23 legit types of silver used in jewelry today and 10 crazy mistakes you can make if you don't know them
This is the ultimate guide to silver types used in jewelry today.
In this all-new guide, you'll learn:
- 23 kinds of Silver you may encounter on the jewelry market today.
- How can you say that the seller is trying to scam you without checking if the silver is real?
- Lots of insider tips.
PURE SILVER vs STERLING SILVER vs SILVER PLATED:
Shopping for silver jewelry for yourself, your friend, or a loved one - you'll be fascinated by today's guide.
Let's get started.
Is it really that important to learn types of silver out there?
The short answer is: YES!
Look at the bullet list below. If not right away then by the end of the reading the series of our Silver related articles you will know at least 8 important bits of information:
- how durable is this type of silver;
- how easily it tarnishes;
- how to properly clean this type of silver;
- how to provide preventative care for different types of silver;
- is this type of silver hypoallergenic or not;
- if the price is right;
- does it contain dangerous metals.
And if this is not enough, my favorite is:
- Does it contain any silver at all?
Whether you are shopping for different types of silver rings, chains, bangles, earrings or necklaces armed with this knowledge you will 101% be able to take much more educated purchasing decision.
There are 3 significant additions to this article that will NOT be covered here but will be elaborated on in the upcoming articles.
- Quality Marks you may encounter on silver. What are they?
- Everything about jewelry allergies. Dos and Don'ts.
- Real or Fake? How to find out if the silver you are buying is real?
And now, without further ado, let us get started.
Types of Silver
First things first: listed below are 13 different types of Silver used to make real jewelry today.
- Pure or Fine Silver
- Sterling Silver
- Silver Plated
- Argentium Silver
- Platinum Sterling Silver
- Palladium Sterling Silver
- Silver Filled
- Thai Silver and Hill Tribe Thai Silver
- Mexican Silver
- Bali Silver
- Niello Enamel Silver (Niello)
- Blackened or Oxidized Silver
Aside from the list above, you may also encounter the 3 type of Silver plated by other Precious Metals:
And finally - not to get SCAMMED - 10 types of Silver you may encounter that contain NO silver at all:
- Nickel Silver
- German Silver
- Alpaca Silver (sometimes spelled Alpacca)
- Argentan Silver
- New Silver
- Tibetan Silver
- Tribal Silver
- Nepalese Silver
- Brazilian Silver
- Nevada Silver
As you can see from the list above, many cool or nice-sounding names can be totally misleading.
And now it is time to describe the first type of silver.
Pure or Fine Silver
Fine silver is the closest you can get to the pure element silver. It’s made of 99.9% silver and just 0.1% of other elements.
The quality mark is
.999 FS or
Because of the amount of the digit 9 in the quality mark it is often referred to as three nines fine.
In the upcoming article we will be discussing the Millesimal fineness system for silver. You will also encounter four, five nines fine silver and even silver with the quality mark 1000!
Pure or Fine silver is:
- very soft;
- malleable metal;
It has a more vitreous luster than the bright polish of sterling silver. It appears grayer and slightly dull.
It can be formed into delicate, beautiful jewelry pieces. But three nines fine silver and above can easily scratch, dent, change the form or lose shape. It fuses without solder, and it is highly resistant to tarnish.
Because it is too soft, fine silver isn’t recommended and is not often used to create jewelry. Earrings and pendants sometimes made of the fine silver, since the impact of wearing these type of jewelry is relatively low.
All fine silver are hypoallergenic, causing no allergic reactions. If you have an allergic reaction to a piece of Fine Silver, that actually means that it is NOT pure silver, and some traces of Nickel or other metals that can cause allergic reaction must be present in it.
The most famous silver alloy that has been used in the jewelry industry for centuries is called Sterling silver.
Lustrous and reflective, it became a de facto quality standard in the United States and most of the world markets. Some even say that most of the people associate the silver color with the color of Sterling silver.
It is 92.5% pure silver combined with 7.5% copper, aluminum, or zinc to create a less soft and more durable and wearable metal, can be soldered, formed, and annealed repeatedly. Precisely what is needed for jewelry making.
The most common quality mark for sterling silver is
.925 STG. Vintage pieces often feature the older marks:
The presence of copper in the content causes sterling silver to change its color and darken over time. This process is known as tarnishing.
