There are a few ways to determine if your silver-tone jewelry is created from genuine solid sterling silver, if it is simply silver-plated, or worse yet, is fraudulently advertised as .925 sterling silver. Read on for details...
1. Fine silver (99.9% pure) is too soft for use in jewelry designs, so sterling silver is used by jewelers to create high-quality silver jewelry. Sterling silver is an alloy that is created by combining pure silver with another metal to provide increased strength and durability. Sterling silver jewelry should contain a .925 quality stamp, meaning that the composition contains 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal, usually copper. The .925 or STER quality stamp is regulated and mandatory on all sterling silver jewelry produced in the USA. Often the .925 stamp is quite small and may require a magnifying glass to view clearly. The mark will likely be placed in an inconspicuous location. Check for the .925 quality stamp on the clasp of a bracelet or necklace, the back side of a pendant, or the inside of a ring.
Unfortunately, it is all to easy for fraudulent overseas manufacturers to falsely label a counterfeit silver item with a .925 sterling silver quality stamp when in actuality, the item is created from a plated base metal. Given this reality, you're going to need to rely on more than the .925 quality stamp to ensure that you are purchasing genuine sterling silver.
2. Under US federal law genuine sterling silver jewelry must also contain the jeweler's hallmark stamp along with the .925 quality stamp. The jeweler's hallmark stamp is a maker's registered mark that identifies their work.
3. Use a soft polishing cloth to assess the authenticity of sterling silver jewelry. Genuine sterling silver will naturally darken/tarnish with time as it oxidizes with air. This tarnish can be easily removed with a silver polishing cloth to restore the original brilliance of the piece. Sterling silver jewelry will produce black marks on the cloth.
4. Like gold and platinum, silver is not magnetic. An ordinary refrigerator magnet may not be strong enough to elicit a response, so use a heavy-duty magnet to conduct this test. Heavy-duty magnets may be found at your nearest hardware store. If the piece of jewelry that you are testing is attracted to the magnet, it is not sterling silver.
5. Genuine sterling silver is odorless. While copper is a common alloy in sterling silver, .925 sterling silver does not contain enough copper to produce an aroma. If your silver-tone jewelry smells like an old penny, it's not sterling silver.
6. Pay close attention to the coloring of your silver jewelry. Sterling silver is usually warmer in tone and not quite as shiny as silver plated items. Genuine sterling silver, has a distinctive greyish color while most plated baubles have a brighter hue due to the application of rhodium plating. If a piece of sterling silver looks too white, it is probably an imitation. If there areas on the item where the color appears to have flaked away, your item is silver plated rather than solid sterling silver.
7. Sterling silver has a positive reaction to nitric acid, while silver plated and other non silver metals will have a negative reaction to this chemical. Nitric acid tests may be purchased online for a nominal fee. This is the most accurate test that you can perform on a piece of silver jewelry, however, it should not be your first choice as it is necessary to file/scratch your jewelry to perform this test. Nitric acid will remain cloudy and colorless when tested on the exposed area of sterling silver items. Nitric acid will turn various shades of green and begin to bubble on non sterling silver items.
8. Genuine sterling silver jewelry doesn't come cheap. One obvious tip off of imitation sterling silver is its pricing. If the price of the item seems too good to be true, it probably is. Shop wisely and purchase your sterling silver jewelry from a reputable US retailer.
Click or tap here to learn more about how to clean and care for your sterling silver jewelry.