Silver items come in many shapes and forms, such as collectible coins, bars, and jewelry. However, these items can be made of different types of silver. The most common types of silver used in precious metal objects are sterling silver, silver plating, and fine silver.
Whether you’re considering investing in silver or selling your silver items, understanding the differences between sterling silver vs. silver plate vs. fine silver can help you know the piece’s value.
What is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is a silver alloy commonly used today to make jewelry. Some historic numismatic coins, such as English silver pennies from 1582 to 1920, have also used sterling silver in their construction.
Sterling silver has a millesimal fineness rating of 925, containing .925 parts silver (92.5% pure silver). The remaining 7.5% is typically copper but can include other base metals, depending on the manufacturer.
While sterling silver is no longer used to make coins, it is still used to make silver jewelry like rings, chokers, bracelets, and pendants. Sterling silver offers higher durability than fine silver due to its copper content. This results in a more wear-resistant material, making it suitable for daily wear.
How to Recognize Sterling Silver
Genuine sterling silver items typically feature manufacturers’ markings or proof stamps indicating their contents. Common sterling silver markings include:
- 925: A numeric marking representing its millesimal fineness rating
- 92.5% or 925/100: Some sterling silver jewelry features a percentage rating stamp, indicating its pure silver content. Sometimes, the % symbol shows as /100, an older method of writing “percent.”
- STER. or STERLING: Some types of jewelry may feature the word “sterling” in capital letters or an abbreviation of it.
- Hallmarks: Symbols representing a particular object, animal, or figure can indicate an object made of sterling silver from a specific country. For example, sterling silver made in England features a lion with its paw raised, facing left. Sterling silver made in France uses Minerva’s head, facing right, in an octagonal cartouche.
What is Silver Plate?
Silver plate or silver plating refers to the minimal silver coating on some types of jewelry and commemorative coins made of non-precious metals. Most of the weight in a silver-plated object is not silver; it is instead copper, nickel, pewter, or another non-precious metal.
While silver-plated objects are most often holloware and flatware, some coins, medals, and commemorative tokens are made using silver plating. Examples include World War II – D-Day Invasion Commemorative Coin and the Abraham Lincoln Official Presidential Hologram Commemorative Coin produced by the U.S. Mint. Techniques to manufacture silver-plated copper coins have existed since Ancient Roman times.
Although the silver used to create the plating is pure, silver-plated items are less valuable than equivalent items made of sterling or fine silver. This is because a silver-plated object has a lower quantity of actual, pure silver, usually less than 1% of the item’s total weight.
How to Recognize Silver-Plated Items
Many silver-plated jewelry items and objects feature pictorial marks resembling a sterling silver or fine silver hallmark. However, they are generally symbols representing the manufacturer and aren’t necessarily indicative of high silver purity.
You may find a marking identifying your object as silver-plated. Examples include silverware stamped with the words “Plate,” “Silver Soldered,” or “Sterling Inlaid.”
If your silver items don’t have any identifying markings, consider bringing them to AU Precious Metals. We use X-ray spectrometry equipment to conduct a fast, accurate, and non-destructive analysis to determine the purity of your silver items.
If you want to sell, we will make you a fair offer based on the spot price of silver and your items’ silver content in troy ounces.
What is Fine Silver?
Fine silver, also known as pure silver, refers to the purest forms of silver available. An object made of fine silver has a minimum millesimal purity of 999, meaning it is 99.9% pure.
Fine silver is the purity level used by bullion bars and coins. Some mints may use even higher purity levels than 999. A well-known example is the Royal Canadian Mint, which has produced ultra-fine silver with a millesimal rating of 999.9 (99.99% pure).
Fine silver is primarily used to make investment bars and coins. While some 999 silver jewelry exists, it is softer than sterling silver, making it more prone to wearing out and scratching over time. However, the lack of copper or other base metals gives silver jewelry two advantages: it is less likely to tarnish and has a higher value per weight.
Due to its purity, the value per troy ounce of a fine silver item is generally considered equal to the current spot price of silver. For example, the spot price of silver on June 23, 2023 was $22.416 per troy ounce. The value of a 10 ozt. fine silver bar on that date would have been about $224.16.
How to Recognize Fine Silver
Investment bars and coins are stamped with markings indicating their composition and purity levels. Example marks include numeric notations such as 999 or 999.0 and the words “Silver” or “Fine Silver.” Fine silver jewelry may also feature a purity marking, usually 999 or 99.9%.
Some fine silver jewels, such as collars or pendants, can be recognized by checking the clasp. It may be a fine silver item if it bends easily under finger pressure.
Buy and Sell Silver Items at AU Precious Metals
If you want to invest in silver or sell silver coins, bars, jewelry, or scrap in Michigan, visit AU Precious Metals in Novi or Rochester, Michigan. Our knowledgeable staff can guide you through the buying and selling processes and help you reach your financial goals.