Lets talk about sterling silver jewellery.
If you're a fan of jewellery I think it's important to have an understanding of silver because jewellery prices vary so much dependant on the originality of the design, if it's made by a famous label or not and very very importantly ... the purity of the materials used.
Thus it's important to understand the types of silver available, which are more valuable, and which are less so - so that when comparing jewellery pieces and their price you're comparing like for like and not overspending on cheap trinkets displayed in good photoshoots. I've got nothing against cheap trinkets, some of my favourite pieces are cheap, but I don't want to pay solid silver prices for them.
There are a three main sorts of silver you will see referenced with regards to jewellery and I'll go through them one by one, and explain how clever wording and photography can lead to trickery that led me to write this blog defining the differences.
Silver plated is the poorest of poor mans silver, it's barely silver at all.
Silver plating is just a small covering of silver sitting on top of another type of metal. It's very easy to scratch and wear off over time. It looks pretty nice still and has a nice shine, especially when brand new and hence it's popular for low cost fashion jewellery.
I mean if it's going to go out of fashion and discarded to the bottom of your jewellery pile, you may not be overly concerned about that silver shimmer lasting forever.
Silver filled is similar to silver plated (in that it is still silver sitting bonded on top of another cheaper metal) but it attempts to offer a superior quality of silver plating and can be as much as a 10% coating of silver on top of the metal core. (Read the description to find out how thick the plating is).
This means that it doesn't scratch or wear off anywhere near as much as a silver plated piece of metal will do. Because of this, silver filled jewellery pieces tend to cost a bit more than silver plated.
It is illegal to describe something as 'sterling silver' unless it is actually sterling silver.
Sterling silver is a metal that is comprised of 92.5% pure silver, which is why it is often described as .925 silver. You can't call silver plated or silver filled 'Sterling Silver'. Well you shouldn't call them that, as it would be illegal and deceptive to do so.
Now while you may feel that this probably means that .999 silver (pure silver) is obviously the very BEST silver you could have for a jewellery piece, this is where I have to bore you with the technicalities of why it most definitely isn't best for your jewellery.
Fully pure silver is very soft, making it unsuitable for manipulation into jewellery; it would bend, break and stretch too much for practical use and because of that manufacturers mix a small percentage of copper into the metal to give it some strength.
Below is a photo of one of our handmade sterling silver jewellery pieces.
Trickery isn't a silver 'type' it's just my examples of why you should read the jewellery description properly before you buy, and take care not to make assumptions based on what the photography is showing you or even what silver markings the piece may have.
Now quite a lot of sterling silver jewellery with have a .925 silver stamp mark on it, I'm sure you're familiar with this marking. If it has this mark, the jewellery piece is almost definitely sterling silver.
Don't presume that if a piece of jewellery doesn't have the mark that it isn't sterling silver, this isn't the case, as the legal requirement for a jewellery piece to have to display the mark is set at any piece that contains over 7.78g of silver. That's a fair chunk of silver, smaller lighter pieces won't reach this silver weight.
Quite a few necklaces, rings, earrings and other jewellery pieces may be comprised of solid sterling silver, but simply do not have this amount of silver on them - meaning that though they may be sterling silver (and the seller should not tell you it is sterling silver if it's not and instead it's plated or filled), there is no legal requirement for the silver to be stamped with the .925 symbol.
Many handmade jewellery artisans can't afford to mark every single individual piece with a .925 symbol when it's not a legal requirement to do so. To achieve the symbol sellers have to pay an offical board to stamp items for them, and doing this in the small volumes that small businesses work with, would drive small seller prices up too high for the consumer.
You can't be totally sure that the seller is being honest at the lower silver weights - all you can do is look for good customer reviews and get a feel for how reputable, knowledgeable and honest the jewellery seller is.
Onto the 'trickery' part of this guide; some companies will offer a jewellery piece for sale and while there may possibly be no intention to deceive, in some cases I've noted that it's very easy for a purchaser to presume an entire piece of jewellery is sterling silver when only a small part of it is.
My example of sterling silver trickery
While looking for solid sterling silver necklace chains on eBay, I noticed that many sellers are currently offering chains just like the chain shown directly below (with the 925 symbol on them, in this exact position) and listing them as 'Sterling Silver Chain' for the product title.
This photo is of a chain I purchased as a jewellery component, in this case the entire chain and clasps are fully .925 sterling silver.
However when you inspect the listing properly for many of these chains that look just like this one, and actually read the full description, the description advises that only the clasps are solid silver and the chain is silver plated. An important point that would be incredibly easy to miss if you aren't as meticulous as I am.
It would be incredibly easy to overlook the detail in the description and only see the .925 symbol and the title 'Sterling Silver Chain'. I'd say the title is somewhat deceptive because of course the chain in those listings are NOT sterling silver, only the clasps are and the .925 symbol attached to the clasps refers to the clasps not the entire chain.
See how easy it would be to presume that the symbol refers to everything it is attached to?
Just because you see the .925 symbol, it does not mean the 'entire' chain is sterling silver, or the entire jewellery piece whatever it may be.
If the description does not make it completely clear which parts of the jewellery item is sterling silver and which parts are not, further questioning and checking is required. In the case of chains like this, I found a swathe of them being sold online for jewellery making .... where the chain is not sterling silver, it's just the clasps.
With this chain in the photo above, I completed my research fully and can reassure you that the entire chain plus clasps are solid 925 sterling silver. Our product listings are very detailed and when we say the chain and the clasps are sterling silver - they are. If something is not sterling silver, we tell you precisely what it is.
We don't sell sterling silver only, sometimes we use plated and filled because it's nice to offer cheaper alternatives and a wider range of pricing. Often we use pure copper too for handmade jewellery, it's super eco friendly, and it's beautiful.
When The Seller Is Confused
Sadly sometimes there is an intention to deceive, and sometimes there is no intention but poor descriptions can lead to confusion, but even worse is that some jeweller sellers don't actually understand the difference between the different types of silver and therefore they are deceiving the buyer simply because they don't fully understand what they are selling.
There are many different places to purchase your jewellery and seeing a .925 symbol is no guarantee of authenticity.
In our case, I hope we've gone a long way towards reassuring you that we (well, I as the buyer and artisan) have eagle eyes when it comes to purchasing sterling silver components for jewellery making. We take great care that our suppliers are reputable, that they understand what they are selling and offer clear and precise descriptions of the product.
A few more pictures of our sterling silver jewellery pieces! :)