What’s The Difference Between Sterling Silver & Pure Silver?


Jewelry consumers in North America and Europe love to gift a lustrous silver necklace, sterling ring, or earring, while the global south still prefers gold accessories.

Surprisingly though my nieces in South Africa articulated to me that they like sterling silver pendants for  X-mas.

In short, silver jewelry is on the rise in many parts of the globe. The question is consequently what distinguishes sterling from pure silver indeed.

Pure silver is either bright white-metallic or dark-gray (silver oxide and sulfide) with a purity of 99.9% and .01% by-products from ore mining. While sterling silver is a metal alloy consisting of 92.5% regular silver and 7.5% of copper, zinc, nickel, and even gold occasionally. 

You might be rightfully asking yourself what the difference means concerning jewelry quality, value, and maybe even health when it comes to these two similar metals.

Sterling Silver vs Silver 

Basic table overview of the main differences between these two types of silver metals in jewelry and other products:

925 Sterling Silver  Real Silver

92.5% silver, 7.5% copper, zinc, nickel, (gold)

(not to be confused with silver plated)

99.9% pure silver, 0.1 material inclusions like lead, gold, ore, etc.
Metal compound from real silver and other metals Mined or disperses from rocks’ natural material
Non-precious metal Considered precious metal 
Perceived affordable and of less value compared to regular silver High in perceived and real value
manufactured to commonly glossy color, though other colors can be created naturally white to black depending on oxide and sulfide
May trigger skin contact allergies* Hypoallergenic
Usually non-toxic Non-toxic
Tarnishes over time (without jewelry care) Does not tarnish
Source:Litawear.com, *when non-nickel-free silver alloy (mix)

Pros and Cons of Fine Silver

Benefits of Silver

  • The first visible benefit of real silver is its shinning color which translates it into a sought-after metal
  • Secondly, regular silver is actually not “silver”, but either gray, black, or white, and soft like powder
  • Thirdly, the above-mentioned properties of color and form make natural silver a versatile metal for jewelry and silverware
  • Fourthly, natural-found silver is considered a precious metal due to its ability to prevent penetration by other metals or materials easily
  • Fifthly, there are currently no known health side effects connected with wearing or being exposed to real silver (outside of extreme occurrences like accidents at manufacturing)
  • Sixth, fine silver is widely found in the Americas and elsewhere, which makes it relatively affordable compared to gold or platinum (though silver is worth its price indeed)

Disadvantages Regular Silver

  • Natural silver is like all precious metals a valuable metal with a matching price tag
  • Pure silver jewelry might not be as hard for example tungsten metal or a diamond
  • Rings, necklaces, or real silver earrings might be mistaken for fake silver jewelry

Pros and Cons of Sterling Silver

Why Sterling Silver (Advantages)

  • One prime advantage of sterling silver value (stamped 925) over precious silver is its significantly lower price
  • Next, 925 metal jewelry silver possesses design properties that fine silver can’t provide because the former is harder 
  • Moreover, sterling silver can be combined with different metals into different alloys depending on the desired jewelry design outcome
  • Sterling silver is currently one of the most used jewelry mixtures due to its versatility, modern fashion appeal, and value for the price

What 925 Sterling Can’t Do (Downside)

  • Unfortunately, sterling silver is not pure silver, therefore of lower perceived value
  • A 925 silver pendant studs jewelry collection may tarnish over time (though with proper jewelry cleaning and maintenance longer durable)
  • Silver alloy like sterling may consist of nickel, which may cause skin allergies (many 925 sterling silver accessories are nickel-free though)

Is 925 Sterling Silver The Same As Sterling Silver?

There is no difference between 925 sterling (which is 92.5% real silver and 7.5% compounds of zinc, copper, and nickel) and sterling silver metal. They are interchangeable labels of the same chemical property. The name refers to the British sterling pound with early pennies having a star aka sterling.

How To Identify Real Silver from Sterling Silver

The first and most simple way to test and separate pure silver and sterling is the appearance. Real silver of 99.9% purity should have no imperfections like tarnishing. More, stamp labeling like 925, SS, and STG or 92.5% refer to sterling whereas fine silver has no hallmark.

Additionally, you can use magnetic silver testing. Whereby real silver jewelry is non-magnet reactive and therefore should be negative.

Otherwise, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish titanium vs. stainless steel or it turns out to be simply fake silver jewelry (this is also true with sterling, which consists of over 92.5 percent fine silver).

Again, silver bleach tests (mainly used for coins)  may or may not bear satisfying results due to the inconsistency and underlying amateur conditions. However, a silver testing kit can be a more valuable resource.

Lastly, one can conduct a professional silver test by visiting a jeweler or forwarding your silver piece to an online jewelry store of choice.

What Is Better Sterling Silver or Real Silver?

Regarding fashion jewelry 925 marked sterling silver is a great jewelry choice due to its budget-friendly price while keeping 92.5% real silver whereas pure silver designs tend to be reserved for higher-priced items like fine jewelry pieces.

Nonetheless, recent material advancements in 925 sterling silver research have come up with improved tarnish-resistant sterling silver rings or chains to remove any left property downsides while keeping the favorable polish look and cheaper 925 SS price.

A 925 sterling silver choker and hoops earrings or sparkling diamonds set on a fine silver ring are two great choices indeed, depending on taste and budget, respectively.

When To Get Sterling Silver or Regular Silver?

You can play more often with 925 sterling costume jewelry since more affordable for every wear, while for that stunning big day, you can go with a romantic real silver wedding ring that will take everyone’s breath away.

The differences are, next to material properties, truly more on what occasion should you wear any type of silver rather than if you should buy sterling 925 or regular silver.

My nieces back in South Africa are hopefully by now, just like you, aware of what distinguishes e.g. fine silver engagement ring for her from a sterling silver bracelet for him respectively.

Bill Dominic

Bill is an art history and business graduate. Moreover, he loves to test, compare, shop jewelry & fashion items for his 5 sisters, girlfriend, nieces when not enjoying a great novel.

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