Sterling Silver Vs Silver – Know The Differences Before You Buy Silver Jewelry

Isn’t the sterling silver and silver just the same thing? I get this question a lot, and I know telling you no is just not enough.

We use the two terminologies interchangeably sometimes, but they don’t mean the same thing.

So we are here to make you understand them better.

Sterling Silver Vs Silver

Silver is a metal/element that people use for different needs but mostly in different kinds of jewelry. So you need to know that when you are out searching for the silverware, you will come across sterling silver and pure silver.

If you are new to this business, you can’t tell the difference, but we know them, so keep reading.

The difference by definition

For you to understand the two, then we must break them down separately. Of course, though, they are both versions of silver.

So what is silver?

When we say silver, we mean pure or fine silver. This is the silver that you will have expressed as 99.9% silver. Often this is based on the millesimal fineness. It means that the metal or element in question contains pure silver.


Notice that the fine silver is very soft, which makes it hard to mold jewelry from it. This is why you may only find the fine silver bullion coins.

Like most other precious elements and metals, pure silver comes from the earth as an ore. Once you collect this ore, you can mix it with other elements. This mixture often ends up forming a lead ore. From the lead ore, then you can extract the silver.

We need to agree that you will have silver being used in the investments but never for commercial or industrial reasons.

Naturally, the pure silver is ductile and malleable with a high affinity for polish. It first was founded in Anatolia, Turkey, but today, more countries are mining this ore. Notice that it’s never easy to extract the silver from its ore.

Of course, you expect the pure silver to be even more shiny and brilliant, but with all this goodness, it’s still too soft for you to mold it. This is why we mostly use sterling silver, which leads us to the question below.

More reading: Types Of Silver

What is sterling silver?

Basically, this is still a type of silver that features the alloy of other metals too. It features the use of 92.5% silver together with 7.5% copper metal or other brands use even zinc and nickel.

The real sterling silver has a 925 stamp, just like the pure silver has a 999 stamp.

Sterling Silver
In other countries, you may have the silver having lower quality like 900. Well, in America, though, this is not classified as sterling silver。

The reason why it’s the best preferred for jewelry is that it’s more durable and easy to mold than the fine one above. However, since it has a mix of other elements, the jewelry may tarnish over time. They will react to oxygen, acids, water, and air too.

Sometimes you may have other metals being plated with a layer of pure silver to give it the perfect shine sometimes. This is then the kind of silver we call the plated silver but not sterling silver.

Sterling silver originated in Europe back in the 12th century. To date, it’s one of the most preferred metal when making jewelry.

Although it features a blend of 7.5% copper, it still maintains the brightness and shine of pure silver. This metal is lustrous, and it remains versatile too.

Which one tarnishes? Sterling silver or silver

If you often buy silver jewelry, then the term tarnish isn’t new to you. This features the chemical reaction between the silver element with other elements in the air, mostly sulfur. You will then notice that it darkens, and this then is what we call tarnish.

You may also interested: Jewelry Metals That Don’ Tarnish

The truth is that sterling silver is durable, but that doesn’t keep it from tarnishing. In fact, the pure silver literary never tarnishes. On the other hand, the sterling one has a blend of different metals that cause the tarnishing.

Also, the additional copper when exposed to air then it tends to get discolored. Now you know that since the sterling silver mostly has other copper, it will tarnish.

For more information about Sterling Silver Tarnish, read the complete guide here: Does Sterling Silver Tarnish

Let’s talk about the price.

The way the metal is priced is easy to understand. The silver is priced per kilo ounce or gram. However, you will not have to buy pure silver a lot of the time, especially if you are going to use it to make jewels.

When you are talking of sterling silver, it will matter the finish you choose. Notice though that if the silver is not polished, then it will turn yellowish.

So for your allergic friends and when you want the ornament to last longer, make sure you polish the sterling silver.

In a nutshell, expect pure silver to cost you a lot more than sterling silver. Remember, pure silver has no additive. However, if you are going to make jewelry, then choose affordable sterling silver.


Most of us believe that the only thing you can do with sterling silver is to make jewelry. Well, you can use these pieces for several reasons. Remember, it’s easier to mold the sterling silver to shape.

So aside from the jewels, you can use it to make the cutlery, music instruments like saxophone, surgical equipment, flatware, and many other things.

If you are, however, going to use pure silver, remember that it’s not versatile. Notice that it’s too soft to mold, and it’s further not even durable that’s why you don’t use it.


Let’s agree that both metals or elements are significant since they feature the highest quality of silver and a few of the minerals in the market.

