Sterling silver is a precious metal that is found in the earth. It was discovered about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago along with gold, platinum, and other mineral ores as sited by Janet Coles and Robert Budwig in The Book of Beads published by Simon and Schuster, 1990. Silver has been used in jewelry, trinkets, tools, and weapons. Sterling Silver is still used in jewelry adornment today for its beauty and is safe to wear as this precious metal is non-toxic.
When purchasing sterling silver one thing to look for is.925 stamped on the piece. Not all sterling silver beads are stamped as it would be impractical and cost prohibitive to stamp each one. What does the stamp.925 mean? It means 92.5% of the jewelry piece is pure silver and 7.5% is another metal. In sterling silver the other metal is usually copper because copper has strength giving properties. It can also be zinc, platinum as it helps increase the resistance to tarnish.
Another good way to tell if something is sterling is its ability to tarnish. Tarnish means that the silver gets a dull gray to black film over time. The tarnishing process is caused by chemicals in the air. That is why your grandmother and mother carefully placed their sterling silverware in wooden boxes with cloth to seal out the air to help prevent tarnishing. The good news is that tarnish does not harm the silver piece and is quickly remedied with a special silver polishing cloth.
You may also come across the stamp.999 which means 99.9% pure silver. This is a very soft form of sterling with the highest content of silver. It is not recommended for use in jewelry because of its likeliness to bend, ding, and change shape. For daily jewelry wear it would be wise to consider.925 sterling silver as it is more durable.
Be aware that many people sell silver colored jewelry as sterling silver and possibly may not even know it as they were told it was silver. If the price seems too good to be true there is plenty of room for speculation. Maybe, the jewelry piece was electroplated with silver or dipped (coated in silver). In both of these procedures the silver can be worn away with time. These types of pieces should never be called silver as another metal really makes up the composition of the piece.
Not too long ago a warning came out about cadmium being used in children’s jewelry. Cadmium is a bluish white metal that rates high in toxicity and is considered a poison and hazardous substance. Cadmium has a silver appearance. Having cadmium and lead in jewelry can carry potential risks especially for children who may place the jewelry in their mouths. It is imperative to know the metals that are used in your handcrafted jewelry pieces. It is a good policy to remain with gold and silver in your jewelry purchases as they not only have a timeless beauty, but these precious metals are free of health related concerns.