What’s the Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver

Silver is one of the most popular metals worldwide, and humans have been mining it for over 6,000 years. The ancient Egyptians considered silver to be more valuable than gold, and the metal is mentioned in many religious texts. Since silver held such high value in ancient times, it gradually became one of the world’s most traded objects. If you had silver centuries ago, you were considered wealthy.

The popularity of silver skyrocketed when jewelers and other manufacturers crafted attractive and fashionable items from the metal. Today, silver jewelry and other household items are still in fashion.

If you spent any time in the silver market, you have probably heard of both pure and sterling silver. For those who are new to silver investing, you might not know the difference between the two related materials. This post will dig deep into the key differences between pure and sterling silver and will help you during your next trip to the jewelry store.

What Is Pure Silver?

To be considered pure silver, the metal must contain 99.99% silver. Visually, pure silver is bright and shiny. It comes from the Earth’s crust and forms when sulfur compounds combine with extreme heat. Commercial silver in jewelry is usually a derivative of refined copper, zinc, gold, and lead.

Pure silver is almost as malleable as gold. A single ounce of silver can be flattened into an 8,000-foot wire. Since it is so shiny, silver is a popular decorative metal for jewelry, utensils, and other voguish household items. Silver is also a great electric conductor and scores higher than copper on the conductivity test.

The only significant negative aspect of pure silver is that it is incredibly soft. This makes it increasingly challenging to mold it into practical shapes, so jewelers tend to avoid it for their products.

The first pure silver mines were located in present-day Turkey in 6,000 B.C. There have also been traces of silver mining in China, India, and other parts of Eastern Asia. In Europe, the Greeks and Romans praised silver for its malleability and cosmetic potential. This is what led to extensive silver mining and the dawn of commercialized silver jewelry.

What Is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is made from 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper alloy. The silver material becomes more durable thanks to copper’s strength, and it is much easier to work with. If you’re shopping for silver jewelry or cutlery, you’ll find sterling silver almost everywhere.

Early conceptions of sterling silver date back to the 12th century in present-day Europe. You can find classical silver coins that contain sterling silver during the reign of King Henry II. Today, sterling silver holds its position in the jewelry market, and you can find it in many priceless rings. People love it because it looks just as good as pure silver but can withstand more wear and tear.

The Key Differences Between Pure Silver and Sterling Silver

bending silver sheet

If you are in the silver market, it is crucial you know the differences between pure silver and sterling silver. Buying the wrong metal can damage your wallet and even your health.

The Composition

When handling the two silvers, someone can tell that their compositions are not alike. Pure silver contains 99.99% silver, where sterling only has 92.5% silver, and the rest is either copper, nickel, or zinc. It is this other hard metal that makes sterling silver more durable and practical than pure silver.

The Softness

Since pure silver is incredibly soft, you will not find it in jewelry and other household items. Artists consider pure silver too tricky to work with, and that’s precisely why sterling silver was born. The hard metals in sterling silver make it much more favorable for artists and manufacturers to craft their goods.

Resilience to Tarnish

Tarnish is a natural reaction that is common in metals. It causes discoloration and can ultimately decrease the value of your silver. Purse silver cannot tarnish because there are no added metals such as copper and zinc. Sterling silver is prone to degrade, and it can affect the appearance of your jewelry or other items.

The Durability

The whole purpose of sterling silver was to make a material that could take a beating. Silverware lasts so long because of the metal alloy that allows the sterling silver to be used daily for years on end.

The Cost

From an investment standpoint, sterling silver is not as valuable as pure silver due to the added hard metals. It serves a practical purpose, so buying sterling silver products still makes sense if appreciation is not your goal.

The Versatility

Sterling silver is more versatile than pure silver. You will find items containing sterling silver in shopping malls, medical offices, restaurants, and electronics.

Allergies

Some people are allergic to silver, and they swear of silver jewelry entirely. They believe they must wear other metals. However, this only occurs with sterling silver, as pure silver is hypoallergenic.

Which One Is Better?

To determine which one of the silvers is best, it depends on your goals. For jewelers and other crafters, sterling silver is by far the better option. This metal is much cheaper and more durable than pure silver, and it is easy to obtain in large quantities.

For investors, pure silver holds much more value and is more liquid than sterling. If your sole purpose of buying silver is to add value to your investment portfolio, you are far better off buying pure silver coins or bars.

Where Can You Buy Pure Silver?

Finding high-quality pure silver is easier than ever. There are a few places to get your hands on the precious metal, and we’ll cover each one of them thoroughly so you’ll know your best option.

  • Local Silver Dealers: Buying pure silver from a local dealer is an excellent choice for beginners. At a local dealer, you can physically examine the product and make a decision instantly. However, you may need to deal with salespeople who will try and influence your decision, and supply is limited
  • Online Silver Marketplaces: Nowadays, there are numerous websites that sell verified pure silver. Buying silver online is convenient and mostly safe. Make sure the site you are dealing with has a good reputation. You want to be sure they get your order right. One downside is that credit card fees and other additional charges may apply
  • Silver Trade Shows: While trade shows are usually for rare coin collectors, they are still a fun way to expose yourself to the silver industry. For beginners, we do not recommend shopping for pure silver at tradeshows, as items are typically expensive and require rigorous maintenance

Where to Buy Sterling Silver

Let’s say you want to take your shot in the jewelry business and need to get your hands on some sterling silver. Where do you look? How much should you pay?

Here are some of the most reliable sources of sterling silver to help you get started.

  • Specialty Jewelers: There are tons of large-scale distributors that are willing to sell wholesale sterling silver jewelry. While there is a market rate on the value of sterling silver, wholesale options will vary depending on quality and location. We recommend reaching out to multiple sources before making a decision
  • Antique Stores: While this is not the most practicable place to source your sterling, you can find various sterling silver items at antique shops. You might be able to find valuable items, but you will need a third-party to melt it down and refine it for jewelry manufacturing
  • eBay: eBay is a massive online marketplace for silver and thousands of other items. Buying sterling silver online can be reliable, but you will need to make sure you are working with a good seller. Fortunately, eBay ranks sellers’ reputations in a way to see who is legitimate and who is unsavory

How to Take Care of Your Silver Items

Making your silver items last long is surprisingly simple. If you are working with pure silver, you have to be extra cautious as it can easily bend or morph due to its softness.

For both pure and sterling silver, store your items away from as much air water as possible. Air causes silver to tarnish and can compromise its shiny appearance. You can find silver storage bags online that are made with materials like Zinc Carbonate that help guard against tarnish. It also helps to buy an anti-tarnishing solution to clean your silver after handling it. Be sure to use a polishing cloth when applying the solution.

Conclusion

Would you be able to answer is someone asked, “What’s the difference between silver and sterling silver?”  At the very least, you can explain why sterling silver was made and how it is more durable than pure silver.

Do you want to add some shiny sterling silver goods to your household? For more information on silver and other precious metals, check out our learning center. You can read everything you need to know about silver for both collecting and investment purposes.

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