What is the Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver?

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Fine silver is 99.9% silver. This pure metal is too soft for jewelry or silverware.

Sterling silver, or 925 silver, is an alloy of silver with 92.5% purity. The remaining 7.5% is usually a cheaper metal like copper, zinc or nickel, which increases the durability and strength of the alloy.

There are many different version of silver: pure silver, sterling silver, argentium silver, 835 silver and more.

They sound alike.

They have similar colors.

However, they have significant differences that we included in this post!

What is Silver?

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

It is a precious metal like gold and platinum.

Its symbol is Ag, the abbreviation for Argentum.

Pure silver has a white bright color 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 engagements “FINE SILVER” and “999 0”.

This marking indicates 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%, because there are always some very small amounts of other metals. Thus the tiny amount of 0,1% comes from other metals.

Pure silver and fine silver are all 99,9% silver. 

Silver is widely used in electronics, photography, biomedical industries and of course in jewelry.

Pure silver is too soft to be made into jewelry

Silver, in its pure form say 99,9% pure as in the bullion bar above, is not hard enough for jewelry and durable household items.

Thus a harder alloy of silver is needed.

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

Silver content in different alloys
Name Silver Percentage Other metal Percentage
 Pure 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.

It has 83, 5% silver and the remaining 16, 5% comes from other metals such as copper.

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

850 Silver is similar to 835 Silver. It has 85% silver in its alloy.

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

It’s main property is its resistance to tarnish thank to germanium in its alloy.

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

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

What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is a hard and durable silver alloy.

Sterling silver has 92,5% silver 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 alloy.

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 casted or alloyed 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 which is not silver. This part is usually a cheaper metal like copper. Thus same weight of pure silver receives a higher price than sterling silver jewelry.

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.

Silver is a hypoallergenic metal

Another important point is that, while silver is hypoallergenic, the other added metals may not be.

Generally, the culprit of allergies is nickel.

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 a nickel-free sterling silver piece will cause irritation and other similar effects.