How to Tell the Difference Between Silver and Pewter

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How to Tell the Difference Between Silver and Pewter

Silver and pewter are both popular white metals used in the manufacture of jewellery, but pewter jewellery tends to be more affordable than silver jewellery. Jewellers and sellers on eBay offer a wide selection of silver and pewter jewellery. Although the two metals look similar, a person can tell the difference between them by careful observation. Know the different characteristics of silver and pewter, and understand how to identify and interpret silver fineness marks and how to use a silver testing kit to distinguish between silver and pewter accurately.

 

Silver vs. Pewter

Several white metals resemble silver. These include platinum, rhodium, alpaca, aluminium, German silver, gunmetal, and pewter. Pewter is an alloy mixture of at least 90 percent tin combined with copper and antimony. Traditionally pewter contained lead, but few contemporary manufacturers include lead when creating pewter. Pewter is a soft metal because its primary metal is soft. Although the softness of the alloy means that it scratches easily, jewellery makers can create intricate designs and create finishes that range from polished to satiny.

Colour

Silver has a greyish colour and tarnishes when exposed to sulphur, hydrogen sulphide, and ozone. The presence of copper causes tarnish. Pewter does not tarnish, so look for discolouration to differentiate the two metals. Pewter is darker, softer, and duller than silver, and its lustre is softer than that of silver. It is less durable, bends and dents easily, and can corrode. Some pewter jewellery may come with maker's marks, but silver jewellery should have purity markings in addition to hallmarks.

Visual Comparison

Compare the metal in question to a known sample of either silver or pewter. A side-by-side comparison makes it easier to see the similarities or differences between silver and pewter. However, bear in mind that silver of various purity levels may look and feel different.

 

Silver Purity Marks

Silver typically comes with a purity mark that indicates how much silver the alloy contains. Users can find these marks on parts of jewellery where they do not affect the aesthetics of the pieces, such as the backs of silver pendants, inside of ring bands, and on clasps and findings of bracelets and necklaces. The table below lists and describes common silver purity ratings.

 

Purity Rating

Description

999

Fine silver

Contains 99.9 percent silver

Seldom used is jewellery

950

Britannia silver

Contains 95 percent silver

925

Sterling silver

Contains 92.5 percent silver

Alloyed with copper and other metals that increase hardness

Common in jewellery

Continental

European silver

Markings include '800', '825', '830', and '850'

Plated

Base metal covered with thin layer of silver

 

The numbers stamped onto silver and other precious metals indicate silver content in parts per 1,000. Sterling silver typically contains 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper and other metals. Although the hallmark of a piece of jewellery provides a starting point for determining its content, users can perform additional tests.

 

How to Test Jewellery with a Nitric Acid Testing Kit

Testing a piece of jewellery with a nitric acid solution provides the most conclusive results regarding its composition. Jewellery testing kits are readily available and typically contain nitric acid solutions that change colour in the presence of silver. When buying a silver testing kit, ensure that it includes usage directions. Always work in a well-ventilated area and avoid contact with the skin and eyes.

Testing Solution

Apply the testing solution to a cleaned area of the piece of jewellery; sealants and lacquer finishes prevent the acid from reaching the metal. After application, check whether the solution changes colour. The intensity of the colour indicates the purity of the silver. Wipe away the solution as soon as it changes colour to prevent staining the jewellery. Use a white cloth or tissue to capture the results of the colour change.

 

How to Buy Silver and Pewter Jewellery on eBay

Sellers on eBay offer a wide selection of silver and pewter jewellery, including rings, pendants, bracelets, and necklaces. Find the perfect piece by using specific search terms, such as 'sterling silver bracelet', to view relevant listings. Look for bundled offers, such as matching jewellery sets, to save on multiple pieces. Silver and pewter are both white metals, but pewter is significantly softer than silver and does not tarnish. If in doubt, compare the item to a known metal sample or perform a nitric acid test.

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