What is sterling silver? What about silver plate? You might be confused by the different types of silver in the market and how to care for this versatile metal.
Silver has been used for jewelry making for thousands of years. Like gold, it reflects light and its malleability makes it ideal for forming into rings, earrings, necklaces and more. Silver’s popularity has only expanded, especially as the price of gold and platinum has increased. Silver offers you a more economical, but still very beautiful, option. It is frequently used for statement pieces, such as bold chains, earrings and cuffs, and looks beautiful with set stones, such as turquoise, amber, aquamarine and topaz.
While pure silver is very reflective and beautiful, it is also soft, which means it tends to lose shape over time and with wear. Therefore, like with gold, silver is often alloyed with other metals to provide strength which improves its function in a piece of jewelry.
Here’s a rundown of six different varieties of silver, along with details on how best to care for your silver jewelry!
Fine silver must contain 99.9 percent silver, and thus is stamped with 999 to identify its composition. Fine silver is rarely used in jewelry because of its softness. When it is used, it is usually hammered or brushed to help mask evidence of wear over time.
Britannia silver contains 95.8 percent pure silver which is alloyed with copper. This variety of silver, usually stamped with 958 to identify its composition, is most frequently used in housewares and some coins. It is rarely used for silver jewelry.
Sterling silver contains 92.5 percent pure silver alloyed with another metal, usually copper. The most popular silver used in jewelry, sterling silver offers better durability while maintaining the metal’s beautiful shine. The addition of the alloyed metal also makes the jewelry more tarnish resistant; and, sometimes gold and platinum are used to increase tarnish resistance. Sterling silver is stamped 925 to indicate its composition.
Coin silver, as the name suggests, is most commonly used for coinage, though it is sometimes used in fashion jewelry. Also known as 900 silver, coin silver is comprised of 90 percent silver with 10 percent copper.
Although silver is not as expensive as gold or platinum, jewelry manufacturers will use silver plating to get the shine and beauty of a solid silver piece while using less of the metal to reduce the cost. One form of silver plating, electroplating bonds atoms of silver to a base metal using electricity. This thin coating of silver is reasonably durable but will wear over time. These pieces may be marked with SP, EPS or EP.
The other form of plating, filled or rolled silver, is comprised of a thin layer of silver bonded to a base metal using heating or pressing of the silver to create a bond. Filled silver pieces have a thicker layer of silver, though this limits its use in more delicate pieces. These pieces may be marked with an SF or FS denoting silver fill or filled silver and they may also show the silver thickness such as1/20 to 1/10.
Just like cleaning your silver or flatware after Thanksgiving, there are two parts to cleaning silver jewelry: removal of oils and grime and removal of tarnish. The former can be accomplished by soaking the piece in a professional gentle jewelry cleaning formula; this is safe for silver pieces with set stones as well. The liquid cleaner will remove the oils and grime to “clean” the surface of the piece. Wiping with the untreated outer layers of a Professional Polishing Cloth or using an untreated Microfiber Cleaning Cloth will also remove grime, oils and fingerprints, and will “clean” the jewelry.
The second process of removing tarnish requires specially formulated cleaning products. For jewelry without set stones or designer antiquing, you can use a dip tarnish removing formula. Or, you can use a treated polishing cloth to remove tarnish. The final step is buffing with a soft cloth or the untreated portion of a polishing cloth for a beautiful finishing luster.
To keep your silver jewelry shining, wearing it frequently helps prevent tarnish. Also, store your silver jewelry in a treated pouch or place anti-tarnish strips in your jewelry box.
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