It's generally easy to clean this tarnish off, and we will speak about cleaning silver extensively in the upcoming Ultimate Guide to Silver Cleaning.
But don't treat tarnishing as an undesirable process. It is sometimes intentionally used by jewelers to accentuate patterns and designs.
Typically sterling silver is hypoallergenic, but when the alloy contains some trace amounts of nickel or some other known allergen metals, this type of silver can cause reactions.
Silver plated jewelry has an extremely thin layer of silver (measured in microns) covering a base metal, commonly copper, brass or nickel.
Sometimes silver plated jewelry described as fine silver-plated, but it does not change the fact that the overall silver content is a tiny fraction of a percent.
Silver plated jewelry may have many different quality marks on it:
These codes identify the quality of plating with
A1 being the best and
D is the lowest.
You may also encounter
EP marks. For example:
EPNS- Electro Plated Nickel Silver;
EPBM- Electro-Plated Brittania Metal.
You may also encounter full phrases like sterling inlaid or silver soldered.
We will speak more about quality marks for silver in our upcoming article.
Silver-plated jewelry have a very low amount of silver in them, which is perfect for creating affordable costume jewelry.
Unlike sterling silver, the tarnish on silver-plated jewelry is, most of the time, irreversible.
Moreover, this type of jewelry has little resale value unless they are rare or collectible items.
Because the layer of silver in plating is very thin, these types of jewelry tarnish relatively easily, wear off with time and expose the base metal underneath. Hence, fair warning for people with nickel allergies: buying and wearing silver-plated nickel, you are exposing yourself to a higher chance of developing itchy skin or skin rash.
Argentium is the newest sterling silver alloy that hit the world markets.
It contains more silver than sterling and is available in two grades:
96% purity. For example: Argentium 935 Pro Silver alloy consists of
5.5% copper and
It is more tarnish-resistant and easier to maintain.
|Traditional Sterling Silver||vs||Argentium Sterling Silver|
|When air touches copper, tarnish develops||Air does not touch copper - no tarnish!|
Why traditional Sterling Silver tarnishes easier than Argentium?
The secret is in how Argentum is layered. Sterling silver tarnishes because the copper in the alloy is in direct touch with air. It oxidizes, and changes colors. Argentium, in its turn, has a layer of germanium that creates a thin barrier between the copper and the air, thus dramatically slowing down the tarnishing process. Results indicate that Argentium 935 is about 7 times more tarnish resistant to sterling silver and Argentium 960 is nearly 8 times more resistant.
Watch how differently Argentium and Sterling silver react to heating and cooling.
Because a piece made from Argentium has a higher silver content than traditional sterling silver, the resulting jewelry has a much whiter, much brighter look.
When CEILAB standard color measurement system was used, Argentium was rated as a metal "whiter" than rhodium. In plain English it means that when you wear jewelry made from Argentium, it looks much more like you are wearing platinum or white gold instead of sterling silver.
From the marketing point of view, Argentium is a registered brand. The stamp of the brand features a flying unicorn.
Only authorized jewelers can use the Argentium stamp, which creates a relative peace of mind buying Argentium as the origin of this type of silver can be traced and verified.
Argentium is 100% nickel-free which makes it a perfect alloy to wear without fear of allergies. Germanium is also an inert metal, making Argentium even more hypo-allergenic than traditional sterling silver. This alone can make Argentium jewelry to be a very thoughtful gift. But - Argentium costs more than most other silver alloys.
If you are curious about this type of silver, the history behind it, and its qualities, here is a short documentary about the Development of Argentium Silver with plenty of interesting test results.
Platinum Sterling Silver / "Platinum Silver"
Another registered trademark on the silver market is Platinum Sterling. In 2003, a company named ABI Metals created an Alloy of Platinum and Silver and introduced it to jewelry makers as "Platinum Sterling".
Typically Sterling Platinum is made of at least
90% silver, with the remainder made up of platinum. In some cases, platinum silver can contain as little as
.05% platinum. That’s not much platinum percentage-wise, but it is enough to justify the name "sterling platinum" from the marketing perspective.
