In this post, I will explain how to tell if something is real silver, and the different silver tests you can use, from simple tests on the spot, to technical ones.
TARNISHING IS NOT A SIGN SILVER IS FAKE
Many people take tarnishing as a sign that silver is not real. This is not true. Although sterling silver are likely to be less prone to tarnishing than silver of lower purity, all sterling silver will tarnish as explained in my previous blog post. Depending on body chemistry, environment and exposure to chemicals, this process can take place faster or slower.
But good news is, with good, proper silver care, you can delay this process and keep your silver shine for longer. And if tarnishing has already taken place, you can always polish it, at home or professionally.
THE ACID TEST
Technically, the only way you can tell if an item is real silver is through using scientific tests, the most common is the acid test. A small shaving is taken off the jewelry and put in an acid solution. If the color of the acid changes, this means that the piece’s purity is below 92.5%, and hence not sterling or pure silver.
This video illustrates a quick and easy acid test:
If you need to test your silver jewelry, you don’t have to do the acid test yourself. There are jewelers who can perform this service for you for a small fee.
However, if you must, there are kits available online to let you test for real silver.
That said, this might not be useful to you when deciding whether to purchase an item based on whether it is sterling silver or not. You need to tell if something is real silver on the spot, at least based on the information provided by the seller.
IF YOU HAVE TO TELL IF SILVER IS REAL ON THE SPOT
These following tests are some easy ones that you can utilize while shopping. Note that all of the tests below are just rule-out test, i.e. to tell if an item is definitely not sterling. Even if one item passes all the tests, it doesn’t mean that it is definitely sterling silver 92.5%. Without a scientific test like an acid test, it is extremely difficult to tell whether an item is silver of lower purity than 92.5% (not sterling).
Magnet test: If you hold a magnet to real sterling silver, it should not attract. If it does, it is not sterling silver. However, note that the reverse does not apply, i.e. if the item does not attract magnet, it might still not be sterling silver. Many metals such as copper used for jewelry also do not attract magnet.
Look test: Look for wear spots that indicate that silver plate has worn off from the base metal. If you spot an inner layer of different metal color, the item is likely plated, and not sterling silver.
Our Sterling Silver Disc Handwriting Necklace with Button Charm
Smell: Silver plated items sometimes have a sour copper or sulfur smell, while sterling silver smells a little sweeter.
Feel: To learn how to do this, practice with known items of both sterling and silver plate. Rub your thumb across the surface. The sterling should feel a little more buttery and slippery. If you master this test, you can use it as a pretty reliable test.
Marking or Advertizing: If available (and honest), this is about the best way to tell if an item is sterling silver as the maker is basically telling you whether the item is sterling silver 925 or not.
If the item is marked with terms such as EP, EPNS, Silver on Copper, then it is plated silver, not sterling (EPNS stands for Electroplated Nickel Silver). One good thing is that manufacturers are not allowed to use the word “Sterling” on plated items, so you will never see the term “Sterling Plated”.
However, many unscrupulous sellers, especially on TV ads, sometimes use the term “Layered in Precious Sterling Silver”. This is to trick you into thinking the item is sterling silver. Don’t be fooled – you should read that as silver-plated. It should either be marked or advertized as “sterling silver”/ “sterling”/ “925” or it is not sterling silver. One such ad you might have seen advertized on TV is the Prayer Cross, which is just cheap plated metals and not sterling silver.
You should also mind items coming from China sold online on platforms such as eBay. Many these items are fraudulently marked with the classic “925” reserved for sterling silver items only, but they in fact are just silver plated brass. Keep this in mind when buying sterling silver products from China that are sold at a price that are much lower than rest of the market.
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Was my series on silver purity helpful to you? My next will be all about gold purity and gold care. If you think there is a topic I should explore, please leave comment below or send me an email at [email protected].