Sterling Silver vs Silver (Which is a Better Pick?)

Last Updated on September 26, 2022 by Juli "Jewels" Church

In most jewelry collections, you'll find sterling silver as one of the most purchased precious metals in fine jewelry. However, most people outside of the industry think that sterling silver and pure silver are synonymous. This isn't the case. 

Wearers love silver jewelry because of its luster and shine. You can find both diamonds and gemstones set in sterling silver, though larger carat weights in diamonds are less likely.

Sterling Silver Vs Pure Silver

Silver is the most affordable of the three core precious metals: platinum, gold, and silver.

But what's the difference between silver and sterling silver? What about 925 silver jewelry? The differences, similarities, and everything will be revealed shortly.

In this guide, you will learn the following;

  • What's the Difference Between Sterling Silver Vs Pure Silver?
  • Is Sterling Silver Jewelry Better In Quality Than Pure Silver Jewelry?
  • Is Sterling Silver Worth More Than Pure Silver?
  • Where Can I Buy Silver Jewelry?
  • How to Clean Silver Jewelry
  • And much more!

What's the Difference Between Sterling Silver Vs Pure Silver?

Even though the words "silver" and "sterling silver" are interchangeable in the jewelry world, the two are not quite the same.

In this article, we'll refer to the two as sterling silver and pure silver.

Pure silver can also be called fine silver.

Sterling Silver

You'll find that sterling silver is more prevalent in the fine jewelry industry more so than pure silver. It's because sterling silver is a silver alloy. It will likely last longer and is stronger than pure silver.

It contains 92.5% silver content. The remaining 7.5% is made of a mixture of different metals called sterling silver alloy.

Sterling Silver 925 mark

These metal alloys may consist of copper, zinc, or nickel, as well as real silver. All sterling silver in the jewelry industry should be stamped 925 sterling silver.

Also Read: What does 925 mean on jewelry?

Pure Silver

It's less common to find pure silver jewelry in a fine jewelry store like Kay Jewelers or Jared. This is because even though 100 percent silver seems more precious, pure silver is a soft metal, which makes it not ideal for jewelry making.

You're more likely to find pure silver in the form of antique items such as flatware, silver plates, and silverware. Older generations often had tea or coffee sets made of actual silver. 

Aside from these silver products, you can also find collectible silver coins and bullion coins as well. Coin silver is actually made from 90% pure silver and 10% copper content. 

Fine Silver 999

Most pure silver jewelry you'll find will be more like bohemian costume jewelry or nautical jewelry. Pure silver is often associated with the sea and pirates.

You'll find pure silver stamped as ".999"

Is Sterling Silver Jewelry Better in Quality Than Pure Silver Jewelry?

While fine silver is a beautiful and high-quality precious metal, it doesn't make for high-quality jewelry. The purity of silver enhances its worth but lowers durability.

Sterling silver used in jewelry

Pure silver is soft, bendy, and breakable. A pure silver ring will be dented in no time because of how often we tap our hands against hard surfaces all day long without noticing.

So, when it comes to jewelry, sterling silver items are going to be better quality than pure silver items.

Is Sterling Silver More Expensive Than Pure Silver?

Because sterling silver is 92.5% silver, pure silver is going to be worth more. Sterling silver isn't what they call investment-grade because of its impurity.

The value of pure silver is a little different. Pure silver items like mentioned before may have better value for the antiquity of the item, rather than the silver itself. 

sterling silver jewelry

The value of sterling silver or gold changes daily, but the average price of pure silver is going to be around $17 an ounce. So while your pure silver jewelry may not be worth that much, that pure silver tea set could be worth a lot more.

Can You Tell Sterling Silver From Pure Silver?

When you're buying sterling silver or pure silver on the market, it should be stamped with 925 on it somewhere if it's sterling silver, solid sterling silver that is.

In cheaper jewelry markets, such as Amazon or stores like Walmart or Kohl's, you can find jewelry with sterling silver plating. 

Silver plating is where a jeweler applies a very thin layer of silver over top of another base metal, often copper, brass, or stainless steel. Sometimes, you can even find white gold plating over a sterling silver base metal.

It won't be stamped with either 925 or 999 because it's not solid. If the base metal isn't a metal that can be sized like stainless steel, it won't be able to be sized regardless of the silver plating. 

But if you come across a silver piece of jewelry that doesn't have any kind of stamp, it's possible it is either one, or neither. It could very well be plated over a cheap metal.

An easy way to tell if it is pure silver or sterling silver is to get a magnet. Pure silver is not magnetic, but sterling silver is. However, it could just as well be stainless steel. 

In that case, you should know that stainless steel is not bright white like sterling silver. They're both polished, but sterling is more precious and catches more light.

If you tap on sterling silver with another metal or your fingernail, it should have a higher pitch than stainless as well.

Where Can I Buy Silver Jewelry?

It's not hard to find silver jewelry lurking in every corner of the jewelry industry in the United States, from Walmart to Signet Jewelers. 

Finding pure silver jewelry may be a little more difficult. You may find it in earthy places that sell healing crystals, sage, and other new age items. Stores like these glorify the purity of natural elements, so you might be able to find fine silver jewelry. 

But if you're looking for a place that has both pure and sterling silver, you should look at none other than Amazon. Amazon has a multitude of different styles of both sterling silver and pure silver jewelry.

Just be careful when searching because many items are keyworded by title. This means that what it says in the title may not be what it actually is, so make sure to read the description below the title and scroll down the page. There are a lot of pieces that are silver plated instead of solid.

Sterling Silver VS Pure Silver Facts

How to Clean Silver Jewelry?

You might've heard that silver jewelry is waterproof. You also might hear some say that it isn't. Both are correct.

I wouldn't say sterling silver is waterproof but water-resistant. It can withstand water, as long as you quickly dry it. It shouldn't be submerged either.

Also Read: Best silver jewelry cleaners

Pure silver, on the other hand, is completely waterproof. Don't wear any jewelry in a swimming pool though because the chlorine in the water can destroy the look of most metals.

Most jewelry metals you can clean with mild soap and water by soaking the jewelry piece in the mixture for 15-20 minutes. You can do this with pure silver, not sterling silver.

When looking into how to clean your silver jewelry, rinse it under the water and take a soft-bristled brush (like a toothbrush) and use soap to clean it. Simply rinse and pat dry.


Does silver tarnish?

All silver may tarnish. Pure silver has a better resistance to tarnish from moisture; however, it will still tarnish due to the sulfur in the air. Sterling silver will tarnish much quicker because of all the other tarnishable metals in it.

If your pure silver or sterling silver tarnishes, you can restore it to like new. All you need is a silver polishing cloth. Polishing cloths contain a jeweler's rouge.

This is where the cloth is a polishing compound on one side that removes the tarnish. On the other side, it is a buffer, allowing you to give it the final polish. 

These will remove any tarnish of any silver jewelry. Thankfully, the polishing cloths are inexpensive and easy to find locally or online for $10 and under. 

Can you wear silver every day?

Sterling silver can be worn every day, but you shouldn't wear it in the water. Sterling silver in submerged water is durable but can be damaged cosmetically because of tarnishing.

Pure silver shouldn't be worn every day because of how soft it is. Sterling silver can last a lifetime, but it still can be damaged because of the high silver content. 

Is pure silver hypoallergenic?

Pure silver may contain the tiniest trace element of nickel, but shouldn't affect a nickel allergy. Copper is the most used metal alloy with silver, so any nickel content in the silver would be a hundredth of a percent if any.

So it will be good for a nickel allergy, but not for a copper allergy, although they are not as common.

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