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What is the Difference Between Sterling Silver vs. Pure Silver?

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While buying silver jewellery items, you should know the basic difference between sterling and pure silver. For this you can approach a govt approved jewellery valuer.

A true jewellery valuer can let you know about it. Silver and sterling silver are terms that are often used again and again. However they do not always mean the same thing.

Let’s take a look at how jewellery marked as sterling silver is different from items made of pure silver.

What Is Pure Silver?

It has actual silver content of 99.9%. Because of its high purity, it is too soft to use in jewellery making. It is often mixed with other metals to make it harder.

What Is Sterling Silver?

It’s an alloy created when copper is added to pure silver to make the resultant compound more durable and less soft.

Usually, it has a purity of 92.5%. It means 7.5% of the alloy is made of copper or another metal which is usually nickel or zinc.

There’s also the so-called coin silver, which is an alloy of lowest purity. It usually contains less silver.

Silver, Sterling Silver, & Tarnishing:

Sterling silver is more durable than pure silver however the additional metals in the alloy make sterling silver more prone to tarnishing.

This happens because the nickel, zinc, copper, or other mixtures in sterling silver can react with oxygen and other elements in the air.

Sterling Silver & Plating

sterling silver

Often, sterling silver items are plated with a thin layer of pure silver to increase the shine of the piece. However, sometimes, you may see an item marketed as sterling silver plated.

This often means that the piece is made up of nickel, copper or another metal, not silver. It is simply plated with a layer of sterling silver that can fade after some time.



Recognizing Fine Silver & Sterling Silver Marks

Fine silver is stamped with marks like 99.9 .999 or 999.  This indicates how much silver the piece contains per hundred or thousand parts.

Jewellery with lowest purity isn’t considered sterling silver by U.S. standards.

Also silver sold in Europe or other parts of the world may have purity lower than 92.5% and still be marketed as silver or sterling silver.

For example, German silver has silver content as low as 80%. Russian silver also have purity lower than 90%.

Because of the different silver content standards around the world, you’ve to enquire about the actual silver content of the jewellery you are about to buy.

Also, you need to pay attention to the marks stamped on it.

Testing Silver for Purity:

silver puritySilver is usually tested for purity using the acid test:

In this test, a small chip is taken from the item & is put in acid to see if its color changes or not. If the acid’s color changes, this means that the piece has purity below 92.5%.

Here you can go through a selection of precious metals testing kits that can be used to test silver.

If you want to test the purity of your silver jewellery, you don’t need to do the acid test yourself. There’re jewellers who can perform this service for you for fee.


Before purchasing any jewellery item advertised as silver or sterling silver, make sure you check it for stamped marks that indicate the exact silver content of the piece.


Sterling silver is a beautiful metal that looks like white gold or platinum; however it’s inexpensive.

Sterling silver is fashioned into a wide range of jewellery pieces. It can be set with gemstones or embroidered with other stunning precious metals.

About Author:

Aashirwad Jewellers was established in the year 1998 with a purpose of presenting India’s finest jewellery tradition to the people at world stage.

We are a govt approved jewellery valuer in India. We believe in establishing long term business relationships based on sound values and business ethics.

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