Most Sterling Platinum Has a Slightly Different Appearance than Sterling Silver. To the naked eye, the alloy can be mistaken for white gold or even for pure platinum. The presence of even a small amount of platinum makes the metal more resistant to tarnishing than pure sterling silver is. The platinum also makes the resulting alloy a bit harder and more resistant to abrasion and wear than pure silver would be.
You Can Find Sterling Platinum in a Variety of Jewelry. In general, it is used to make rings, pins, and other ornamental jewelry pieces.
If Sterling Platinum comes from ABI Precious Metals, it is usually stamped with a hallmark that says, "Platinum Sterling". ABI Precious Metals supplies
5% Platinum Sterling.
If the source is not known, testing may be needed to determine how much platinum is present in Sterling Platinum.
Palladium Sterling silver
Yet another registered trademark from ABI Metals that comes in
3% Palladium Sterling.
It is brighter and whiter than sterling or rhodium plated white gold. Palladium Sterling has a brilliant sheen that is similar to white gold but costs much less. Most of these alloys are created because traditional sterling silver, although a beautiful, shiny metal, tends to tarnish.
It is serious drawback.
Think of anyone who has to handle or maintain a large amounts of silver jewelry and you will understand the problem.
In the palladium sterling silver alloy, palladium replaces copper. ABI's own technical documentation describes Palladium Sterling as:
Outstanding tarnish resistance which eliminates the need for plating or E-Coating.
The addition of palladium to sterling silver makes it five times more resistant to tarnish than sterling silver.
Technically, "silver filled" is a very misleading name. It gives an idea that something is "filled with silver", while in reality it is right the opposite. It is a base metal, like brass or copper, covered by a layer of silver.
It is not an alloy because the metal content is not the same throughout the material. Instead, the sterling silver is all on the surface.
This layer can be 100 times thicker than the amount of silver used for silver plating, but still, it is a much lower quality product than solid sterling silver jewelry.
100%sterling silver alloy
There is no legally approved quality stamp standard for silver-filled at this time. This means - you don't really know for sure how much silver you are buying. It can be anywhere between
10% sterling silver by weight fused with heat and pressured to a brass or copper core.
Some manufacturers use the stamp
.925 SF, meaning that the silver that covers the base metal is sterling silver, but this can be extremely misleading for an amateur buyer. Silver-filled was introduced to the jewelry market during the recent surge of silver prices when many jewelry designers were forced to find a solution to use less silver in the uprising silver market. Silver filled jewelry cost 40-60% less but the look is the same as sterling. Like sterling, silver-filled jewelry pieces will tarnish. Now that silver has come down from past highs, this silver is less common on the market.
Thai Silver and Hill Tribe Thai Silver
Thai Silver is famous for being handcrafted by six different Hill Tribe Clans, located in the famed Golden Triangle region of Thailand, Laos, and Burma.
Thai silver generally has more silver content than Sterling silver, around
99% vs. only
92.5% in Sterling silver. The high Silver content of Thai Silver makes it softer than sterling, and it does not tarnish as quickly.
Thai Silver is known worldwide and in high demand by collectors.
Mexico is one of the world's leading producers of silver. It is said that people often associate silver with Mexico. Although standards vary, most Mexican silver is
92.5 percent) pure. Purity ranges from
.999 and is often stamped as such.
It may say, "silver made in Mexico" or "Mexico silver".
Most work from 1950 onwards is stamped "Sterling" or with an incuse
925 stamp. Some Mexican silver features an eagle stamped into it with a number designating where in the country it originated. For example, Eagle stamp #1 was for Mexico City, stamp #3 was for Taxco, stamp #16 was registered to Margot.
There are many variations and exceptions.
You can find more information on the variety of Mexican Silver marks here.
Bali (Balinese) Silver (not to be mixed with "Bali Style jewelry")
Another VERY confusing story!
Do not fall for it! "Bali Style jewelry" may look like Bali Jewelry. They also sound alike! But they are not genuine Bali Silver Jewelry and have a much lower value.
Authentic Bali Silver is made on the island of Bali. It is entirely hand-crafted.
There are a limited amount of Bali silversmiths, and they produce a small amount of Balinese Silver jewelry every year. The process of making Balinese Silver requires a combination of silver, torches, and rolling mills skills. Balinese Silver is sterling silver mixed with pewter for a grayer ton.
