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History of sterling silver

(Scroll down if you want to skip the boring bits!)

The whole world uses a universal style when it comes to adornment. Since ancient times, once their basic survival needs were satisfied, our ancestors started to make ornaments from shells, stones and even bones to draw more attention towards themselves. Some wore it as a safeguard to protect them from the unknown dangers of life. Soon, their attempt at beautification slowly became a way to demonstrate their social status. The rich families started to adorn themselves with more ornaments and some even thought of it as a way to enhance their attractiveness for the purpose of getting a mate. As our ancestors became aware about themselves, they started to give more importance to their identity and self-worth, and hence forth, jewellery became another name of self-expression, a way to show the world who you are without speaking even a single word. Today, it still holds the same meaning and is linked with power, status and affluence.

Needless to say, how to work metals was an important discovery in the ancient world which contributed a lot in the development of the jewellery making. With time, those techniques became more refined and the designs, more sophisticated. Although no one knows when silver was first found or made, according to Wikipedia, in 4000 BC, archaeologists have obtained remains of silver smelting operations. While gold and copper were found naturally, silver was hardly found in its natural, ready-to-use state. Most probably, it was discovered while heating copper deposits. Even as of now, silver is usually a by-product of smelting of other metals.

If obtaining it was such a painstaking job, why did our ancestors endure the agony of extracting it? Well, gold was rare, quite soft and heavy to wear, and wood and horns were considered the adornment of lowbrows. Over the next six thousand years, silver emerged as a magic metal, inspiring mankind to utilize its versatility for domestic and jewellery use. Let’s see what the reasons behind it were.

  1. Silver is supple and pliable. Hence it can be moulded into delicate thin sheets or easily pulled to make a strong wire. Thus it holds a great appeal for jewellery makers.

  2. This whitest metal is also the most reflective and hence it attracts jewellery makers due to its beauty and sturdiness.

  3. It also contains natural bactericidal properties. Therefore since ancient times, silver has been used for its medicinal properties which score a high point while making jewellery.

It is clear that from the start of the civilization, this white metal has enthralled humankind with its magnificence. There is no wonder that even today; this prized metal is cherished equally by all, from jewellery designers to common man. Yes, thanks to its versatility, affordability, shine and malleability, silver has become the most favourite medium for creative and contemporary designers. A special silver gift provides one with a way to express warmth, sentiments, friendship or gratitude.  

Often, when you visit malls to find that perfect piece of jewellery to match your favourite outfit, you come across the word “Sterling silver”. You might be wondering what it is and how different it is from silver.

What is Sterling silver?

Some relate ‘sterling’ to the old French term for ‘silver pennies’. Sterling means high-quality, first-rate. Sterling silver means silver that has definite quantified standard of purity. Pure silver is easy to mould, but it lacks the ability to retain its shape due to its high malleability. It can be easily damaged. Hence, generally it is combined with another metal that is less malleable and of low density. Most commonly, copper is used as another metal to produce a more durable product.

Sterling silver consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Although any metal can be used for the 7.5% non-silver portion, various experiments have proved that when added, copper improves hardness and durability without compromising on the beautiful colour. The added copper has very less effect on the silver metal’s value.

What is 925 Sterling silver?

Now the next question is why is the number 925 written before sterling silver? The answer is simple. Sterling silver has 92.5 % pure silver and the rest of it i.e. 7.5 % is mostly copper. This explains why we always see sterling silver represented with the fineness mark of 925. This kind of silver is pure enough to craft beautiful jewellery and is still hard enough to last long. You’ll find a 925 stamp on all sterling silver jewellery at Silvadore.

How to tell the difference between silver plated and sterling silver jewellery?

At times, with the naked eye, one can’t tell if they are buying authentic sterling silver. Well, there is a method to differentiate sterling silver items and silver plated items. The technique of silver plating has been in use since the 18th century. It usually provides people with a cheap version of the original expensive silverware that they would not be able to afford otherwise. This is often the case for cutlery and other similar household belongings.

