Pure silver is too soft to use for most functional objects. Luckily, smarty-pants back in the 12th century decided to mix pure silver with some other metal(s) to give it more strength. The resulting alloy is what we know today as sterling silver. Sterling is harder than pure silver ("Ag" on the table of elements) and more durable for jewelry.
Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver and is considered a precious metal. The remaining 7.5% of the alloy is usually copper, which adds strength while still preserving the ductility and appearance of the pure silver. Sterling Silver is very easy to test. Silver-plated brass, nickel silver, or low-quality silver alloys will turn green when a drop of nitric acid is applied because of the high copper content. Sterling will turn a creamy color. When testing suspect goods, a small file can be used to cut through any plating or lacquer in a discreet area on the item.
Sterling silver is highly durable, even though beauty and strength are considered to be its most endearing features. An ill-suited choice for a wedding band or engagement ring, or any other ring meant to be worn on a daily basis, pure silver is too soft. However, its strength is enhanced when copper is added. To demonstrate genuineness, sterling silver rings usually come with an engraved mark. To show that a metal is sterling silver, the digits “925” are used.
To keep them from losing their shine over time, sterling silver rings can be coated with rhodium or polished. Known to give sterling silver a glossy look, rhodium is part of the larger platinum metal family.
There are numerous styles to choose from when in search of sterling silver rings. If you are in search of a romantic gift, a simple sterling silver ring with figurative letters and designs or feminine details is great for everyday use. You can even add some color to just about any outfit by rocking a sterling silver ring decorated with pearls, diamonds, and gemstones. You can choose a ring decorated with a gemstone that has an alluring history or one with your birthstone to add more meaning to it.
The best way to keep your jewelry from getting scratched is to store your sterling silver pieces in individual compartments or in a cloth pouch. Sterling silver rings can be discolored or damaged by chlorine, ammonia, and bleach. Before going for a swim in a chlorinated hot tub/swimming pool or handling common household cleaning chemicals, be sure to take off your sterling silver jewelry.
Why does sterling silver tarnish?
Chemically, silver is not very reactive. However, it is attacked by some of the things common in the atmosphere. When exposed to airborne compounds of sulfur, black tarnish will slowly start to appear. When exposed to low-level ozone, silver oxide forms. The good news is that solid sterling silver jewelry can easily be polished back up to remove tarnish and look good as new!
How should you care for your sterling silver jewelry?
As mentioned above, sulfur + silver = black tarnish (silver sulfide). So pull out your polish cloth and you will be able to pretty quickly remove the black and shine them back up.
Another tip to be considered in case it is a bit denser.
Care Tips for storing Sterling Silver jewelry:
- Ideally, store it in a low-humidity environment.
- Keep the jewelry clean and dry when you’re not wearing it.
- If it’s in an airtight container, it won’t have a chance to react and tarnish.
- It may help to place silica gel bags and/or a container of activated charcoal in the storage area to help inhibit future tarnish.
- There are lots of anti-tarnishing papers and bags on the market that can be used to discourage the tarnishing of your sterling silver jewelry.
You can hand polish your sterling silver jewelry with a soft cloth and precious metal cleaner. This technique also helps to preserve the unique patinas of older pieces. TIP: Be gentle! Harsh polishing and aggressive buffing can permanently damage and devalue a piece of silver.
Exposure to the elements tarnishes sterling silver pieces over time. To give your ring that characteristic sterling silver luster and shine again, just polish it lightly. When cleaning sterling silver, be sure to use ammonia or bleach-free silver polish designed for removing tarnishes. Similarly, to avoid scratching the ring, you should use a non-abrasive cloth designed for this specific purpose. When it comes to polishing sterling silver, microfiber cloths are a great choice.
Polishing or Cleaning Products:
Polish Cloth (with polish already in it): There's a simple polish cloth we love that's great for shining up silver—it's called a Sunshine Cloth. You might have gotten a little piece of one with your order. We throw one in with orders that won't react negatively to the "secret" polish in the soft yellow cloth, which removes tarnish surprisingly quickly and easily.
Polish Creams: There are a variety of polishing compounds designed specifically for cleaning sterling silver if method 1 looks like too much work (but seriously, it's fun). Most are creams that you rub on, then wipe off, and some have the added benefit of leaving behind some extra tarnish resistance. A few of our favorite brands are Blitz Silvershine (top choice because it's not hard on the environment), Herman's, and Autosol.How to Know if Something is Sterling Silver?
If the piece is commercial, check the markings. Sterling silver is often stamped 925 or .925 on jewelry pieces. Sometimes the words "sterling," “sterling silver" or "ster" will be stamped, or the initials "ss."
Keep in mind that a lack of markings does not necessarily mean it’s not sterling. For example, smaller makers of handmade pieces might not stamp the items they make. You can perform a test by holding a magnet near the item; if the magnet attracts the item, then you likely don’t have sterling silver. It shouldn’t be magnetic.
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