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How to distinguish real silver from other metals? [Full guide by an expert]

Published by Lars Mäki in category Uncategorized on 18.07.2023
Gold price (XAU-SEK)
20882,20 SEK/oz
  
- 122,30 SEK
Silver price (XAG-SEK)
232,12 SEK/oz
  
- 4,70 SEK

Silver has a long and rich history as a sought-after precious metal. Its brilliance and utility have made it a popular component in jewellery, cutlery and decorative items, as well as wiring. But in a world where counterfeiting is increasingly common, it is important to be able to distinguish between genuine silver and other metals.

silver

This article will serve as a comprehensive guide to help you recognise genuine silver and learn how to distinguish it from sterling silver and other metals. We will explore the defining characteristics of real silver and the techniques experts use to distinguish it from fakes.

We will look at factors such as the metal’s appearance, markings and chemical reactions to distinguish genuine silver from its counterfeits. We will also discuss different testing methods that you can use to confirm the authenticity of silver in your own home.

By increasing your knowledge of real silver and its properties, you can become a more informed buyer and be sure that the silver items you own are indeed of high quality. Let’s start our journey by learning how to distinguish genuine silver from sterling silver and other metals.

Different types of silver

As all silver jewellery is usually made from different alloys, there are many different types of silver. However, it is enough to know the two most common types of silver (sterling silver and pure silver), how to tell them apart and how to recognise a fake coin.

Sterling silver

Sterling silver is an alloy consisting of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals. This combination is used to improve the durability and strength of pure silver. Compared to pure silver, which is easily scratched or bent due to its softness, sterling silver is more robust and resistant.

sterling

The term ‘sterling silver’ comes from the English silver coins called ‘sterlings’. And these were made of this particular silver alloy. The word ‘sterling’ is actually a colloquial abbreviation of the word ‘easterling’, which referred to the origin of silver coins.

Sterling silver is often used to make jewellery, cutlery, crockery and other decorative items. Jewellery designers appreciate sterling silver for its brilliant luster and elegant appearance.

An important feature of sterling silver is its protection against discolouration. Over time, sterling silver tends to oxidise and darken. To counteract this effect, sterling silver is often provided with a rhodium or platinum coating. This coating forms an extra protective film that slows down discolouration and keeps the silver shiny and beautiful for longer.

When caring for sterling silver, it is important to treat it properly. Regular polishing with a soft cloth will help maintain the lustre. It is advisable to avoid contact with strong chemicals such as household cleaners or perfumes as they can damage the silver.

Another aspect of sterling silver is its value. Although not as expensive as gold, sterling silver has a significant value due to its silver content. The value of sterling silver is often affected by the current price of silver, which fluctuates on the world market.

In general, sterling silver is a popular choice for jewellery and other decorative items because of its beauty, durability and value. It is important to take proper care of sterling silver to extend its life and preserve its beauty.

Read more about Sterling silver here!

Pure silver

Silver is a relatively common natural resource compared to gold. The largest mining areas are currently located in Mexico, Peru and China, which together account for more than 50% of the world’s silver exports. However, pure silver, also known as fine silver with a purity of 99.9%, is only suitable for processing to a limited extent due to its softness. For this reason, it is alloyed.

Silver

At Tavex we only sell pure silver, also known as investment silver. See our full range here!

In an alloy, two or more metals are melted together and mixed to modify certain properties, such as conductivity and hardness. Sterling silver is a well-known silver alloy for jewellery. It is ideal for jewellery making because of its hardness, while 800 silver is used for cutlery. The number indicates the silver content in thousandths.

For example, 935 silver contains 93.5% silver and 6.5% copper.

Silver occurs about 20 times more often than gold. Therefore, the price of silver is much cheaper than the price of gold. Currently, a kilo of 999/- fine silver costs about €590,-. Therefore, silver is also a good and safe investment. Pure gold has no alloy of other metals.

Characteristics of silver:

  • Decorative: Silver has a beautiful and brilliant shine that makes it a popular choice for jewellery and decorative items.
  • Conductor of heat and electricity: Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity, making it useful in electronics and industry.
  • High reflectivity: Silver has a high ability to reflect light, making it ideal for mirrors, optics and photography.
  • Resistant to corrosion: Silver is resistant to corrosion and oxidisation, making it long-lasting and durable over time.
  • Antibacterial property: Silver has a natural ability to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, which has led to its use in medical and healthcare applications.
  • Soft and malleable: Silver is a relatively soft metal, making it easy to mould and bend into different shapes and patterns.
  • Low toxicity: Silver has low toxicity and is therefore safer to use in contact with humans and food compared to some other metals.
  • Easy to polish: Silver is easy to polish to a high lustre and can be restored to its original appearance with proper care and maintenance.
  • High value: Silver has historically been valuable and sought after, making it an investment and a symbol of wealth and status.

Furthermore, silver is also a super durable material as it can always be added to the recycling process! These properties are some of the reasons why silver is used in a variety of industries and is considered a high quality precious metal.

How do you tell the difference between sterling silver and regular silver?

The difference between ordinary silver and sterling silver is of great importance both in terms of appearance and value.

