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The Big Difference Between Sterling Silver & Silver Plated Jewelry

Jun 1, 2022

Wondering what the difference is between sterling silver and silver plated jewelry? As it turns out, a pretty significant one! Being able to spot the differences means you can pay a fair market price and not be overcharged for something that’s incorrectly marked.

First, a quick history about silver:

Silver has been found as far back as the 12th century, when it was used for commerce. Over time, silver’s place as a precious metal has evolved beyond commerce. In the not too distant past, newly engaged couples would register for wedding gifts that helped them build a home together, and at the top of these registries were sterling silver flatware. Nowadays, silver can be found in flatware, vases, decorative accents, coins, paper clips, hair brushes, surgical instruments, instruments, and more.

Silver is a popular precious metal for jewelry, partially because of its luster (shininess) and partially because it’s so abundant that it is much less expensive than gold or platinum. The one caveat is that silver can tarnish easily. But if stored properly in a pouch, silver can retain its luster and shine beautifully.

Today, more than half of the silver that’s produced or purchased is used in industrial applications, such as electrical systems, electronics, autos, and solar power — so just about everything!

How to tell the difference between sterling silver and silver plated jewelry?

Okay, so now that we know the importance of silver, how can we tell the difference?

Pure silver is too soft on its own, so other metals are mixed in to toughen it up. That’s exactly what a silver plate is: a various metal that is covered in a fine layer of silver. The inside might be made of copper, brass, or nickel, while the outside has the appearance of silver. Given that pure silver currently nets $20.90/oz., whereas copper nets $.26/oz., nickel nets $.78/oz., and brass nets around $.11/oz. (as of May 2022), there’s a pretty big difference in value.  So, if you are looking to sell your silver items, you should expect a lower pay-out for your silver plated items. 

Sterling silver on the other hand is classified as containing 92.5% or more silver. So while there may be some brass, nickel, or copper mixed in, it is predominantly silver. If there’s a “sterling” or “925” stamped at the bottom of the piece, that’s a key identifier that a piece is sterling silver. Additionally, silversmiths would stamp the piece with the mark of the silversmith or designer, and sometimes, the date of manufacture.

Baltimore’s Silver History 

Fun fact: Baltimore was once a major producer of silver due to its booming silversmith industry! Even now, you can still find pieces marked by Baltimore silversmiths. (Check out our blog about one of the longest-running Baltimore silversmiths, Stieff Silver!)

Being able to identify these details go a long way in determining whether an item is sterling silver or silver plate.

Determining Your Silver’s Value

If you need help confirming whether your item is sterling silver or silver plated, bring it into Samuelson’s! Our expert silver buyers are always available to determine if your items are sterling silver. We can walk you through the process of assessing the item’s history and its current value.

Our fair prices and honest practices have allowed us to stay in business for more than 100 years, and we are here to answer any questions you might have. To start the process, call (410) 837-0290 or contact us online to request an appointment with one of our certified silver buyers.

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