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What is sterling silver, bracelet on stone

What is Sterling Silver?

You may well know sterling silver is an inexpensive precious metal in various items, and not difficult to understand what it actually is, and the purpose of it.

Let's not complicate things by quickly explaining it to you.

Well 99.9% fine silver is processed directly out of the mine, melted down and shaped to all sorts of precious items, 92.5% sterling silver goes through the same process. Only its then melted down at the point of manufacturers where they add the remaining 7.5% in copper, nickel or zinc. Resulting in a more durable, tougher final piece.

Sterling silver is a versatile metal, but well you cannot do much with silver at its very purest, once turned into sterling silver it becomes one of the most used materials across all industries; from sterling silver jewellery to gift ware, from computer components to mobile phones.

Interestingly, if owning a piece of fine silver interests you, why not consider investing in silver bars and coins, directly from the Royal Mint, UK.

Read a head as we help you learn more about Sterling Silver and the work that goes into it, before you end up with a lovely necklace or pair of earrings.

Sterling Silver vs Silver

Not a lot separates the two, while 92.5% sterling silver is mixed with other metals, silver at it's purest of 99.9% is simply to delicate to make real use of other than investment.

Difference between silver and sterling silver?

If we forget sterling contains other metals for the time being, now comparing a sterling item with a fine one, the look and feel is identical to the untrained eye.

Even in value, well you would expect fine silver to cost more, removing 7.5% silver from sterling can only mean 7.5% less in value.

So no, when it comes to sterling versus silver at it's purest form, there's little difference between the both of them.

If you have jewellery or precise gift items made from sterling, you should know that they still have similar value to pure silver.

Is sterling silver real silver?

Absolutely, generally speaking for Great Britain and Europe, sterling is made with 92.5% real silver.

As silver by itself is incredibly soft and delicate for most uses, tough metals like copper are added so that it can be machined into all sorts of products, including jewellery.

925 Sterling Silver Prices

We've produced a table to demonstrate the current value of 925 sterling silver, as you can see with the table below, 925 sterling prices have little between them.

Only as little has 7.5% of pure silver is extracted from the object to be made into a sterling silver object. Therefore the price difference is miniscule when inferior metals are added to the cooking pot (so to speak).

Sterling currently stands at approximately 0.5% below the value of pure, or fine silver.

  Sterling Fine
Purity: 92.5% 99.9%
Fineness: 925 999
Cost per gram: 0.37 0.40
Material: Silver + Copper, Nickel or Zinc Silver

Cost per gram is likely to fluctuate regularly so check for current prices.

What is 925 Sterling

To put it simply, 925 sterling silver represents an item made with 92.5% pure silver. See what happened their, we removed the the dot and percentage symbol and only the numbers remain: 925 = 92.5%.

Similarly, this method can be applied to all grades of sterling, with 925 being the standard in jewellery and similar items around the house.

Here's a quick guide to how silver is graded, to clarifty pure silver is 999 fine, or 99.9%.

  • 9584 Britannia - 95.84% silver + 4.16% copper
  • 925 Sterling - 92.5% silver + 7.5% copper
  • 900 Coins - 90% silver + 10% copper
  • 830 European - 83% silver + 17% copper
  • 800 European - 80% silver + 20% copper

Pay close attention to the resulting percentages, you'll notice the '925 Sterling' has three digits well the '9584 Britannia' has four digits.

Compare these results to the remaining figures and you'll notice the percentage is correct also with the silver grade in terms of number of digits once the dot and percentage symbol is removed.

But as a rule, silver must be graded with three or more digits, so well the bottom three percentages only have two digits, the third digit is simply made up with a 0.

Then, add the total giving to the copper where applicable on the above list, it will then add up to 100% actually.

Note: Well copper is the most used inferior but stronger metal used in sterling and other grades, Nickel or Zinc can be used too.

So to clarify, the largest number is always pure silver, well the remaining number - under 10% - is made up of copper or similar metals.

How is it made

To get an idea what is sterling silver and how the grading system works, its best to understand how sterling is made - from the mine to finished item.

  1. First, surveyors walk the mine with sophisticated computers, seeking out silver buried deep in the mine walls
  2. Holes are then drilled and dynamite is incerted before blowing up the walls
  3. Conveyor belts and machinery then bring out the rubble from the mine and pile it through a filter, then onto a machine that hauls the Ore to the processor
  4. Here at the processing plant, machines separate the pure silver from the rock and rubble resulting from the expulsion
  5. To unlock the precious silver from the Ore, its then turned into liquid to help the silver be separated from the lead and zinc
  6. After making its way through a complicated series of machinery where is crushed and processed, we now have silver
  7. Through a number of filtering methods, its then added to an oven (up to 2,200 Fahrenheit) until it melts - before being poured into molds
  8. You now have the finished article, a big silver bar that is up to 98% silver, with trace elements of gold
  9. Finally the ugly looking bars are sold and shipped to a refinery where the gold and silver is separated and purified

At this stage fine silver is sold around the world as its finest before manufacturers of silverware produce: jewellery, computer components and gift items.

Its only then these manufacturers will add copper to turn the silver into sterling before they make their products. So it's up to the manufacturer to make the sterling, not the company that mine the silver.

Common uses in products

Sterling silver jewellery pile
Pile of anqitue sterling silver jewellery pieces with incrested stones and gems; included are necklaces, rings, and pendants.

We use sterling silver in our every day lives, at home, at work or on our travels. Well pure silver in appearance, your most likely to be touching and seeing sterling on a daily basis.

But before it ends up in that state, silver must be turned into sterling so manufacturers can use it in their products at its strongest.

Once the pure silver arrives at the manufacturers, they then process the silver further so they can then sell it on to manufacturers of the following:

  • Jewellery: earrings, rings, necklaces and pendants
  • Cutlery: spoons, forks and knifes
  • Musical instruments
  • Stationary: paper clips, letter openers
  • Gift items: christening sets, cups, picture frames
  • Beauty: manicure sets, hair clips
  • Surgical items

Generally, manufacturers don't sell sterling, but pure silver so the manufacturer, crafts-person and hobbyist can choose to turn it into sterling themselves.

Difference between Sterling and Plated

When it comes down to it, only silver and copper apply to both sterling and plated silver, only they are processed differently for two very different results.

Take sterling silver, as we've explained many times, 7.5% of silver is removed (or in other words 7.5% of copper is added) to the mixing pot well the silver is melted at a very high temperature before adding melted copper.

The resulting article has a silver appearance but is much more solid.

With silver plated items, this time a piece of jewellery or cutlery for example is made with pure copper or interior metals.

To produce the plated method, the finished item is then dipped into sterling silver to create a thin layer.

So well you have a stunning piece of silverware, its largely made up of inferior metals, but is necessary as the copper makes it tough and durable, something silver cannot do.

Does sterling silver plated tarnish

Yes, plated sterling does tarnish, no thanks to the copper in the silver

To avoid this, look after your jewellery (or similar items) by wiping it down with a dry cloth and lock it away in a sealable container.

It would be helpful if you also kept sterling silver items out of areas with high humidity, such as the bathroom or kitchen, and would be a good idea to store out of direct sunlight.

Sometimes, a wipe of a cloth is simply not enough once the tarnish as got to bad, so you need to go through the process of cleaning sterling silver using the water method.

But its best to keep your sterling items tarnishing from the start by following practical methods for keeping it clean.

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