Sterling Silver vs. 925 Silver – What Are the Differences?

Sterling silver wedding rings on a open book page

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If you’re looking to buy silver jewelry, you’ll come across several types of silver and a range of terms that can be confusing and make it hard to choose.

Two such terms are sterling silver and 925 silver, which are often used interchangeably. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two terms.

Sterling Silver vs. 925 Silver

Sterling silver wedding ring

Sterling silver wedding band. See this here.

While it might seem like two completely different silver varieties, both these terms describe the exact same thing. Sterling silver is 925 so there is no difference between the two. Here’s why this happens.

Because pure silver in its natural state is very soft to use in jewelry (just like gold) it’s typically mixed in with certain other metals to create a durable alloy. The ratio for sterling silver alloy is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal, typically copper, zinc or nickel.

925 simply refers to the percentage of pure silver in the alloy, while sterling silver is the name given to the alloy.

To make sure that the metal you’ve bought is 925 silver, look for a hallmark or stamp that identifies it. Jewelers frequently stamp the jewelry in an invisible section or that’s not easily noticeable, like the clasp or on the back. If there is no stamp, it’s highly likely that the metal you have isn’t sterling silver. Common stamps used for sterling silver include 925, STERLING or the notation 925/1000.  However, note that these vary from country to country.

Characteristics of Sterling Silver (925 Silver)

Art deco silver ring

Vintage Art Deco sterling silver ring. See it here.

Sterling silver has been used in jewelry for hundreds of years, with the metal considered a ‘precious’ metal. It’s a highly reflective metal that looks very similar to white gold when polished and reflective.

One main issue with sterling silver is that it tends to tarnish because of the high copper content in the alloy (copper tarnishes when exposed to air). Because of this, sterling silver jewelry requires periodic cleaning to remove tarnish and keep it shiny.

Lab-created alexandrite sterling silver ring close up

Sterling silver with alexandrite. See it here.

Sterling silver is also typically hypoallergenic but can cause skin reactions in people with metal sensitivities if metals that are common allergens, like zinc and nickel, are used in the silver alloy.

What’s the Sterling Silver Standard?

To be called sterling silver in the US, the alloy should adhere to strict standards of 925 pure silver. However, this isn’t the case in all parts of the world. Sometimes, other nations follow their own standards, and some don’t have any standards at all.

The French have a higher standard for sterling silver than the US, requiring that 95% pure silver be used. In China, standards can vary from region to region and there’s a general mistrust of the silver that comes out of the country.

Always look for the hallmark and buy from a trusted source to avoid being ripped off.

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