As a general rule, the best kind of silver jewellery to buy is Sterling Silver. It will be located in the FINE JEWELLERY category. Genuine sterling silver will be hallmarked .925 in most cases but sometimes there are other hallmarks using part of the "Sterling Silver" words. In England and some other nations, the hallmark might be a picture or symbol. Some silver jewellery manufacturing companies even have their own unique imprint. The beauty of sterling silver jewellery is that for people with sensitive skin, like me, you can wear it without breaking out in a rash. The downside is that it can lose its lustre quickly if it isn't cared for and will tarnish over time. Fortunately, when cleaned with any of the many silver cleaners available today, it will come up clean again. Because it's made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, it's the closest to pure silver you'll find in jewellery. (Pure silver is impractical for jewellery making.)
Next down the line we have silver-plated or silver-electroplated. This means that the jewellery is NOT real silver. It doesn't matter how thick the plating is or how great the alleged quality - it's still just costume jewellery and for this reason should be located in the COSTUME JEWELLERY section. Usually, there's no hallmark but if there is, the letters SP or EP (or similar variations) will appear on the jewellery. Despite the fact that many sellers will claim a RRP (recommended retail price) of some ridiculously high figure, just remember that ultimately, it's just costume jewellery and a recommended retail price does not mean the item is actually worth that amount! As little as 5% of the item might actually be silver. Over time, the plating will wear away and once that happens, you really can't use any jewellery cleaning agents to restore the jewellery to its former glory. Why? Whatever is underneath the plating is going to start showing through.
Alpaca Silver comes under the category of COSTUME JEWELLERY. It's an alloy of copper, zinc, nickel & iron and has the colour of silver. In most instances it does NOT contain any real silver but may be plated with sterling silver. It has the appeal of not tarnishing or rusting but can cause skin irritations in those who have sensitive skin.
SILVERTONE or SILVER TONE
Silvertone or Silver Tone is just silver coloured metal. Again, this falls into the COSTUME JEWELLERY category. Because silvertone jewellery can be made of so many different combinations of metals, the quality will vary from piece to piece. Some jewellery will be hard-wearing, won't tarnish and will look just like real silver while other pieces will be cheaply made, tarnish quickly (often leaving you with a line of green or black where the jewellery has rested on your skin) and break easily. While still new, it will quite often look like real silver but even when new, can irritate those with sensitive skin. This jewellery generally tends to tarnish fairly easily, especially when frequently exposed to water, chemicals, perfumes, etc.
A WORD ABOUT THE SELLERS...
Unfortunately, some sellers don't know what constitutes Fine Jewellery and what constitutes Costume Jewellery and it's very common to find costume jewellery item listings in amongst the Fine Jewellery. I'd like to assume it's simply the sellers' ignorance because I'd hate to think they're deliberately deceiving potential buyers but the reality is, their advertisements are craftily worded to give the jewellery the appearance of being something it isn't. Basically, I apply just one simple rule when determining what kind of silver I'm buying and determining a price - it's either sterling silver or it's not.