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What is Sterling Silver?

With so many different names for silver on the market it’s hard to know what you’re getting sometimes. Why are there so many different labels for silver, and why does the naming convention matter so much? If you’re in the market for a high-quality silver jewelry item, it sometimes feels like you’re falling through the same rabbit hole that Alice did trying to find the right one. You don’t need to be a geologist or to memorize the periodic elements table to pick the best sterling silver jewelry items on the market. All you need is the correct information and the most necessary pin points to follow before you start your jewelry hunt. Let’s start with an overview of the basics.

Types of Jewelry Metals:

  • • Base Metals
  • • Precious Metals
  • • Platings
  • • Green Metals

Base Metals

In short, the cheap stuff. Base metals are not necessarily a bad thing to be shunned, especially with the right treatments, but they aren’t the most desired materials either. From titanium, to nickel, copper, steel, pewter, and brass; these base metals comprise a large amount of common jewelry pieces and household items. It’s important to note when purchasing this type of jewelry that some people experience an allergic reaction to nickel or lead. We recommend that you avoid wearing these skin agitators. Look for lead free jewelry options if available.

Precious Metals

They’re called precious for a reason. These metals are the most desired, more expensive, and rarer metals. If the jewelry piece you’re eyeing has a stiff price tag and decent weight to it, you’re almost definitely looking at a precious metal. Amongst this list of metals you will fine real gold and platinum(sometimes mistaken for white gold). If you’re wondering why white gold isn’t listed here, it’s because white gold is a treated form of yellow gold. A gold that is actually “white”, or in this case even silver colored, does not exist naturally. Another reason sterling silver is so popular? Silver is the most affordable option of precious metals.


Not so much a different metal as much as it is a different metal treatment. You can also think of it as the practice of stacking metals. There are different qualities to platings in the jewelry world. Your cheapest plating, and one we wouldn’t recommend, are copper or lead plated pieces. You would start with a copper or lead jewelry setting and “dip it” so to speak in a higher quality metal for a nice finish. Sometimes metals are mixed together and heated to create a mixed finish instead of a plating. If you love silver jewelry you need to understand platings. High quality sterling silver if often used for platings and is also often plated upon.

Common Platings

  • • Copper or Lead jewelry pieces are usually dipped in yellow plate or silver plate (*Note yellow plate and silver plate are not 14K gold or sterling silver)
  • • Pewter with sterling silver or 14K gold plate
  • • Sterling silver with 14K gold or rose gold plating
  • • Yellow gold or white gold with rhodium plating(to make an item white. *The above is a form of the "white gold" we discussed earlier)

Not every metal is paired with every type of plating. Different platings combine to create different affects or styles. For the best, most cost-effective jewelry pieces, stick to real sterling silver platings (not “silver”) or sterling silver plated pieces dipped in 14K gold or rose gold.

Note: The best thing to take from this is that a “silver” plating and a “sterling silver” plating, may look similar, but are very different things. Look for “sterling silver plated” or complete .925 sterling silver for the best quality silver jewelry items.

Green Metals

In the jewelry industry “green metals” is a term most jewelers find somewhat entertaining. Green metals are metals that have been taken from anywhere or anything already used. The only metals not considered green metals, are metals pulled directly from the earth that are being used in production for the first time. Even if you don’t shop for jewelry, it’s hard to live life without seeing at least one “sell your gold” sign. Well you can sell anything that has these metals in it from computer parts, to statues, to old wirings in clocks. Many jewelry pieces are created a new using materials taken from preexisting items. Once the material is melted down, it’s no different than a freshly discovered golden nugget from the earth. That doesn’t mean that every jewelry piece you buy is made from pre-loved metals, but a lot of it is.

Why Is Sterling Silver Popular?

For the Jeweler

Silver is popular for jewelers and jewelry designers because it’s shiny, malleable, and readily available - therefore affordable. Real silver is a desired material not just for silver jewelry designers, but also for shoppers. Sterling silver is a malleable metal, making it both easy to work with, and adjustable for the wearer. While a jewelry store owner may profit more from selling 14K gold rings, each of those gold rings has a specific size and takes time to sell due to its price point. Even if the owner manages to sell in total his or her gold rings, they must also take into account sizing changes, work time from their staff, and the cost of extra material for those size changes. With adjustable sterling silver pieces, the cost involved in resizing is greatly diminished, and in most instances, it’s not even necessary. The upfront cost during the cad process or wholesale purchase for the designer is also much lower for authentic sterling silver. Many jewelry designers create sterling silver bracelets or sterling silver necklaces that can easily be resized by the wearer whenever they want even as they wear them.

For the Shopper

It’s safe to say the number one reason for sterling silver jewelry purchases by shoppers is due to its very affordable price point. When cz silver earrings, or cz rings made of cheap metals cost anywhere from 10 - 12 dollars, it just makes sense to most shoppers to spend an additional 10 – 20 dollars to have a higher quality metal like silver. At some point in everyone’s life they end up wearing a ring or jewelry item that turns their skin that infamous Grinch color of green. That’s because that jewelry item was made with low quality metals like copper, alloy, or bad mixtures of silver. Twinges of green should be reserved purely for moments of jealousy, not exhibited on our skin from cheap jewelry. While most shoppers choose .925 sterling silver jewelry because it’s affordable, there are many shoppers who simply prefer the brightness of the metal. White gold, 14K gold, and rose gold are higher quality and stronger metals than silver. However silver has a shining luster that even higher quality metals don’t always possess. Because of that famous luster, even the most devoted of jewelry collectors will carry .925 sterling silver jewelry pieces in their vast jewelry collection.

FUN FACT: Even though we know what silver is, how it reacts in its environment, and how to manipulate it; we still don’t know who discovered it or even named it!

How To Buy Sterling Silver Jewelry

You need to know these things before purchasing sterling silver jewelry. Be prepared to ask your jewelry designer questions, but you also need to have some know-how yourself. Not being able to distinguish good silver from bad silver could land you with a bad jewelry purchase from a misguided or uneducated jewelry salesperson. On a more positive note, you may miss out on a wonderful buy or vintage sterling silver jewelry piece at bargain shops if you don’t know what quality looks like!

What to look for in sterling silver jewelry

  • • Look for “.925 sterling silver” or higher
  • • Check if a base metal was used
  • • Examine the lustrous exterior – bright is better
  • • Check for scratches
  • • How malleable is it?

*Your quality silver and plated silver pieces will be malleable, but should still have strength. If they bend with too much ease, you’ve got a bad base metal.

How is silver affected by price changes?

Jewelry industry pricing fluctuates…a lot. Have you ever walked into a jewelry store and seen two items exactly the same, and one has a cheaper price than the other? That is because when the jeweler purchased the item, the was it’s “going worth” at the time of the season. The jewelers cannot determine how prices will move up and down, but they must price their stock to match the changes in which they were purchased. This is why you may see some odd pricings now and again. Don’t worry, you aren’t being coned. Simply buy the cheaper jewelry piece, and rest assured that they are one in the same unless stated otherwise. The two metals most affected by industry price changes are sterling silver and gold. If you see that sterling silver is trending in a lower cost margin for a period in time, that’s a good time to buy in bulk.

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