Pewter is a malleable metal alloy consisting of tin (85–99%), antimony (approximately 5–10%), copper (2%), and bismuth.
Aside from "Bali Style jewelry," there are now many cheaper imitations, mostly cast or molded instead of genuinely hand-crafted.
Niello Enamel Silver (Niello)
Niello is a black mixture, usually of sulfur, copper, silver, and lead.
The origin of the name is from "nigello" or "neelo", the medieval Latin for "black" although the finished product is more of a gunmetal color.
It is used more like enamel, as an inlay on engraved metals or as a filler for bracelets, rings, pendants or different designs. The niello shows as the filled lines in black, contrasting with the polished silver around it. It was also used to fill in the letters in inscriptions engraved on metal.
Jewelry crafted solely of niello are rare. Though historically most common in Europe, it is also known from many parts of Asia and the Near East.
Nielloware jewelry is instantly recognizable. Like electrum, niello was well-known since a long time ago - by the early Egyptians.
Blackened or Oxidized Silver
It is genuine sterling silver with the surface intentionally darkened by sulfides. A layer of sulfide formed on the surface during this process gives silver a blackened look, which sometimes also called -"oxidized" look.
The term "oxidizing" or "oxidized" is a complete misnomer though as during this process, silver is not introduced to oxygen but to sulfides. Although technically it's not correct, the industry terminology stuck with it.
Oxidized silver affects only the top layer of metal, gives blackened color and does not change the silver metal's internal color or properties.
Technically, the process is a sped-up version of natural tarnishing.
The look of silver blackened in this way will gradually change over time. The oxidized finish will polish off, and the actual color of the silver will shine through.
At full strength, the color that appears on the surface of silver described as "matte gunmetal black". But with a controlled application a whole rainbow of colors can be achieved including blues, purples, yellows, and reds.
Rings and bracelets tend not to hold their oxidized finishes quite long since they rub on everything we touch more frequently than earrings or necklaces.
It is highly recommended to remove your oxidized silver jewelry before aggressive mechanical influence and showering or washing your hands to make the dark color last longer.
In general, oxidized silver jewelry should not be cleaned with jewelry cleaning dips or aggressive polishing that can strip the blackened surface.
The oxidized finish of jewelry can be restored at any time. You can simply ask the maker for a re-blackening or inquire at your local jeweler to see if they can touch up the oxidized finish.
You'll often come across jewelry listed as silver but with no indication of the silver content or alloy type. What this type of silver is remains open to interpretation!
It could be anything, really.
As we've already mentioned, 100% silver is not used in jewelry. Silver should be marked clearly with approved stamps, and the purity level should be indicated, so you know what type of alloy it is.
In general, jewelry simply described as silver tends to be inexpensive silver plating that wears off after a while.
Always look for the stamp or ask the retailer about the exact contents of the alloy. So be wary when you find silver jewelry.
It is a bit of a mystery metal.
3 type of Silver plated by other Precious Metals
Vermeil is a type of gold-finished material composed of a thick layer of gold over solid sterling silver.
Vermeil usually looks like gold to the naked eye, making it an excellent alternative for those who can't afford pure gold jewelry. Unlike other gold jewelry, vermeil is usually thinner, and the gold layer is achieved by using a gold leaf or powder instead of a sheet of gold.
For a piece to be considered vermeil in the U.S. it must have a sterling silver base (instead of brass or cheaper metals) and the gold portion of 10 karats or above. The thickness of the gold portion must be 2.5 microns and this sets vermeil jewelry apart from gold-plated jewelry. Even though vermeil has a lot more gold than gold-plated pieces, it is crucial to understand that vermeil is not gold. It's sterling silver with a layer of gold. You can shine vermeil up to give it a beautiful gloss or leave it to tarnish for a vintage look. Modern vermeil pieces tend to look like real gold, so you need to be very careful when purchasing vermeil pieces.
You might need to test the metal to be sure about what you are buying. Unreliable sellers can take advantage of you and sell you products that are not vermeil or even gold at all. When shopping online, you want to look at the vendor feedback to establish their honesty. The seller must provide some form of guarantee when at the time of a purchase.
Some jewel pieces will have a standard silver purity value marked on the gold surface. That denotes that the base of the piece is silver. Vermeil jewelry can be a great and durable alternative to solid gold pieces. It is also an excellent pick in case of known jewelry allergies.
