Sterling Silver vs. Silver Plated and other “silver”
Silver plate is not used much for jewelry, since sterling silver itself is relatively inexpensive. Usually when you see silver plated jewelry, it is electroplated, which means a thin coating of silver is chemically deposited on a base metal- a layer of silver so thin it wears off quickly with use. Silver plating is not appropriate for silver jewelry, which will be worn and cherished for many long years, and should never be bought - or sold- as a substitute for the real thing.
There are many different types of silver jewelry items for sale on eBay and the world wide web but what’s the difference between them all? The main types I’ll be explaining are: sterling silver, silver plate/electroplate, alpaca silver and silver tone. And as if the choices weren't hard enough we now have Argentium Sterling Silver to add to the mix.
As a general rule, the best kind of silver jewelry to buy is Sterling Silver. Genuine sterling silver will be hallmarked .925 in most cases, but sometimes there are other hallmarks using part of the “Sterling Silver” words.
In England and some other nations, the hallmark might be a picture or symbol. Some silver jewelry manufacturing companies even have their own unique imprint.
The beauty of sterling silver jewelry is that for people with sensitive skin, like me, you can wear it without breaking out in a rash. The downside is that it can lose its luster quickly if it isn’t cared for and will tarnish over time.
Fortunately, when cleaned with any of the many silver cleaners available today, it will come up bright and shiny again. Because it’s made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, it’s the closest to pure silver you’ll find in jewelry. (Pure silver is typically impractical for jewelry making as it is too soft.)
Next down the line we have silver-plated or silver-electroplated. This means that the jewelry is NOT real silver. It doesn’t matter how thick the plating is or how great the alleged quality - it’s still just costume jewelry.
Usually, there’s no hallmark but if there is, the letters SP or EP (or similar variations) will appear on the jewelry. Despite the fact that many sellers will claim a RRP (recommended retail price) of some ridiculously high figure, just remember that ultimately, it’s just costume jewelry and a recommended retail price does not mean the item is actually worth that amount!
As little as 5% of the item might actually be silver. Over time, the plating will wear away and once that happens, you really can’t use any jewelry cleaning agents to restore the jewelry to its former glory.
Why? Whatever is underneath the plating is going to start showing through and it’s usually a flat dull metal. Plus it will begin to turn your skin green, which is just bad!
Alpaca Silver comes under the category of costume jewelry. It’s an alloy of copper, zinc, nickel & iron and has the color of silver. In most instances it does NOT contain any real silver but may be plated with sterling silver. It has the appeal of not tarnishing or rusting but can cause skin irritations in those who have sensitive skin.
Silvertone or Silver Tone
Silvertone or Silver Tone is just silver colored metal. Again, this falls into the costume jewelry category. Because silvertone jewelry can be made of so many different combinations of metals, the quality will vary from piece to piece.
Some jewelry will be hard-wearing, won’t tarnish and will look just like real silver while other pieces will be cheaply made, tarnish quickly (often leaving you with a line of green or black where the jewelry has rested on your skin) and break easily.
While still new, it will quite often look like real silver but even when new, can irritate those with sensitive skin. This jewelry generally tends to tarnish fairly easily, especially when frequently exposed to water, chemicals, perfumes, etc.
Argentium Sterling Silver
Argentium Sterling Silver
is relatively new to the market and is proving to be a very popular and useful item. Like Sterling Silver it is made up of 92.5 % of Silver but instead of the 7.5% of copper they use germanium. Germanium is whitish gray metalloid.
Because of the lack of copper, which contributes to the tarnishing of silver, Argentium Silver claims to be virtually tarnish free. Having not worked with this metal I can’t attest to that claim but it does sound like an intriguing product to work with albeit a bit more expensive.
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