Silver plating usually includes the use of electric current to stick an extremely thin layer (measured in microns) of silver to an object (base metal) that is electrically conductive. This coating gives a glossy finish to the product and also protects it against corrosion. Such items are common and low-priced. However, a silver plated object and an article of the same size and shape made of sterling silver will vary a lot in its value. In case you are going to purchase either, it makes sense to know the dissimilarities between both.

12 ways to ensure you’re buying sterling silver and not silver plated jewellery:

  1. Stamp - Most common way is to check the piece for the stamp. Almost all the sterling silver items are stamped with fineness mark of 925 or other higher mark. Many jewellers use their own maker mark to distinguish real sterling silver from counterfeit. You might need to have a magnifier or jeweller’s loupe to find it. A word of caution: if a piece is not stamped with a mark, it doesn’t mean it is not sterling silver. However, with a maker’s mark, the chances of buying real sterling silver are high. So as a rule of thumb, if the item is not marked, it is not what they claim it to be.

  2. Reliability - It’s good to locate a trustworthy seller. That is a sure-fire way to buy authentic sterling silver.

  3. Shine - Another method is to have a look at the piece closely. While sterling silver has shine, the coated silver might look dull in comparison.

  4. Weight - The weight of the item also plays a significant role. Sterling silver will be heavier compared to its fake counterparts.

  5. Smell - Trust your sense when you are buying. Usually authentic silver does not smell like metal. In case if you catch a whiff of metal, it is most probably not sterling silver but a silver colour metal.

  6. Needle test - Locate a small area on the item and scratch the surface. If it leaves a light mark, it is sterling silver. Usually copper leaves no mark on the surface.

  7. Sound - Sounds of different metals are different. If you drop the object on the floor, silver will produce a pure, long and beautiful sound while other metals will generate a short and sharp sound.

  8. Magnet test - A magnet test can also reveal whether you are buying real silver or fake. All non-ferrous metals like silver, gold and platinum are not magnetic. When placed near the sterling silver object, if the article gets attracted to it, it is stainless steel, highly polished to give it a silvery look, or it might be just coated with silver.

  9. Raise your query - In case you are shopping online and have a doubt about the authenticity of the item you are buying, it is always advisable to ask around. You can contact the dealer via email and voice your doubt. If you can’t see the mark, you can ask for close-up pictures of the fineness mark of the silver piece you are interested in buying.

  10. Price - The price you pay is another way to ensure what you are buying. Trust your gut when it comes to shopping. If some deal sounds too good to be true, it might not be what they are claiming. Remember that sterling silver will always be more expensive compared to silver plated pieces.

  11. Testing kits - Acid silver testing kits are widely available. Most of the jewellers use the same technique. To do the test, you need to nick out your silver piece a bit and apply acid well below the surface. Mostly it is nitric acid. Such tests come with a colour guide. If the colour of the acid doesn’t change, it is pure silver or sterling. However, if the acid turns brown or some other colour, most likely the piece will have some silver content but will not be 925 sterling silver.

  12. Tarnish - You may be surprised with this one. If you have genuine sterling silver, it will tarnish. This means it can begin to turn black and look dull. This is natural for sterling silver. A lot of sterling silver jewellery, like at Silvadore, now have e-coating to protect the sterling silver for longer. See below to find out why sterling silver tarnishes.

Why does sterling silver tarnish?

Once you buy an authentic piece, the next concern is how to take care of it so that it doesn’t tarnish. Like all precious possessions in life, your jewellery should also be well-protected and handled with care. When exposed to air for a long time, any sterling silver piece may tarnish. At first, the tarnish looks like a golden hue which swiftly turns to black. It happens due to oxidation. It is not the silver but other metals like copper who reacts to moisture and sulphur in the air. This explains why silver tarnishes speedily in areas of high air-pollution and humid places which are near sea. Nevertheless, this durable metal is ideal for everyday wear. If you keep in mind some basic guidelines, your cherished items are sure to give you joy throughout your life.