Platinum Plated Silver
Sterling Silver is a metal that tarnishes (oxidizes) quickly. It is also soft and scratches easily. Platinum is just the opposite – it is exceptionally resistant to oxidation and so hard that it resists wear. Plating a layer of platinum onto silver produces an item of jewelry that is both tarnish-resistant and durable.
Platinum also has a bright white sheen that makes silver even more beautiful. It only takes a very thin layer of platinum to keep silver untarnished and bright.
How much platinum is used?
Depending on how the jewelry was manufactured, platinum could represent as little as
1% or less or as much as
Rhodium Plated Silver
The bright white plated jewelry that you own could be plated with rhodium, not platinum. Professional testing can determine what you have. Also, it is a legal requirement that the retailer discloses whether your piece of jewelry has been rhodium plated or not.
Rhodium is a rare precious element, is as valuable as platinum, and can be 10 to 25 times more expensive than gold.
It is silver-hued, highly reflective, and like platinum, it is highly durable and does not tarnish or corrode.
Rhodium is a very brittle metal and is not easily shaped or formed. As a result, pure rhodium cannot be made into jewelry. On its own, it can easily crack and break somewhat like glass. But when Rhodium is used for plating it enhances the durability, scratch-resistance, luster, and light reflection off silver jewelry.
This process is also known as rhodium dip or rhodium flashing.
Most often, rhodium for silver plating has a thickness of
1.0 microns. For jewelry items such as earrings and pendants that are more sheltered or for jewelry that is not worn frequently, a thickness of
.50 is acceptable.
Many shoppers believe that rhodium plating is permanent. While it is permanent, like any other metal used in jewelry, it tends to suffer wear and tear with exposure and will need to be re-plated. Typically, a ring would need to be re-plated once every 12 to 18 months. This can vary, though, depending on the wear and tear the piece sustains and the thickness of the plating.
Mostly Antique or harder to find today
Originally Indian silver referred to as "Silver made in India", produced during the second half of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. It was used more to create decorative art pieces like bowls and incense holders trays than jewelry.
Today Indian Silver refers to "Silver jewelry made in India that does not have quality mark 925".
Not all modern countries that manufacture silver jewelry have a good reputation for respecting silver guidelines. For example: Australia, Thailand, and Indonesia and considered to be "good" countries.
Unfortunately, recent studies have found that 80% of silver made in India or China has incorrect stamping.
Britannia Silver (not to mix up with Britannia Metal)
Britannia silver is composed of a silver alloy that consists of 95.84% silver and 4% of copper. This standard silver was presented in England by King William III of British in 1696 to dissolve the sterling silver coinage.
The lion hallmark signifying sterling was substituted with the portrait of a woman commonly referred to as Britannia.
The hallmarking was changed January 1st, 1999 and Britannia silver has been denoted by the Millesimal fineness hallmark 958. The symbol of Britannia may still optionally be applied.
Britannia silver is not the same as Britannia metal.
NOTE: Britannia metal is a pewter-like alloy, which does not contain any amount of silver.
The name "Electrum" is derived from the Greek word "Elektron" which refers to a metallic substance containing gold and silver.
It is a metal mainly composed of gold and silver; however, traces of other metals like platinum and copper can also be found.
This naturally occurring silver and gold alloy enjoyed great popularity in Ancient Egypt. Due to its natural origins, the ratio of silver to gold varies with each piece. It was referred to as 'gold' or 'white gold' by ancient Greeks.
It's interesting to note that sometimes Electrum is called "green gold", although it is rarely described as green in color. It is instead described as "pale" to "bright yellow" depending on the gold-silver ratio. Most probably green part comes from a contribution of different metal, though this is just a guess. It is found in places like North and South America, Europe, and New Zealand. The variable amount of gold and silver contents of this alloy makes it really difficult to decide the value of a specific Electrum jewelry.
Now from the modern perspective the thing is, 14K gold would be Electrum in a loose definition when it is composed of gold/silver/copper and others. But, interestingly, no one would use the term "Electrum" in this case. "Electrum" is reserved for a naturally occurring gold-silver alloy. Nowadays world's metal refining techniques are very precise! The composition of any gold-silver alloy can be precisely determined. So it makes no sense to use a loose term like "Electrum" in the modern world. For example, you could speak about alloy of
80% silver, and the rest
10% with other metals like copper and platinum as one version of modern Electrum. And
85% silver with
10% copper and zinc as another version of modern Electrum.
