Silver or Not Silver?

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Many Listings Say Sterling Silver, But Beware

There is an old adage, "you get what you pay for". Another is, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." With silver jewellery both these are certainly true.

The first thing to understand is purity. For silver to be sterling silver it must have at least 925 parts per 1000 of pure silver in the alloy. The remaining 75 part are necessarily copper or some other hard metal because silver is very soft. Without alloying it with another metal, it would dent and wear out quickly. Silver and copper dissolve completely into each other, as does gold and silver. That is why both copper and silver are used in alloys of gold, like 18 ct gold, for example.

Okay, so the standard for silver is 925 sterling silver. However, there are different ways to use sterling silver.

The best way of course, and the most expensive to purchase, is solid sterling silver. Solid sterling silver is silver from the outside all the way through with no other metals involved. Why is that important? Because filled and plated jewellery are not solid. Filled jewelry is very low quality and will wear out very quickly. Plated jewellery is of varying quality usually dependent on the thickness of the plating, which is very rarely specified. Plated jewellery wears out quickly too but unlike filled jewellery, it will not flake.

When filled and plated jewellery wears out it exposes the base metal underneath. This metal will be a very cheap alloy that may contain less than ideal contents, like nickel or other potential harmful metals. The metal will likely be a lack luster dark grey material that is clearly not silver. At this point you will probably feel less inclined to wear it again and may just throw it in the garbage, which frankly, is where it belongs.

When you see an item described as sterling silver at an unbelievable low price, check the listing very very carefully. First, check whether it is an auction? This is a very old ploy and traps people into bidding for junk. Next, check the shipping cost. If the shipping is a lot more than the item itself, that's where they are making their money. Finally, the item listing should state filled or plated sterling silver. If it doesn't say solid sterling silver, the implication is that it isn't, solid that is. In this case, they are hoping you don't notice and won't ask.

The worst practice, by far, is the use of terms like Tibetan silver or German silver. Both of these will have 0% silver or very very little silver in them. They are in fact an alloy that looks a bit like silver but is very cheap to manufacture. Items made with these materials are usually of very low quality which can usually be seen by close examination of the photos.

So, how do you avoid these problems? Simple. If you are after real sterling silver jewellery, only ever shop in the fine jewellery section on eBay. This section has listing standards that ensure that items being sold are authentic. Plated and filled  jewellery are not allowed in the fine jewellery section and they are  usually listed in the fashion jewellery section.

Personally, I don't like stereotyping, but virtually all suspicious "sterling silver" listings (see the guidelines above), come out of China and Hong Kong. The quickest way of vetting listings is by checking the country of origin, the quantity sold (usually extremely high) and then the satisfaction rating (usually below 99.8%). When you are selling cheap knock-offs, in large quantities, you can afford a few disgruntled customers. So, beware.

Happy shopping!
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