Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.
Fine silver, for example 99.9% pure silver, is relatively soft, so silver is usually alloyed with copper to increase its hardness and strength. Sterling silver is prone to tarnishing  , and metals other than copper can be used in alloys to reduce tarnishing, as well as casting porosity and firescale. Such metals include germanium, zinc, platinum, silicon, and boron. Recent examples of alloys using these metals include Argentium, Sterlium, Sterilite, and Silvadium.
Pure silver, also called fine silver, is relatively soft, very malleable, and easily damaged so it is commonly combined with other metals to produce a more durable product. The most popular of these alloys is sterling silver, which consists of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. Although any metal can make up the 7.5 percent non-silver portion of sterling, centuries of experimentation have shown copper to be its best companion, improving the metal hardness and durability without affecting its beautiful color. The small amount of copper added to sterling has very little effect on the metal’s value.
Instead, the price of the silver item is affected by the labor involved in making the item, the skill of the craftsperson, and the intricacy of the design.
Stamps of Quality
Most high quality silver items are stamped with a fineness or quality mark. This mark designates the precious metal content of the jewelry, and under federal law, must be accompanied by a maker's mark or registered trademark.
Because pure silver is so soft, it should only be used when malleability is required, such as in handcrafted jewelry featuring weaving and other intricate designs. Sterling silver is most often used for jewelry and household accessories because of its combination of beauty and durability. Acceptable quality marks for sterling silver include:
- Sterling Silver
WHY BUY SILVER
925 Sterling Silver jewelry certainly does not come cheap. It requires quite an investment from your side, whether you are buying a sterling silver pendant or a necklace. But it is a worthwhile investment as its value increases with time. What is very important though is not to be duped into buying fake 925 sterling silver jewelry.
HOW TO IDENTIFY REAL STERLING SILVER FROM FAKE
The techniques described here will help you do just that – to identify real sterling silver jewelry from the fake ones that are sold by certain untrustworthy sellers.
- Rub the jewelry using a soft white cloth. If you find any back marks on the cloth, then you can be sure that it is made of real sterling silver. This is because any air exposure causes real sterling silver to oxidize. This causes them to deteriorate with time, and the reason why black marks are found on the cloth they are polished with.
- Do The Nitric Acid Test. When drops of nitric acid are added to fake non-silver jewelries, they cause them to lose their color. Always ask a jeweler before buying 925 sterling silver from him if you can conduct the nitric acid test on it. Nitric acid has no effect on real s925 sterling silver, so if the jeweler is selling you a genuine product, he won’t have any objection to that. But be sure to wear gloves and protect your eyes with goggles while doing the nitric acid test. If the jewelry is made of real sterling silver, the part on which you drop the nitric acid will appear creamy in color, otherwise, if fake, it will appear green.
- Use the Smell Test. Real sterling silver shouldn’t smell. If it does, it is because there is too much copper in it.
- Use the Magnet Test. This is a simple test. Magnets have no effect on silver – just as they have no effect on gold or platinum. But if you find that the jewelry is attracted to the magnet, then it will be clear to you that it is not made of real sterling silver.
- Real sterling silver jewelry will have markings such as “Ster,” “925” or “Sterling Silver” in a hidden area. If you don’t see such a marking, be wary of it immediately.