You get an idea.
In a sense, when someone offers "Electrum Jewelry", it is most probably just a nice name from sales & marketing perspective.
In the past, this was the most commonly used silver alloy in the US, but over time, sterling silver took over.
Coin silver contains 90% pure silver in its composition. The rest of the alloy is made using copper.
Coin silver is similar to sterling silver, with the main difference being the amount of pure silver used.
The name "Coin Silver" can be misleading. Most people think this alloy was used to make coins back in the day, but no. It only gets this name because initially, coin silver was made by recycling old coins that contained silver.
Coin silver should be stamped with .900. It's just a little lower than sterling silver in terms of today's purity.
It's a rare alloy, and you'll be hard-pressed to find it.
10 types of Silver that contain NO silver at all
Nickel Silver / German Silver / Argentan Silver / New Silver / Alpaca (sometimes spelled Alpacca) Silver / Brazilian Silver / Nevada Silver
Most people think nickel silver is a silver alloy, but in reality, it is a nickel alloy containing
20% nickel, and
The word "silver" here simply refers to its silver-like color and has nothing to do with the metals in its composition.
Nickel silver is lustrous and bright and very similar in appearance to sterling silver, which is why it was often used to counterfeit silver coins and bullion bars.
This type of metal was developed in Germany in the late 1800s as a less expensive substitute for silver. While antiques and collectibles marked Nickel silver or German silver might hold some value because of the craftsmanship involved in their production, items marked Nickel, or German silver cannot be recycled for cash. In most instances, they are far less valuable than similar objects made of sterling silver.
Nickel silver is easy to shape and craft into elaborate designs. Typically used in costume jewelry.
This alloy is sold under all the names listed above, which can be deceiving. It is not hypoallergenic and should be avoided if you're sensitive to metal allergies.
Tibetan, Tribal, Nepalese Silver
Tibetan Silver originally came from a Chain region, famed for its old-style traditions, heritage, and craftwork.
In old times it actually contained the element silver. To the day, some vintage Tibetan silver is 92.5% sterling silver and usually copper or tin for the remaining percent.
Today, however, with the explosion of trade around the globe, and the increasing demand for cheap goods, there have been many products marketed as "Tibetan Silver". They are mostly a silver-colored alloy consisting of copper with tin or nickel which contain no Silver at all, or cast iron that has been plated with silver-colored metal. Rarely - very small silver quantities mixed with metal alloys.
Typically ships from China.
You may also hear the name "Tribal Silver", which is just another name for a silver-colored alloy consisting of copper, tin, or/and nickel that just looks like aged silver.
Tribal silver varieties are great for costume jewelry and funky, exotic designs, though, as long as you are aware that you are not buying into real silver. These types of products can frequently be found on the internet auctions such as eBay or Amazon and should be avoided.
The metal often contains other elements that are much more toxic than a nickel. That's why Tibetan and Tribal silver is not recommended for pregnant women and children. Some of the items may contain high levels of dangerous metals, like lead and/or arsenic.
eBay issued a buyer warning so that bidders would be aware of the metallurgical testing conducted on Tibetan Silver items and the possible toxicity of these items. In six of seven items analyzed using x-ray fluorescence, the primary metals in the Tibetan Silver were actually nickel, copper, and zinc. One item contained 1.3% arsenic and too high lead content of 54%.
A separate sampling of items revealed trace amounts of chromium, aluminum, tin, gold, and acceptable levels of lead.
Note: Not all items tested contained toxic levels of heavy metals.
There you have it.
You have learned pretty much every single kind and type of silver on the market today. You know which ones are legit types, which ones are plated silver types, which ones are more antique or historical ones and finally you have a very good idea about the fake types that only sound nice, but at the end it is all just marketing and has nothing to do with element silver at all. We are sure you are not going to fall into this trap since now on.
And now we want to turn it over to you: What's your #1 takeaway or lesson learned from this article?
Do you know any other type of silver that are essential to know but we did not cover it in our research?
Or maybe you have a question?
Let us know by leaving a quick comment below right now.