Sterling silver has a unique ability to capture light in a way that no other metal can, which is why we are fascinated by its shine and choose to use it in cutlery, vases, jewellery and decorative details. Furthermore, real silver has a high market value, which means that items made from sterling silver often have a higher price tag than those that are only silver-coloured.

It is therefore important to be able to distinguish between real silver and imitations, not only for cost reasons. People who are allergic or sensitive to other metals need to be sure that their jewellery is made of real silver to be able to wear it without experiencing negative reactions.

6 tests that show if you have real silver

Being able to distinguish genuine silver from fakes is important to protect yourself from fraud and ensure you get the valuable material you pay for. Here are six tests that can help you identify if you have real silver.

Want to know more about investment silver? Click here!

Stamp of authenticity

ÄkthetsstämpelStart by inspecting the surface of the silver carefully with a magnifying glass. Look for stamps or markings. Internationally sold silver usually has stamps indicating the silver content. If your silver item has no hallmark, you should be careful.

Stamps such as 925, 900 or 800 indicate the percentage of silver. Use the magnifying glass to read these numbers and determine the percentage of fine silver in the item. For example, 925 means the item is 92.5 per cent silver (sterling silver); a mark of 900 or 800 means the item is 90 or 80 per cent silver and is often referred to as ‘coin silver’.

Also look for letters like ‘STER’ and ‘IS’ on the silver. “STER” stands for sterling, which indicates that the silver is 92.5 per cent real silver. “IS” stands for “international silver” and means that the item is made of real silver.

If ‘IS’ is not followed by a number stamp, it may indicate that the silver content is low or that you have a silver-plated item. To ensure whether the item is silver-plated or genuine silver, you can use the acid test and the magnetic test.

Magnet test

Place a strong magnet near the silver and see if it sticks. Silver is paramagnetic and shows only weak magnetic effects. If your magnet sticks strongly to the object, it has a magnetic core of a cheaper metal and is not pure silver.

There are some metals that do not stick to a magnet but may look like silver. Do the magnet test in combination with another test to make sure the core is not another metal.

Test with an ice cube

Take some ice cubes for this test. Keep the ice in the freezer until you need them for the test (they should not be wet). Although it may not seem like ice and silver belong together, silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any common metal or alloy (even copper comes a close second).

Place an ice cube on the silver and observe if it melts quickly. If the silver is genuine, the ice will start melting immediately, as if it is on something hot instead of something that is just at room temperature. This is because silver has very high thermal conductivity. It may be helpful to place another ice cube on another surface at room temperature to compare melting times.

Sound test

Perform a sound test on a silver coin. Silver makes a beautiful bell-like sound when you tap it, especially if you tap it with another metal. If you want to try this before you tap your dodgy silver.

Drop the coin on a table and listen for a high-pitched ringing sound. Hold the coin above a flat surface and drop it. If the coin makes a sound like a bell ringing, you have a genuine silver coin in your hand. If it sounds duller, the silver is probably mixed with other metals.

Acid test

syra test på silver

Only do an acid test if there is no stamp indicating silver in your item or if there is no other way to test the material. Note that the acid can damage the material or the tester.

Make sure you wear gloves as you will be using a corrosive acid to test the purity of the silver. If you suspect you have a valuable item, it may be better to try to determine the silver content using one of the other methods.

Buy an acid test kit for silver. You can buy these tests online or at jewellery stores. Silver acid tests work best for pure silver, but if you think your item is silver-plated, use a small jewellery file to make a mark and reveal what’s under the plating.

Find an invisible spot on the silver and make a small scratch. This scratch is necessary for the acid to reach the underlying metal on silver-plated items. Scrape the object with a metal file and use firm pressure to get past any silver plating.

If you don’t want to scratch your item, you can use a black stone plate. These usually come with the acid test kit, or you can buy one separately. Rub your silver against the surface of the black stone so that it leaves a thick and relatively large impression. Aim for a line about 1.3 to 2.5 cm thick.

Put a drop of acid on the scratched surface. If the acid comes into contact with any area of the object that is not scratched, it will affect the polished appearance of the object. If you are using a black stone slab, drip the acid along the line you made with the stone.

Look closely at the scratched surface with acid on it. Notice the colour that emerges as the acid sinks into the object. Be sure to follow the instructions and colour scale for your specific acid test kit.

In general, the colour scale is as follows:
Light red: Pure silver
Darker red: 925
Silver Brown: 800
Silver Green: 500
Silver Yellow: Lead or Tin
Dark brown: Brass
Blue: Nickel

Bleach

Blekmedel på silver

Using bleach as a test to distinguish between genuine silver and fakes can be a useful tool. Here is how to conduct the test:

Put a drop of bleach on your silver item. Silver oxidises extremely quickly when exposed to a powerful oxidising agent, such as regular bleach.

Observe whether or not the silver stains. If it quickly tarnishes and turns black, then the item is genuine silver. Note, however, that silver-plated items can pass this test.

Remember that if your silver becomes tarnished and black in colour, you can easily clean it with toothpaste, bicarbonate of soda or silver polish.

Gold price (XAU-SEK)
20882,20 SEK/oz
  
- 122,30 SEK
Silver price (XAG-SEK)
232,12 SEK/oz
  
- 4,70 SEK

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