Jewelry Guide

The Top 9 Types of Silver Used in Jewelry

Most people have heard of sterling silver and some know this is different to pure silver. But there are many other types of silver alloys used in the jewelry making. Some have silver in the name but nothing in the composition!

Silver in its purest form is too soft for use in jewelry and can get damaged or change shape quickly. As a result, it’s alloyed with other metals to make it harder and more durable. The color of silver is also highly valued, so sometimes you’ll come across alloys that look like silver but are made of other metals altogether.

All these types are used in jewelry, so knowing the differences can help you make informed choices when purchasing.

Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of silver used in jewelry.

  1. Silver Jewelry

You’ll often come across jewelry listed as being ‘silver’ but with no indication of the silver content or the type of alloy.

What this type of silver is… is open to interpretation! It could be anything, really. As we’ve already mentioned, 100% silver is not used in jewelry.

Silver should be marked clearly with approved stamps, and the purity level should be indicated so you know what type of alloy it is.

In general, jewelry simply described as silver tends to be inexpensive silver plating which wears off after a while.

Always look for the stamp or ask the retailer about the exact contents of the alloy. They should be able to tell you this.

So be wary when you find ‘silver’ jewelry as that’s a bit of a mystery metal.

  1. Fine Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Purest silver used in jewelry
  • Lustrous and white
  • Hypoallergenic

Cons:

  • Loses shape
  • Not durable

Fine silver, also called pure silver, is the closest you can get to silver in its purest form in jewelry. It’s made of 99.9% silver and .1% other elements.

Fine silver is lustrous and white and can be formed into delicate, beautiful jewelry pieces. But it can easily scratch, change form and lose shape. Because of this, fine silver isn’t recommended in the use of jewelry, except in earrings and pendants or other low-impact areas.

The hallmark, or stamp, for fine silver is .999 or .999FS. This metal is hypoallergenic as silver on its own causes no allergic reactions.

  1. Sterling Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Workable and wearable
  • Beautiful luster and shine
  • Typically hypoallergenic

Cons:

  • Easily tarnishes
  • Harder to maintain

Sterling silver is the most famous silver alloy and has been used for centuries. It’s the standard silver alloy in most parts of the world. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver combined with 7.5% copper to create a durable, more wearable metal.

Sterling silver is lustrous and reflective, but it’s known for tarnishing easily. Over time, sterling silver will change color and darken as it oxidizes. This is because of the copper content in the alloy. However, it’s generally easy to clean this tarnish off and in some cases, jewelers use this tarnish to accentuate patterns and designs.

The most common mark for sterling silver is .925, .925 STG while vintage pieces often feature the older marks: STG, STERLING or STER.

Sterling silver is typically hypoallergenic but can sometimes have trace amounts of nickel or other metals that can cause reactions in rare cases.

High quality sterling silver jewelry is sometimes rhodium plated to enhance the whiteness, brilliance and durability of the metal. This adds value to the piece and prevents tarnishing.

  1. Argentium Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Tarnish resistant
  • Easy to maintain
  • Hypoallergenic

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Can tarnish under certain conditions

This is a brand of modern silver alloys created to be more durable and tarnish resistant than sterling silver. It’s the 21st century version of sterling silver.

Argentium silver contains more pure silver than sterling and is available in two grades: 93.2% or 96% purity.  This is alloyed with copper and germanium which makes the metal harder, more resistant to tarnish, easier to clean and easy to maintain.

Because this is a brand, only authorized jewelers can use the Argentium stamp, which features a flying unicorn. Argenitum silver is nickel free and hypoallergenic but it also costs more than most other silver alloys.

Watch how argentium silver reacts differently to heating compared to sterling silver.

  1. Nickel Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Good for costume jewelry
  • Workable
  • Durable

Cons:

  • It’s not silver!
  • Not hypoallergenic
  • Often sold as real sterling silver

Typically used in costume jewelry, nickel silver isn’t actually silver at all. In fact, the word silver here simply refers to its silver-like color and has nothing to do with the metals in its composition.

Most people tend to think nickel silver is a silver alloy but in fact, it contains 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. It can be lustrous and bright and very similar in appearance to sterling silver but is, in fact, a nickel alloy.

Nickel silver is easy to shape and craft into elaborate designs. However, it’s not hypoallergenic and should be avoided if you’re sensitive to metal allergies.

This alloy is also sold under many other names: German Silver, Alpaca Silver and Argentan Silver none of which indicate that it’s a nickel alloy, which can be deceiving. 

  1. Silver Plated Jewelry

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Good for costume jewelry

Cons:

  • Not hypoallergenic
  • Not durable
  • Very little silver used

Like gold plated jewelry, silver plated simply means that a very thin layer of silver has been coated over a base metal. The amount of silver used in plating is so small that it’s almost negligible. It’s perfect for the use in inexpensive costume jewelry but isn’t long-lasting or very durable.

Over time, the silver plating will flake off or wear out, exposing the metal beneath. Silver plated jewelry isn’t hypoallergenic, doesn’t have a hallmark because it’s just costume jewelry and has a short life.

  1. Silver Filled Jewelry

Pros:

  • More silver than silver plating
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Tarnishes easily
  • Not hypoallergenic

Silver filled is similar in characteristics to gold filled metals. In terms of value, it sits somewhere between sterling silver and silver plated. Silver filled is not an alloy but rather a type of plating that contains a heavier layer of silver.

Unlike silver plate, silver filled metals contains at least 5 or 10 percent silver which is bonded onto the base metal. This variety of silver came onto the market in the last 10 years when silver prices surged during the economic recession. However, as silver prices have now dropped, silver filled jewelry is not easy to find.

Silver filled jewelry is difficult to maintain as it tarnishes easily. However, on the bright side, it’s less expensive than sterling silver.

  1. Tribal Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Beautiful designs
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Can contain dangerous metals
  • Not hypoallergenic
  • May not contain silver
  • Low durability

There are many alloys on the market that are marked as tribal silver and used in exotic jewelry designs. These vary in the types of metals used in the alloys and some can contain no silver at all. In other words, like nickel silver, tribal silver alloys can just have the name ‘silver’ tagged on because it looks like silver.

Tribal silver varieties are great for costume jewelry and funky designs, but always check with the retailer about the metals used in it. Because these metals come from other lands where regulations are different, there can be hazardous metals like lead in them.

  1. Coin Silver Jewelry

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Good purity content
  • Rare

Cons:

  • Rare therefore hard to find
  • Tarnishes easily

In the past, this was the most commonly used silver alloy in the US but over time, sterling silver took over.

Coin silver contains 90% pure silver in its composition. The rest of the alloy is made using copper. Coin silver is similar to sterling silver with the main difference being the amount of pure silver used.

The name coin silver can be misleading. Most people think this alloy was used to make coins back in the day, but no. It only gets this name because initially, coin silver was made by recycling old coins which contained actual silver.

Coin silver should be stamped with .900. It’s just a little lower than sterling silver in terms of purity but today, it’s a rare alloy and you’ll be hard-pressed to find it.

So there you have it. 9 types of silver used in jewelry. Always remember to purchase from a reputable retailer and ask about the alloy. If you have metal allergies, avoid those that contain nickel.

We have a range of articles on silver, so check them here.

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