5 reason why your sterling silver tarnishes quickly:

  1. Harsh Chemicals - Various types of lotions, washing powders and detergents can wear away the finish and cause the jewellery to become dull. It is advisable to be careful and keep it away from all kinds of household cleaners and bleaches.

  2. Exposure - Don’t forget to remove your sterling silver jewellery before you go for a swim or even just wash dishes. Removing it will cease any damage to the precious gemstones and will prolong its natural shine. Likewise avoid wearing sterling silver on the beach, in a Jacuzzi, or when you visit a spa.

  3. Make up - Tricky one for the ladies. Avoid contact from make-up where possible as well as from perfumes, hair sprays and deodorants, which can stimulate tarnishing of the silver.

  4. Humidity & Moisture - It is never advisable to wear or remove your sterling silver jewellery in shower or bathtub. It should not be left unprotected in the bathroom either. Humidity and moisture could harm and taint it.

  5. Dirt - Make sure to clean your sterling silver. The Silvadore Cloth is an excellent way to remove dirt as well as prevent future tarnishing, especially before you store it away.

How should you store sterling silver jewellery?

Store separately in a dry, dark and clean place inside an air-tight container, or preferably wrapped in of a soft cloth inside a plastic zip bag. Make sure to remove the air bubbles from the bag or container. You can even place an anti-tarnish strip inside that absorbs tarnish-causing substances. Alternatively, a piece of chalk, packet of silica gel or activated charcoal can also be placed inside to minimise potential tarnish. It is great to know Silvadore products are safely dispatched in a sealed plastic bag placed inside a small gift box to protect it.

Although sterling silver items are scratch resistant, make sure to store them in a way that it doesn’t chafe up due to other items. It is always recommendable to keep them in a separate jewellery box or a small drawer. Also make sure that the same bag doesn’t contain more than one jewellery piece. Do you know that as you wear sterling silver pieces, natural oils secreted from your skin assist in keeping tarnishing at bay? So yes, the more you wear it, the less chances of it getting tarnished!

5 tips on how to clean your Sterling silver:

  1. Treated Cloth - Once you take it off, always clean your sterling silver jewellery with a dry and soft cloth. Use the Silvadore Polishing Cloth for removing tarnish, dirt and dullness before storing it back into an airtight container. This cloth can be safely used with gold, diamonds and stones as well. This is a microfiber cloth treated with special chemicals to safely remove any kind of dirt including make-up traces. It will also delay future tarnishing. Rub gently but firmly to eliminate the tarnish while keeping in mind that sterling silver is a soft metal. Abstain from cleaning too vigorously to avoid any kind of damage.

  2. Soapy Water - Not as safe as using a cloth but if you still can’t get rid of dirt, fingerprints or makeup traces, you can clean silver jewellery in warm, soapy water. Just add a small amount of mild liquid detergent in warm water and gently wash your item in it, making sure to rinse it thoroughly with clean and fresh water. If you wish, you can use a soft brush to clean corners. Then dry it completely before storing it.

  3. Toothpaste - Some people use toothpaste and baking soda that can be easily found in your home. Just coat the item in toothpaste and then rub it with a soft cloth. Don’t forget to rinse it under running water. Pat it dry with a soft cloth before storing. However if your jewellery contains gemstones, do not use this method.

  4. Ammonia - Alternatively, you can get the shine back for your silver items by soaking them in a solution made up of one cup warm water and half cup of ammonia. Remember to not soak it for more than ten minutes. Then dry it using the instructions mentioned above.

  5. Jewellers - Finally, if cleaning sterling silver jewellery at home isn’t your cup of tea or it’s too heavily tarnished, it is probably best to take it to a jeweller to get it cleaned professionally.

So now you know what 925 sterling silver is and how to differentiate it from other metals, as well as how to identify, store and clean your sterling silver jewellery.

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Posted by Taher Zakir on 27th Feb 2016




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