Fine silver, tibetian silver, nickel silver, coin silver, 925, 999 or just plain silver??? So many types of silver……they are all the same aren’t they? Well if you believe that, chances are you may have found yourself with what at first you thought was a bargain, only to later find out that while it is called silver, there is actually no silver in it, and there is nothing you can do about it….
As the names above suggest, there are many types of silver on the market today, not all of which have any silver content. While looking for a hallmark can go some way to identifying silver, not all countries (including NZ) require sterling silver or fine silver to be hallmarked. Similarly there is only a requirement to include a hallmark where there is sufficient surface area. This means many findings will be unmarked. One is therefore often relying upon the name and description provided to determine the purity or properties of the “silver”.
For this reason, below you will find descriptions and comparisons of silvers commonly used in jewellery making.
Fine silver, otherwise know as pure silver, or .999 is 99.9% pure in its composition, with the remaining .1% comprising trace elements. This silver has a lighter polish than that of sterling silver. Given that it is free of the alloy metals found in sterling sterling silver, it is significantly less prone to tarnish, however being softer it is more prone to develop light scratches. For this reason it is more often used for necklaces and earrings as opposed to rings and bracelets. Here at Custom Keepsake we use fine silver for the production of our fingerprint,and handprint keepsakes, and some custom earrings.
Sterling silver .925 Before I started creating jewellery, I had no idea that sterling silver was not pure. It is in fact an alloy comprising 92.5% silver, plus a mixture of other metals. These metals contribute to the hardness making it more durable for rings and bracelets, but still significantly softer than other metals like stainless steel. Being an alloy, this silver is more prone to tarnish. Sterling silver is most commonly stamped .925 or Stg. All Custom Keepsakes chains, findings, and stamping blanks are Sterling Silver and sources from NZ or Australian suppliers. For information on what causes silver to tarnish visit “Top 9 Reasons your Silver will Tarnish”
Argentium Silver – is a brand of non tarnish alloy silver. Their silver content is similar to that of sterling silver with the remaining elements consisting of germanium and copper. It is the germanium which makes the silver harder and resistant to tarnish. While Argentium is tarnish resistant, in certain conditions, over a period of time, it can still tarnish. Argentum silver is difficult to distinguish from sterling silver as it has the same .925 quality stamp.
Coin silver or .900 comprises 90% silver and 10% copper. This alloy was commonly used in the USA It was named coin silver, not because of its use in making coins, but in that it is refined from used silver coins. Because of its origins, many of the pieces found marked .900 these days are antiques.
Silver This is a bit of a grey area particularly in NZ where jewellery manufacturers are not legally required to quality stamp the composition on silver pieces. I sometimes choose not to stamp some hand stamped pieces as this can show as an area of pressure on the face of the jewellery. That said, all Custom Keepsakes sterling silver or fine silver is described as such and can be stamped at your request.
Jewellery sold as “silver” is a bit of a mystery and therefore the term may be used simply to describe its “colour” as opposed to its composition. These items can often appear as a “bargain” or quite “reasonably priced” compared to other similar businesses. I would strongly recommend where jewellery is described simply as “silver” that you seek clarification of its composition before making a decision to purchase.
Silver filled is where silver is fused using heat and pressure to the outer surface of brass. It is either 5% or 10% sterling silver by weight. It is hard wearing, has the appearance and tarnishing properties of silver, but comes at a significantly lower cost. There is no approved hallmark for silver filled.
Silver plated This is where an extremely thin layer of silver is applied to a base metal giving the overall silver content a tiny percentage. This is more frequently used in costume jewellery.
Nickle silver – Otherwise known as Alpaca silver or German silver. This type of silver is commonly used as an affordable metal for costume jewellery and keepsake jewellery. Nickle silver is comprised of nickel, copper and zinc. The term silver, is simply used to describe its colour as surprisingly it has no silver content at all!!! Given that many people are allergic to nickel, nickel silver should clearly be described as such. Custom Keepsakes does not use nickel silver in its jewellery but does on occasion sell cufflinks, guitar picks, and key rings made of nickel silver. These are clearly described as nickel silver.
Tibetan or Tribal Silver. These types of silver again should be viewed with caution. While they may be stunning in appearance, many contain no silver content, and therefore are only silver in appearance. Some contain dangerous metals including lead and therefore should NEVER be given to children.
Bali, Thai or Mexican Silver There is a vast quantity of silver coming out of these countries. These types of silver should be marked and identified with a quality stamp. If simply described as Bali, Thai, or Mexican silver without a hallmark there is no assurance of the quality or composition of the piece.
So hopefully this has given you an idea of what is out there in the market place and an appreciation that not all silvers have the same qualities and values.