Of course, pure silver is more valuable because it has no additional elements. Nonetheless, remember there’s only too much you can do with pure silver.

On the other hand, the sterling silver has a blend of other metals, so you can expect it to be lesser in value than the pure one. But don’t forget that there’s so much you can do with it. The metal can replace your gold or platinum when needed to.

Its composition

Of course, we have discussed this already, but let’s make it understandable as it’s the main difference.

Silver has 99.9% silver, with only 0.1% trace elements. Basically, once you refine it in the factory, then you are ready to make use of it.

On the other hand, Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver, and the other 7.5% features the use of other metals like copper, zinc, or nickel. This is what makes the metal manageable. It’s, therefore, the same metal that makes jewelry, cookware musical instruments, and more.


Generally, silver is famous for being very soft, you know. This makes it even hard to mold and create jewels or any other silverware. Pure silver will also lose its shape as soon as you mold it.

Pure jewel is very soft that it won’t even create the ornaments you would like to make. It’s just hard to work with it, and that’s why people use the sterling silver instead. It’s a little harder since it contains an alloy of other metals like copper.

Its identification

When you are going out to buy the best jewels, you should know the identification. Understand that the authentic sterling silver comes with the hallmark. This is meant to show that this is a genuine piece. Often you will see the stamp with this information: 925, 92.5, 925 silver, 925 STERLIN SILVER, and STG, among other methods.

If you are going to buy pure silver, you don’t need the identification that’s why it is mostly just called pure silver. Some brands refer to it as 999silver, though.

The skin allergies

We can’t go without asking this question because most women develop skin reactions when they wear their jewelry.

Often the silver will not cause such reactions, but even if it does, then the sterling silver is the one that may cause the irritations. The reason for the skin irritations may be because it has 7.5% of other metals.

This is especially true if they use nickel in the metal as that often causes skin irritations. This is why most people opt for the use of copper only. But if you are using pure silver, you can be sure it won’t cause any allergic reactions.

Related articles:
Sterling Silver Allergy
Is Sterling Silver Hypoallergenic
Hypoallergenic Jewelry

Why should you use sterling silver instead of silver?

We have discussed these points in length here, but we are going to give you a recap.

The cost is the number one factor. It will cost you a lot more to use pure silver than it will cost you when you buy sterling silver. The good news is that you will get the same effect. Remember the pure silver is pure, and that’s why it costs a lot more.

The durability question. Everyone wants an item that will last a long time, and that is sterling silver. Although pure silver is of high quality because of its softness, you can’t have it last longer. In fact, literary, we don’t use the pure silver for jewels, you know. The metal pieces in the sterling will have it staying put at all times.

It’s easy to work with sterling silver. You will find that it’s easy to shape sterling silver than its counterpart silver. Everyone wants to use metal that’s easy to work with.

How to tell a silver and sterling silver item apart?

When we are talking of pure or fine silver, you expect it to be stamped 999 or 99.9%. This shows you the amount of silver you have in the metal.

Sterling silver, on the other hand, has a stamp of 92.5 or 925. This shows the amount of silver in the jewelry again. If you are going to buy the silver elsewhere, it may still market as sterling even though it doesn’t have 92.5% silver. You, therefore, should always check the percentage.

Can you test the silver for purity?

If you are going to buy a good quality jewel, you would want it to be the best quality right. You can use the acid test method to find out if the silver is a real deal.

If you can have a little shaving, then put it in the acid solution. Watch out, if it changes the color, then be sure that it has a lesser than 92.5% silver. There are other methods we have highlighted in another blog article on how to test it.

Therefore, you can have the jewelers acid test for you if you aren’t confident about the process.

How to care for it

Caring for the sterling silver and silver is crucial if you want the pieces to last longer. The good news though, is that it’s easy to care for them. It’s not as easy to clean the pure silver, and thankfully, we don’t use it to make any jewel and item.

Sterling silver allows you to wipe it with a clean cloth. Remember, don’t put the item in an acidic environment or leave it wet. You should only use anti-tarnish solutions if you are going to clean it.

Finally, be careful where you keep it. If you keep it in a moist environment, then you risk damaging it.

Which one is better?

You have it all now, and I know you can decide without me telling you which one is a great option. It’s safe to say that sterling silver is the best if you are looking for one to use on the jewelry. The piece is shiny, durable and you can wear it daily if you wish.

The pieces are much more cost-effective but don’t just buy any kind of sterling silver, especially if you are buying outside the US. There are different versions; some even have a lower percentage of silver, so you will decide to use it.

Check the composition to make sure you buy the good quality ones. Of course, you have to be sure you will also take care of it if you want it to last longer.

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