Buying Silver Jewelry? Here’s What You Need to Know

Silver has been linked to luxury and wealth for centuries. Think about it. It’s not for nothing that we use the phrase ‘silver spoon’.

Silver, along with gold, palladium and platinum, is a precious metal. These are rare metals. Silver has been used since 3000 BC and is valued for its number of uses. Silver has been a favorite metal for jewelry because of its easy pliability and beautiful color.

When most people think of silver, they think of jewelry. However, jewelry is not the only use for which silver is famed. In fact, because silver is antibacterial and an excellent conductor of electricity, it has been used in many medical and technological fields.


What type of silver should I buy?

There are many varieties of silver on the market. Of these, sterling silver, pure silver and silver plate are the most commonly known and used.

Sterling silver

Sterling silver is an alloy composed of 92.5% of silver and 7.5% of some other metal, commonly copper or nickel. These metals bring strength, durability and an extra luster to the silver.  This composition makes for a stronger variety of silver, which is the quality standard jewelry. This is an established silver standard, having originated in around 1300. The standard for sterling silver was popularized by Tiffany and Co in America as they used this for their jewelry.

But you might be wondering:

How can I know if I identify sterling silver?

Genuine sterling silver should have a hallmark that identifies it as such. There are several versions of sterling silver hallmark. You may see .925 stamped on the silver. Alternately look for the words STER, STERLING, STG or Sterling Silver. If the silver has the number 800 stamped on it, it could very well be of European origin.

If you are worried whether sterling silver is durable, rest easy. This is an hard metal that will last through the ages. If any surface scratches or damage occurs, sterling silver can easily be polished back to its smooth shine. In addition to that, resizing and repairs are very reasonably priced, so maintaining sterling silver jewelry is easily done.

Sterling silver bracelet

Fine silver

Fine silver is the variety that is closet to pure silver. It is 99.9% silver and is identified by the hallmark .999. The other .1% is made up of slight trace elements that are not of significant quantity.

However, although it may seem that purer silver is better, in reality it is much too soft to be used in jewelry. It is easily damaged and malleable, and loses shape over time. Fine silver is suitable for jewelry items such as earrings and pendants rather than items that will be exposed to rough wear.

Silver plate

If you are familiar with gold plate, you will notice that silver plate is the same thing. It is essentially a thin layer of silver coated over another base metal, usually copper. As you can imagine, silver plate has much less silver than fine silver and sterling silver. It is not valuable than those other forms and over time, the plating can discolor and flake off.

There are other forms of silver on the market such as Britannia silver, coin silver, German silver, nickel silver, tribal silver and Mexican silver. These all vary in how much silver they contain.

A note about silver hallmarks:

These are tiny microscopic stamps that can be found on some part of the silver. You will have to look carefully with a microscope to see these properly. This is the fastest way to identify if your silver is the real deal.

There can be some instances fake markings, but these are not common.

If the item of jewelry does not have any area on which to stamp a marking, the piece may be unstamped even though it may be of valuable silver.

When I first learned of hallmarks, I checked all my silver and was thrilled to see the tiny .925 marking.

The image below is of a necklace and pendant that is made of sterling silver. Both the pendant and the chain have the .925 hallmark. Can you see where they are?

sterling silver hallmark

Is sterling silver valuable?

Sterling silver is much more affordable than its precious metal counterparts, gold, palladium and platinum. This is because there is more silver mined than the other precious metals.

Regardless, it is one of the most beautiful metals with an exceptional color and sheen. Because it is a very small fraction of the cost of gold or platinum, sterling silver is perfect for every budget and jewelry lover.

Why does silver tarnish

Tarnish on sterling silver jewelry

If you have ever owned any sterling silver jewelry, you will know that over time it loses its luster and turns black.

As we mentioned above, fine silver does not tarnish easily. It is very resistant to tarnish and maintains its color.

However, sterling silver jewelry that is exposed to air and humidity tarnishes over time. The reason behind this is that the other metals in the alloy (commonly copper) react with the moisture and sulfur in the air. These bond to the silver chemically and causes discoloration. If your silver is exposed to chemicals, such as makeup , perfume, lotions, sprays and detergents, it can tarnish even quicker.

Preventing silver tarnish

All sterling silver will tarnish over time, regardless of quality or price. While you cannot prevent it, you can certainly slow the process down.

Storage: One main way to do this is to store your silver jewelry so that it is not exposed to air. You can store silver in airtight bags. A good idea is to add anti-tarnish strips into the bags. This prevents tarnishing. You can also store the silver in an air-restricted jewelry box or other low humidity storage method. To prevent moisture from the air, include silica gel or a piece of chalk to absorb the air.

Chemicals and exposure: After wearing your jewelry, make sure you clean it before you store it away. Body oils and other elements can build up on the surface of the silver and speeds up tarnishing. It’s a good idea to remove all silver jewelry prior to contact with water such as swimming and showering. Keep away from household chemicals, body fluids or any sulfur containing item such as latex, wool and onions. Don’t get it in contact with makeup, lotions or cosmetics either. Always add your silver jewelry last.

Maintenance: When washing your silver, use warm water and soap to wash the items gently. Dry with a soft cloth to remove dry water spots and store carefully. Polishing your silver jewelry is another good way to delay the rate of tarnishing.

