Sterling silver jewelry is beautiful and valuable. Use this guide to the amazing world of all things silver to educate yourself before you purchase your first piece of sterling silver.
Most silver objects that you see or own are not made of pure, 100% silver. Instead, they are often a combination of silver and other metals, termed an alloy. These alloys are used because pure silver is too soft for many functional purposes.
Among various silver alloys employed for jewelry creations, as well as tableware and other objects, sterling silver is the most common. First used in the 12th century, it is still popular today. By formulating a mixture of 7.5% copper or other metal with 92.5% pure silver, the sterling silver alloy becomes durable enough for practical use.
Sterling silver is considered a precious metal. Like gold, platinum and palladium, it is valuable, and some people purchase items made from sterling silver as an investment.
It is not always easy to determine if a piece is made of sterling silver, another silver alloy or something else altogether. In many cases, the term sterling silver or sterling is imprinted with small letters into the item. Another imprint often used for sterling silver is 925 or .925.
A drawback of some metals is the tendency to slowly oxidize in the atmosphere. This process produces what we call tarnish, which can detract from the brilliant luster of jewelry and tableware. Chemically, silver does not oxidize rapidly. With time, however, black tarnish slowly appears on silver. Fortunately, solid sterling silver objects can easily be polished to remove the tarnish and look as good as new.
Another way to hold silver, especially if you are an investor, is to purchase physical silver itself. The term physical silver refers to the various bars, ingots, and rounds that are made from pure refined silver, usually at 99.9 % or more purity. They are sold by many dealers. You can keep them in your own possession or in a safe deposit box. If you possess large quantities, some companies may warehouse them for you.
Many U.S. coins, such as silver dollars, dimes, quarters and half-dollars, that were minted before 1965 contained 90% silver. Interestingly, Canadian silver coins only had 80% silver content. Since nickel was needed for the World War II effort, a silver alloy was used to mint nickels for several years. Today, pre-1965 silver coins are worth much more than their denomination value because silver is worth more now than it was then. Holding silver coins can be an interesting hobby as well as a great investment.