi and thanks for your question. As long as the piece is not being sold as solid “Silver”, it is not techincally “fake”. S80 Silver is plated base metal. In the U.S., you could not use the word “Silver” in the title without a qualifier clearly explaining the piece was plated. Chinese regulations, to the extent they exist, might not be equivalent. An interesting legal question exists as to when the item becomes subject to U.S. regulation— when marketed, or only when it arrives mislabeled in the U.S.? I do not know the answer to that question.

      • Hi…. I hope you can help me hunterridge…..A bit of a back story. Since I was a child my Godfather would give me what I thought was sterling silver flatware for b-days and Xmas. My finally gift was a mahogany case to hold this lovely sterling. My mom’s pattern was Joan of Arc which was continued with me. So I was going through it recently ( in it’s lovely case ) and saw many different markings. I’ll start with what I think is the good news:

        International Sterling – Joan of Arc ( in cursive writing )
        CB&S- stamped on the handle
        EPNS BP
        EP R/N/S
        1847 Rogers Bros. 1S or IS
        VOOS – with an arrow through the middle
        W.M.A. Rogers A1 Plus
        Haddon Plate
        McGlashin King’s Plate…….that’s what the surname looks like…..not 100% sure

        Let me just say I’m feeling a little freaked out as I thought for 61 years this was all silver. In fact, every gift was wrapped in a Birk’s box.
        Anyway I thought with my mom’s setting for 8 and mine for 8….all Joan of Arc……..well you can imagine what I thought….la la la 16.

        Thank you for your help and I look forward to hearing from you
        Victoria

        • EPNS is electroplated and isn’t silver.
          Usually a base metal is used , copper brass etc , and is then electroplated to look like silver.
          Sorry.

  36. Thank you for this information. You have introduced me to a few new terms, but I didn’t find one of the ones I was looking for. What is Tibet Silver? I guess from reading this article that it is most like alpaca silver. Thanks!

    • Hi and thanks for reading our blog. “Tibetan Silver” is one of those tricky trade terms that means different things to different people. Most of the stuff for sale on the internet that is described as “Tibetan Silver” is made from silver-colored base metal alloy (similar to alpaca). However you will occasionally see people refer to low-grade antique pieces of Tibetan origin as “Tibetan Silver”. That is the exception though. Most so called “Tibetan Silver” is base metal with NO silver content.

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