Let’s take a quick look at one of your Sterling Silver pieces. You may notice a tiny, engraved mark that reads ‘.925’. Now, this may not be your first time noticing this mark; but have you ever wondered what it means? Well, this stamp indicates the 92.5% of Sterling Silver that is made up of Pure Silver. Pretty straight forward; right? As for the other 7.5%, the answer is not so black and white. Now, one burning question remains unanswered - What exactly is Sterling Silver made of?
Okay, that was a lie; there are several burning questions. For example, what is up with this 7.5% of ‘miscellaneous metal’? Is your Pure Silver mixed with just ONE other metal? Or is this mysterious portion comprised of much more? Most importantly, is all Sterling Silver jewelry made the same?
Let’s begin our ‘Sterling Silver Investigation’ by looking at the variation in prices. This is always an interesting topic because there are so many different answers! First, think about the cheapest price you have paid for a piece of Sterling Silver jewelry. Now, think about the most expensive Sterling Silver piece you have seen. Big difference? We thought so, too!
So, does the price give us any insight as to what kind of metals are used in that 7.5%? Or, does the price of Sterling Silver simply reflect the jewelry brand we are purchasing? So many questions! But don’t worry, we have compiled years of research and experience to find what goes into the making of Sterling Silver. Here’s what we discovered:
The most common misconception of Sterling Silver is that it is a precious metal, solely made up of Pure Silver. That is only 92.5% true! Sterling Silver is considered an ‘alloy’, meaning it is the combination of two or more metallic elements. Pure Silver is far too malleable and soft to create jewelry on its own; therefore, it is paired with various base metals – resulting in Sterling Silver. This is where that 7.5% comes in! So, what are these mystery base metals?
· Nickel (Ni)
· Copper (Cu)
· Zinc (Zn)
These three base metals are the most notorious within the jewelry industry; especially in the making of Sterling Silver. Each metal provides its own unique benefits, and flaws, to Sterling Silver jewelry.
If you come across Sterling Silver that is noticeably shinier than others, chances are, the 7.5% is made up of Nickel. Nickel is used in Sterling Silver to create a bright and lustrous finish. But - do you know what else makes Nickel notorious in the jewelry world? It causes mild to severe skin allergies - affecting over 60 million Americans. You may be wondering, how can a dangerous metal like Nickel end up in my Sterling Silver? It’s easier than you think. In fact, manufacturers in the U.S. can label your jewelry “Nickel-Free”, even if it contains up to 5% of Nickel. Unfortunately, even the slightest trace of this metal is enough to cause a reaction. This explains why so many of us get irritated or discolored skin from Sterling Silver jewelry!
Copper is the most commonly used metal in the making of Sterling Silver. Copper provides the durability that Pure Silver needs, while maintaining its natural color. What could possibly go wrong with Copper? Well – it is highly susceptible to tarnishing and causing skin discoloration. Sterling Silver pieces that contain Copper often demonstrate these issues through simple exposure to oxygen. Question: Have you ever worn a Sterling Silver ring and noticed your skin turning green underneath it? This either concludes that you are secretly ‘The Incredible Hulk’ - OR - that your ring is comprised of a base metal, such as Copper.
Ranking as both inexpensive, and relatively safe, Zinc is another typical metal choice for use in Sterling Silver. However, every metal has its dark side. Contrary to general belief, Zinc is NOT tarnish-resistant. While that is a common misconception, Zinc does experience tarnish due to contact with everyday factors; such as moisture, humidity, cosmetic products – you name it! Zinc even has the tendency to stain your skin with tarnish, just like Copper and Nickel.