Recently at Eureka we have begun carrying high quality sterling silver findings and as a result we’ve learned a lot more about the business of silver. Since the market for this precious metal is so volatile and confusing, we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned so that you can be sure that you’re getting good quality materials for your jewelry projects.
Firstly, there is a big difference between silver-plated and sterling silver items. Silver plate is the process of bonding an extremely thin layer of silver to a base metal such as copper, brass, white metal, or nickel using a technique that is called electroplating.
The Sterling silver standard in the US is 92.5% pure silver. American made Sterling silver is always marked Sterling or 925. Silver, especially for jewelry components, has to be mixed with other stronger metals such as copper because pure silver is a very soft metal that would not withstand any amount of wear and tear.
European or Continental silver is generally not Sterling silver, according to the standard of .925. Germany’s standard is .800, which is substantially lower in pure silver content. It is only 80% pure. Russian silver is usually marked .840 or 87.5% pure. France’s standard is .950, which is higher in purity than the sterling standard of .925. French silver is also hallmarked and stamped .950 or has a hallmark of a head of Minerva, indicative of 95% pure. Italian sterling is generally .925.
Other silver producing countries such as India or Bali have less consistency and may not always be marked. When buying this silver it is important to use a reputable dealer. Many US based importers of foreign silver jewelry findings will conduct their own testing by independent labs that can attest to the purity of the silver content in their components. Reputable sellers will be able to show proof of these tests which are called assays. At Eureka, we have assays for our Sterling silver items such as our Designer Clasps which show them to have a very high silver content, above even the 92.5% standard. These findings are 95% pure silver.
It is also important to be aware that there is a lot of fraud in the silver marketplace. Due to the recent high prices on the market for silver, there has been a huge influx of silver plated brass from China that is being sold as Sterling and in some cases is even marked/stamped as 925. Knowledgeable dealers have been warning buyers not to purchase silver from China unless you know your source and are absolutely certain you know what you are purchasing. Many of these Chinese sellers are selling silver at prices way below market value which is a huge red flag. Don’t be fooled that you are getting a good deal, you could be falling for a scam.
With extremely few exceptions, Sterling silver is always marked. The sterling standard has been around for centuries so even antiques and vintage findings will be marked as Sterling.