Wondering the difference between sterling silver and gold?
Perfect, you're in the right place!
In this Learning Guide, I'll answer the top questions asked about both of these precious metals like:
- Which is More Durable?
- Is Sterling Silver Waterproof?
- Is Gold-Plated Sterling Silver Good For An Engagement Ring?
Sterling Silver vs Gold: Origin
Sterling silver is an alloy metal made from fine silver, also known as pure silver. Silver is a natural metal mined from the earth used for a variety of purposes.
Silver is one of the oldest metals in the world, unlike other popular metals like tungsten carbide or stainless steel. It’s been used in ancient cultures alongside gold. Sterling silver mining has gone back over 5000 BC.
It’s one of the most popular metals for jewelry. Pure silver is a soft metal, so it can get damaged easily. The jewelry industry uses sterling silver in their fine jewelry rather than pure silver.
Sterling silver is made of 92.5 pure silver. When pure silver is mixed with a mixture of other metals, it increases its daily durability. The mixture of metals is referred to as metal alloys. In this case, silver alloys. Silver alloys can be different kinds of metals.
Metal allergies are a big concern for jewelry wearers. Most people that have metal sensitivities are allergic to nickel. Nickel is a white metal that was used as an alloy in silver jewelry. Nowadays, nickel silver is hard to come by since it's so common an allergy.
But not everyone is only allergic to nickel.
Copper alloys are known to be a less common reactive metal that’s still used in sterling silver. If you have severe metal allergies not limited to nickel, you’ll want to search for hypoallergenic sterling silver.
Read also: Best Earrings for Sensitive Skin
Even if you’re not a jewelry expert, gold is probably the most familiar. Gold mining has been around long before the Gold Rush of California. Usage of gold also goes back to ancient cultures.
While we shouldn’t look upon the Gold Rush of California with dignity, we can’t deny it was an important discovery to the modern world.
Like sterling silver, gold is a soft precious metal. It’s softer than silver. Gold’s measured as karat gold, which is different from the diamond carats you might be familiar with.
Pure gold is 24K gold.
You won’t find pure gold jewelry in many fine jewelry retailers. It’s too soft to work with and easily damaged.
So, gold needs to be mixed with gold alloy to make it stronger. That’s how we get 14K gold and 18K jewelry. A 14K gold ring is 14 out of 24 parts pure gold. The remaining 10 parts are different metal alloy.
Gold may contain trace amounts of nickel and other reactive metals, but its less common for people with a metal allergy. You’re more likely to encounter problems with sterling silver than gold.
Nickel is also a white gold alloy, so it's not recommended for someone with severe nickel allergies.
Some people wear 24K gold jewelry for this reason, despite its softness. White gold has rhodium plating, so that can protect for a while until it fades.
Sterling Silver vs Gold: Appearance
Even though silver has always taken the runner up spot next to gold in society, most women will tell you they prefer sterling silver jewelry to gold jewelry. Yellow gold often feels dated to the modern world since it’s been around for so long.
I think it has a lot to do with the way the white light and subtle fire of a diamond looks against the white metal. The problem is, sterling silver doesn’t always stay bright white.
The biggest downside to sterling silver jewelry is that it tarnishes.
You might not be able to stop the act of tarnish from happening, but you can make sure it doesn’t affect your jewelry by cleaning and polishing regularly.
Don’t worry, you won’t be painting your jewelry or anything. All you need is a silver polishing cloth. They’re affordable and handy. Sterling silver will tarnish faster if left wet or in a wet environment. Steam rooms and condensation are a no-go for sterling silver.
If you want to protect against tarnish without having daily upkeep, you should look for sterling silver with a rhodium coating. You might see it called rhodium plated sterling silver.
Rhodium isn’t permanent, but it serves as a shiny coating to protect sterling silver from water and condensation. Most people have to re-rhodium plate jewelry they wear daily about once a year.
Storing sterling silver jewelry together will also cause it to tarnish faster.
