steel bracelet

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver Jewelry

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Stainless steel vs sterling silver is a common comparison.

They both offer shiny looks attracting many jewelry buyers.

Despite this similarity, they are very different.

If you’re looking for a fast answer, here it is:

If you want the cheaper, more durable jewelry and prefer doing little care, pick stainless steel.

If you like the more shiny, lighter metal and are ready to cope with the tarnish, sterling silver is your choice.

If you want more, keep on reading!

Sterling silver necklace with opal stone
Sterling silver necklace with stone

What is the stainless steel?

Stainless steel is a steel alloy. It contains iron, chromium and nickel, besides other metals.

It is used in many areas, from jewelry to kitchenware, even to biomedical.

There are many variations of stainless steel for different purposes.

Some are suitable for jewelry and some or not.

For example, monochromatic steel is an alloy widely used in kitchen appliances.

Monochromatic stainless steel is one-color stainless steel.

The alloy changes with every percentage increase and decrease of metals included.

So it is impossible to give an exact density value for stainless steel.

Every alloy is different.


Stainless Steel ring with Zircons
Ladies’ Ring Jewelry – Stainless Steel and Zircons

Is stainless steel good for jewelry?

Nearly all the jewelry you will come across will be made of 316L stainless steel.

This alloy of stainless steel is surgical level quality steel.

This means when you check the jewelry piece, if it is 316L stainless steel, you’re probably ok!

This steel type jewelry is durable and will serve you many years.

It does not tarnish or corrode.

Moreover, you can be sure it is nickel free, which makes it hypoallergenic.

If you do not have a very specific allergy to other metals in the alloy, you can enjoy this cool jewelry.

stainless steel and gold bracelet
Men’s stainless steel and gold bracelet

Be aware of low priced steel jewelry: they lack the quality of 316L steel.

Low quality steel may cause skin irritation.

They may become visually unattractive in a fast pace.

Besides being hypoallergenic, 316L steel is also very easy to clean.

A mild soapy water and a piece of cloth are usually enough to get rid of the grim.

Long story short: make sure you are buying 316L stainless steel jewelry.

stainless steel bracelet
Stainless steel bracelet

What is the sterling silver?

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver very widely used in jewelry.

Why don’t we just use 100% silver instead?

It is not quite possible to use pure silver, because it is too soft.

Just like we do for yellow gold, we need a more durable material.

And here comes sterling silver.

This alloy has 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, which is most of the time copper.

You may easily recognize sterling jewelry by the stamps.

Look for “92.5%,” “.925” or “925” engraved marks inside sterling silver rings and other jewelry items.

silver bracelet
silver bracelet


Sterling silver is not alone. There are other alloys of silver used in jewelry and other fields.

Argentium silver is one of the silver alloys used in jewelry.

It has germanium in its composition to make it harder but also less prone to tarnish.

Most common forms of Argentium silver are Argentium 935 and 960, which have silver percentages of 93.5% and 96% respectively.

For centuries, silver has been used worldwide as jewelry.

Silver is at the foundation of our monetary history.

For centuries, this precious metal has been used as “money.”

Moreover, it is at the root of the US Dollar and British Pound!

It is no surprise this precious metal is used as jewelry.

Sterling silver is not a rose without thorns.

Unfortunately, sterling silver jewelry does tarnish. However, there are simple ways to restore its brightness.

As it gets into contact with air and humidity, it tends to lose its shine.

Furthermore, chemical agents like perfumes and deodorants speeds up this process.

Sterling silver is hypoallergenic, if it does not contain nickel.

Don’t forget there is 7.5% percent of metals in the alloy which are added to make it harder.

If this part contains nickel, then you may face unwanted side effects.

However, if your sterling jewelry is nickel-free than probably you can enjoy it without any hesitation.


silver pendant


Stainless Steel or Sterling silver?

Stainless steel Sterling silver
Tarnish Does not tarnish Does tarnish
Hypoallergenic Yes, if nickel free Yes, if nickel free
Easy to take care Yes Needs a little more work
Scratch resistance High resistance Low resistance
Durabilty High Low

Sterling silver demands more caring than stainless steel

If you want to your sterling silver jewelry to keep its lustrous look, you have work to do.

First, to prevent and postpone as much as possible any tarnish, don’t wear your jewelry at the pool or beach.

Don’t shower with your sterling jewelry.

Never leave them wet. Always make sure you have dried them.

Take off your silver jewelry when doing cleaning and garden work.

Keep it away from perfumes. Make sure your jewelry comes last, always after deodorants, while getting ready to go out.

steel ring jewelry
steel ring jewelry

Stainless steel is harder than sterling silver

Silver has a low rating on the Mohs Scale around 3, showing its softness.

While steel sits at 4-4,5 and hardened steel is much higher at 8-8,5.

This clearly shows that it is not a good idea to wear sterling silver jewelry during a high adrenaline outdoor adventure!

Also a jewelry drawer full of other pieces is not the finest storage place for the soft sterling jewelries.

It would be best, if you keep sterling silver jewelry in separate pouches.

This will prevent airflow and physical contact with other jewelry items, which may cause scratches.

Silver’s softness also forces us to pay more attention to mounting gemstones.

The stones may dislocate from the bezel if they are not fixed tight enough.

The solution is to use a harder metal as mounting bezels.


Stainless steel is more durable than sterling silver

This means it is more resistant to physical effects and scratches.

While the softer sterling ring may get scratched, the steel ring will remain untouched.

On the downside, this hardness makes steel jewelry nearly impossible to resize.

You may easily pass on from even attempting to resize your steel engagement ring!

When we look to silver jewelry, we may easily have it resized by a short visit to the local jewelry shop.


a two-silver engagement ring set
Close-up of a jewelry box with two elegant silver rings from which one with a diamond, symbol of engagement and elegance

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: The Verdict

A large part of your decision will depend on the look that you are trying to achieve.

If you want a more authoritarian look, hardened-type of jewelry to compliment your fashion choice, then stainless steel is for you.

Plus, you will enjoy far less maintenance than silver jewelry, and you can store it for years without any tarnish building up.

However, if you want a ring made of precious metals, then sterling silver takes the upper hand against stainless steel.

Silver, with gold, are the prime precious metals.

It is a tradition to use silver in the house and carry as jewelry.

Silver jewelry also tends to be a third lighter than same volume of stainless steel jewelry.

Both will be hypoallergenic, as long as they are nickel-free.

The effort on caring you give to your sterling silver jewelry, will reward you back with a lustrous shine.

Never forget: the better you take care of your jewelry, the better it will take care of you!


Related questions

1. Is stainless steel more expensive than silver?

Silver is a precious metal like gold, platinum and palladium.

It has been used as money for centuries.

Even today some central banks hold silver bullion reserves.

Neither steel is, nor iron is precious.

Thus we’d expect 925 silver items to be more expensive than stainless steel pieces.

2. Is stainless steel jewelry any good?

Stainless steel jewelry is very durable.

You can use a steel piece for a long time.

Moreover, it takes little care to keep its nice look.

It suffice to wipe it with a soft cloth from time to time and that’s all.

Plus, it will cost little when comapred to gold and silver pieces.

This means you can add many more items to your collection at a low price.


3. Does stainless steel contain silver?

We’d not expect stainless steel to contain silver.

Silver is a precious metal which is too soft for jewelry.

It is alloyed with harder metals, mainly copper, to make it harder.

Stainless steel is a steel alloy made from steel and chromium.