What is the Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver?

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You might think silver jewelry is made of pure silver and sterling silver is just another name for it.

Well, that’s not the case!

In fact, they are different materials, which we’ll cover below, in detail, with alternatives used in jewelry!

Fine silver(pure silver) is 99.9% silver. Sterling silver, or 925 silver, is a silver alloy with 92.5% purity. The remaining 7.5% is usually cheaper metals like copper, zinc or nickel. These additions increase the durability and strength of the metal.

As pure silver is too soft for jewelry and silverware, we use harder alloys like sterling or 835 silver.

There are many different versions of silver: fine silver, sterling silver, coin silver, argentium silver, 835 silver and more.

They sound alike. They have similar colors.

However, they have significant differences.

What is Silver?

Silver is the name of a chemical element. It has an atomic number of 47 on the periodic table.

It is a precious metal like gold and platinum.

Its symbol is Ag, the abbreviation for Argentum.

Pure silver has a white bright color that we all know.

You may have seen silver bullion bars as in the photo.

These are 5000 g or 5 kg bullion bars.

They carry the refinery mark at the top and a serial number at the bottom.

In the center, you will notice the markings “FINE SILVER” and “999 0”.

These marks indicate that this bar, is fine silver and its purity is 99.9%.

In other words, this bullion bar is 99.9% pure silver or 999 in thousand parts silver.

You may ask why it is not 100%: there are always some trace elements which makes up the impurity.

Thus, the tiny amount of 0.1% comes from other metals.

Pure silver, aka fine silver, is 99.9% silver. 

Pure silver is too soft to be made into jewelry

Silver, in its pure form, is not hard enough for jewelry and to become durable household items.

Thus, a harder type of silver is needed.

There are many choices such as coin silver, Silver 835, Silver 850, Argentium silver, and the most popular one Sterling silver.

Silver content in different alloys
Name Silver Percentage Other metal Percentage
 Fine Silver  99.9  0.1
 Sterling Silver  92.5  7.5
 Argentium Silver 935  93.5  6.5
 Argentium Silver 960  96.0  4.0
 835 Silver  83.5  16.5
 850 Silver  85.0  15.0

What is 835 Silver?

835 Silver is a silver alloy, similar to sterling.

It has 83.5% silver and the remaining 16.5% comes from base metals such as copper.

To put it in a different way, 835 Silver has 835 parts in thousands silver in its composition.

Likewise, 850 Silver has 85% silver in its alloy.

Argentium silver is the shining new member of the silver family.

It’s main distinct property is its resistance to tarnish, thanks to germanium.

Check this post for more on argentium silver and its variations.

Now, let’s take a look to the most popular silver: 925 Sterling silver.

What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is a hard and durable silver alloy.

It has 92.5% silver content and 7.5% other metals in its composition.

The added metals increase its strength and durability.

These additions make it an ideal material for jewelry and flatware and other household items.

What is the difference between sterling silver and 925 silver?

Nothing! They are the same! It’s just another naming for the 92.5% silver.

What is the difference between sterling silver and silver plated?

Sterling silver is the name of a silver alloy.

If a jewelry is sold as sterling silver, it means that it made from sterling silver.

On the other side, if an item is said to be silver plated, that means in has generally a different, and probably cheaper metal, inside.

The inner metal is produced and then, it has been coated with a layer of silver.

Many mistake white gold for sterling silver and argentium silver. Check this post to learn more on white gold and its differences from sterling silver.

Sterling silver is cheaper than Silver

Silver is a precious metal and the more you used the more it will cost!

Sterling silver has a 7.5% part made of other metals.

This part is usually a cheaper metal like copper.

Thus same weight of fine silver will receive a higher price than sterling silver.

Sterling silver tarnishes faster than Silver

One other result of the presence of copper and other metals, is that these metals can increase the oxidation speed.

For example, copper may quickly interact with humidity and chemical agents like perfumes and deodorants.

These reactions may cause the jewelry piece to lose its luster and acquire blackish spots called tarnish in less time than a pure silver piece.

Silver is a hypoallergenic metal

In its pure form, silver is hypoallergenic, however the other added metals may not be.

Generally, if there are allergic symptoms, the culprit is nickel.

These may include color change, itching and irritation.

Thus, picking sterling silver jewelry nickel-free is a smart idea.

Although there are no guarantees jewelry will not cause any allergies, it is highly unlikely that an hypoallergenic piece will cause irritation and other similar effects.

Another solution is to promote your selection to argentium silver.

It is a hypoallergenic metal safe for sensitive skin.

It possesses a similar luster as 925 silver and is extremely tarnish resistant.


The Bottom Line

Fine silver and sterling silver are different materials.

However, in conversation, we use the word “silver” for both of them.

Fine silver has a purity of 99.9%.

And sterling silver, aka 925 silver, has 92.5% silver content in its composition.

As silver is too soft for jewelry, durable versions like sterling are widely used.

Other notable alternatives to sterling are 835 silver, 850 silver, argentium 935 and argentium 960.

To reduce allergy risk, always prefer nickel-free pieces.

And lastly, if you’d like have less tarnish problems, go for argentium silver, which is high-quality silver with high tarnish resistance.

The most common types are 935 and 960 argentium silver, which both have higher percentages of silver content.