You’ll want to be careful with commercial sterling silver cleaner. Some jewelers use oxidation to give jewelry an antiqued look. This is common in a lot of bohemian jewelry and handmade jewelry.
Using commercial silver cleaner from jewelry stores will strip the antiquing off and it has to be redone. It will also strip the polish off. Make sure they polish your sterling silver jewelry with a cloth if they use silver cleaner because it will also strip polish off.
By law, sterling silver is required to be stamped with .925 or 925 on the jewelry piece to indicate that it’s 92.5 pure silver.
If I were to put a silver colored ring and a yellow gold colored ring like these people in front of the average buyer, they’d choose the silver colored one.
Would it surprise you to know that the silver colored ring is actually gold and the yellow gold colored ring is actually sterling silver?
Gold vermeil jewelry is gold plated sterling silver. Gold filled jewelry is when gold plating contains 5% solid gold.
Read also: Gold Filled vs Gold Plated Jewelry
Neither is solid gold jewelry and will fade. Most jewelers won't gold plate jewelry again. It's mainly used as for costume jewelry.
A lot of people will say they like silver over gold, but are talking about the color, not the actual metal. Yellow gold is a yellow metal. Rose gold is a pinkish copper colored metal. White gold is a silvery white color.
Some jewelry is made with real gold, but not solid gold. Gold plated jewelry is a key example. They have a thin solid gold layer, which keeps it cheap. Gold plating will fade, revealing whatever base metal is beneath.
White gold is the most popular metal for diamond engagement rings and diamond wedding bands, but it doesn’t keep that silvery white color.
Gold is naturally yellow, so it needs other white metals to make it.
That’s where rhodium plating comes in. All white gold is rhodium plated. Like rhodium plated sterling silver, all white gold rhodium plating will fade over time.
I said that most people have to re-plate about once a year. For some, it’s more often than that. I’m one of those people. Rhodium can fade faster depending on your skin and natural oils.
It takes about 6 months for me to notice rhodium fading.
You can tell this by looking on the underside of your ring finger. If it looks a little dull and tinted yellow, that’s the rhodium that has faded. It’ll often be different from the way your ring looks from top-view.
If you still want a white metal but don’t want to keep up with rhodium plating white gold jewelry, there's another option. A sterling silver ring isn’t the most durable for an engagement ring, but platinum is.
Platinum jewelry keeps its bright silver appearance and it’s more durable. Cobalt chrome rings are good choice for men's wedding bands.
Read also: Where to Buy Cobalt Wedding Bands
Sterling Silver vs Gold: Price & Value
Both sterling silver and gold are considered precious metals and have monetary value. Other metals like stainless steel, titanium, and tungsten don’t have resale value once they’ve left the store.
The values of gold and silver change daily. Gold is considered more valuable and expensive than sterling silver.
Today, the price of gold is about $58 per gram. A regular women’s gold wedding band can go up to 7 grams. Men’s gold wedding rings are usually wider, so they’ll be a bit more. They can go up to 9 grams.
The price of sterling silver is much less than this. Sterling silver is worth about 79 cents per gram. A huge difference, right?
Obviously, gold jewelry makes a much better investment than sterling silver. Sterling silver prices get higher when selling large items, such as silverware. Pure silver teapots and tea sets have gone for hundreds before.
What's the bottom line?
In the battle of sterling silver vs gold, I’m going to say gold jewelry has the edge over sterling silver jewelry.
- Sterling silver requires more upkeep than gold
- Gold retains a higher value
- You can find recycled gold jewelry easier than recycled sterling silver
- Gold is better for diamonds
- Sterling silver tarnishes, gold doesn't
- Gold can get wet, but I don’t recommend it for fear of losing it
- Gold is more popular for engagement rings
Gold jewelry may be more expensive than sterling silver jewelry, but it’ll last longer. I think that’s especially important when choosing engagement rings and wedding rings you’re wanting to wear for years on end.
But if you’re wanting a cost affordable option to build up a large collection of jewelry, sterling silver is an excellent option. It makes great first time jewelry gifts for those starting out with jewelry.