It’s already tarnished… what do I do now?

For tarnished silver, the best way to remove the unsightly black coating is to polish the silver jewelry. There are a few different ways to go about polishing:

  1. Use a silver jewelry cleaner. Use a small amount on a soft cloth and gently buff the silver a few times. Afterwards, wash the silver in warm water, rinsing off the cleaner.
  2. Use a silver polishing cloth. When polishing your silver with a cloth, avoid rubbing in circles as this can accentuate any scratches. Instead, rub the silver back and forth.
  3. Have your silver professionally cleaned by taking it to a jeweler.
  4. Place your silver jewelry in a silver cleaning dip. You can find commercial dips but these can have some health concerns as well as can damage the surface of the silver.

A safer alternative is to make your own silver cleaning dip at home. Here is one way to do it:

For this, line a bowl with aluminum foil, add baking soda and salt and pour in boiling water. Add some white vinegar.  Soak the silver for several minutes. Once the tarnish has been removed, take out the jewelry items and wipe. This is a fast, affordable and very easy way to regain the luster of your silver.  

There are numerous other ways to make your own silver cleaning solutions at home. These are generally safe as they contain non-harmful ingredients.

How to Choose Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver jewelry

Sterling silver jewelry comes in a range of styles and options. Whether you are a maximalist or minimalist, a vintage lover or a modern goddess, there will be silver pieces to suit your tastes. This incredibly versatile metal suits any occasion and event.

Sterling silver earrings

sterling silver earrings

Sterling silver earrings come in a range of styles, from casual to formal.

Sterling silver studs and hoops make for nice everyday wear earrings and go well with workwear or casual outfits. For a dressier look, choose sterling silver drop earrings or chandelier earrings. These are more dramatic and are good options for formal or special events.

Sterling silver charm bracelets

sterling silver with pink charms bracelet

Sterling silver charm bracelets are all the rage right now and every girl wants to get her hands on one. They make a great gift and keepsake, as the wearer can keep adding meaningful charms to the bracelet.

There are several varieties of the sterling silver charms that you can buy to add to your charm collection, such as European charms, crystal and glass charms, Pandora charms and Italian charms. All these have their unique looks, so choose what looks good to you. One thing’s for sure, there are charms to suit every taste and need from crazy to calm.

Sterling silver cuffs

Sterling silver cuff

Sterling silver cuffs are a statement piece that go well with casual jeans and t-shirt or a dressed-up outfit.  If you are into more minimalist pieces, choose a cuff with a thinner width. Cuffs are more unique than regular bracelets, and can be more eye-catching.

Sterling silver necklaces and pendants

There are multiple chain varieties that you can choose from, depending on your preferences. A smooth style like a Snake chain or an Omega chain gives you a shiny solid appearance, while Rombo, Singapore or Figaro chains give you a conventional rope-like look.

Sterling silver pendants come in all shapes and sizes so finding one to suit your style will not be difficult.

If you want a loud, bold look, why not choose a sterling silver statement necklace? Pick one that complements your outfit and overall look. You are sure to get a lot of compliments!

Sterling silver vs white gold

White gold and sterling silver look very similar. In fact, to the untrained eye, these metals appear identical. They are both alloys and both exhibit a beautiful white luster. However, white gold and silver have distinct properties that set them apart.

Value: One of the main differences between silver and white gold is in value. As we’ve mentioned a few times already, both are precious metals. White gold is more expensive than silver (but more affordable than platinum) while silver is known for being the most affordable variety of jewelry metal.  

Maintenance: White gold is much easier to maintain than silver as it does not tarnish or oxidize. It requires little to no cleaning to maintain its luster. However, over time the rhodium plating on the white gold can wear thin and will require reapplication by a professional jeweler.

Durability: White gold has a higher resistance to damage, impact and scratches than silver and is a better choice if durability is a priority.

Which metal you choose for your jewelry depends on your priorities and preferences. Both have their pros and cons.

Is sterling silver hypoallergenic?

Sterling silver does not irritate your skin or cause allergies. The most common cause of metal allergies is nickel, which is very rarely used in sterling silver alloys. 

The commonly used copper and zinc is generally safe. Always check with your jeweler what metals the alloys contain to avoid any unnecessary issues.

Shopping for silver jewelry

Whether you buy your sterling silver online or at a physical store, there are several factors to consider to ensure you don’t get ripped off.

Here is a quick checklist before you purchase:

  1. Buy from a reputable retailer. This may seem obvious, but often it can be difficult to tell whether someone is an established retailer. Check reviews, if possible, about the retailer. What are people saying about them? Ask questions prior to purchase and communicate with the seller.
  2. Check for the hallmark to identify your silver. Ask the seller if you cannot find the hallmark. It may be that the item was too small to have a hallmark.
  3. Ask about the metals in the alloy. Remember, if you have skin that is sensitive to metal allergies, there is the off chance that silver can contain nickel.
  4. Check the after sales policies. Does the seller take responsibility for the sale? Are there returns policies, warranty or free maintenance? If purchasing online, check the shipping policies.

In the mood to browse gorgeous silver jewelry? Check out Amazon’s range here:

Or browse through James Allen’s new collection of sterling silver jewelry.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

Jewelry Guide