Types of Silver Used in Jewelry: Purity, Value & History

Types of Silver Used in Jewelry: Purity, Value & History

When you see a grayish-white piece of jewelry or a metallic gray one, you would immediately surmise that it’s silver. And you would probably be right. After all, silver is one of the most common metals for jewelry. But what type of silver? For one, there are several types of silver used in jewelry. And there are silver-plated, and silver look-alikes. In this article, you will get to know all of them. So hang on…

Types of Silver Used in Jewelry

Silver is a precious metal commonly used in the minting of coins, in jewelry, electronics, and photography. It has the highest electrical conductivity among metals, making it a valuable substance.

The metal is used in several global cultures’ traditional ceremonies and worn during important occasions.  Investors may hoard physical silver to back up their investment portfolios.

Types of silver

It is considered a precious metal because of its scarcity. For this reason, it belongs to the same league as platinum and gold.

What Types of Silver are There?

In its purest form, it is too soft for jewelry use. It can easily get scratched, damaged, or deformed. For this reason, it is often alloyed with other metals to make it harder, and more durable. But no matter how much it is alloyed with, great effort is spent to maintain its color because it signifies value. It is its brand, so to speak. And, this early, you might be wondering what is the best type of silver for jewelry, read on to find more about it.


In buying bling, don’t be taken in immediately when you see silver jewelry pieces. Verify if it is really silver. Look for stamped markings to verify its authenticity. Pure silver is stamped 999 somewhere on the underside. Besides, pure silver is rarely, if ever, used in jewelry.

As a rule of thumb, silver jewelry without any markings is nothing more than silver-plated jewelry, which can be made to look like real silver bling, such as the one in this Brighton review. The giveaway is the price. If it looks so good to be true, then it’s not pure silver jewelry.

Fine Silver

Fine silver jewelry is the nearest you can get to pure silver. It’s made of 99.9% silver, and 1% other alloying elements, usually copper.

It is lustrous and white and can be formed into delicate, beautiful, and intricate shapes. And while every type of silver will eventually tarnish, fine silver has a higher resistance to tarnishing.

But as it easily gets scratched, damaged, or deformed, fine silver isn’t usually used for jewelry other than earrings, pendants, and other low-impact use.

Fine silver is stamped .999 or .999FS. This silver type is hypoallergenic, meaning it can cause no allergic reaction. Though a bit pricey, some people prefer its bright silvery-white color.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is the most popular type of silver used in jewelry. This silver type has a rich history and finds a lot of applications such as minting coins, and ornamental items for hundreds of years. Not only does it have strength and durability, but it also has the desirable color and workmanship qualities that jewelry makers love.

Sterling silver jewelry

It is the whitest of all the precious metals and has been sought after for centuries for its very lustrous finish and versatile applications. Though harder than gold, it is still pliable and supple enough to be hammered into a variety of shapes and forms.

Sterling silver, like the one in this Jared review, is composed of 92.%% silver and 7.5% copper. It is relatively affordable compared to pure silver. Though less bright than fine silver, yet still lustrous and beautiful.

What is difference between sterling silver and 925 Silver? The former’s high copper content makes it more likely to tarnish over time. Hence, sterling silver jewelry needs periodic cleaning to restore its luster and beauty. Like fine silver, it is also hypoallergenic, making it safe to wear for people with sensitive skins.

Sterling silver jewelry usually carries either of these stamps:

  • Sterling, Ster, STG, or SS
  • .925 (for 925/1000 silver, or 92.% silver)
  • The Lion Passant (a heraldic lion used as a symbol of sterling silver).

Some people may wonder what is the difference between sterling silver and 925 Silver—there is none. They mean the same thing. And this is also the best type of silver for jewelry.

Non-tarnish Silver

This type of silver was first developed in the 1990s. It still has the same silver content as sterling silver but the copper content is substituted for other metals to make it more tarnish-resistant.

One such metal is Germanium. This metal absorbs and nullifies atmospheric chemicals that cause silver and sterling silver to tarnish.

Though marketed as non-tarnish silver, this is not 100% accurate as a truly tarnish-proof silver is still years into the future. Tarnish-resistant would be a more accurate description for these alloys. They are more expensive than sterling silver but require much less polishing and maintenance.

Non-tarnish or tarnish-resistant silver includes the following:

  • Argentium – an alloy of 93.5% silver with proprietary alloys of germanium, zinc, boron, and copper. Argentium is the most well-known non-tarnish silver in the market.
  • Silvadium – this is composed of 93% silver and 7% palladium, with trace amounts of germanium.
  • Sterlium – another alloy consisting of 93% silver, 4% zinc, and 3% copper, with trace amounts of germanium
  • Sterlium – 93% silver, 4% zinc, 3% copper, with trace amounts of germanium.
  • Sterilite – another tarnish-resistant silver with 92.5% silver, the rest is composed of copper, tine, zinc, silica, and a little germanium

Non-tarnish silver is stamped either way of the two:

  • Argentium, Silvadium, Sterlium, or Sterlite
  • Winged unicorn (the official trademark of the patented Argentium alloy).
Silver jewelry hallmarks chart
Alloying composition of the types of silver commonly used in jewelry

Britannia Silver

The Britannia (standard) silver was developed in 1697 as a way to prevent British sterling coins from being melted to create silver plates. There are several marks to indicate that a piece is Britannia silver with a 958 fineness. The Britannia silver mark was made a legal requirement for silver-wrought products in England in the 17th century. This was to prevent sterling silver coins, from being used as silverware.

Britannia silver

Silver Britannia contains 95.83% silver, while the rest is copper. However, due to its higher silver content, it was less sturdy than sterling silver, making it unpopular with many people. But some modern jewelry makers, particularly in the United Kingdom, still offer items made from Britannia silver. But you can rarely buy this type of jewelry in the United States.

Common Britannia silver quality stamps:

  • Britannia
  • .958 (meaning 958/1000 parts or 95.8% silver).
  • A figure of Britannia (traditional goddess personifying Great Britain).

Coin Silver

Coin silver is defined as “silver with the standard fineness for making into coins.” Historically, it got both its composition and name from the US silver coins, which silversmiths melted down for use in jewelry and other items.

Coin silver consists of 90% silver, and 10% copper. This silver type is durable and has many titles like “standard silver,” or by the informal term “one nine fine.” It was harder than sterling silver, but duller due to its lower silver content. It was also prone to tarnishing.

Over time, the United States stopped minting silver coins. This inevitably led to the disappearance of the coin silver from the market. However, coin silver jewelry can still be found in antique shops. Of course, they may be more expensive as value is dependent on the silver content, age, and rarity.

Coin silver quality stamp marks:

  • Coin or Pure coin
  • Standard
  • .900 (for 900/1000 parts, or 90% silver).

European Silver

European silver differs from the other silver types mentioned above. Also known as continental silver, it does not have a single silver quality standard like sterling silver or Britannia.

Rather, European silver refers to the many different types of silver for jewelry in continental Europe. Historically, the term was used to differentiate the many different silver alloys used in jewelry in Britain and the US.

Needless to say, the purity, color, and durability of European silver alloys also varied. Many did not contain enough silver to qualify for the sterling silver quality stamp, while some had more. For example, French silver contains contain 80% or 95% silver, while Dutch silver is at 80% to 83.5.

European silver, however, is no longer common in the market since sterling silver became the leading silver alloy for jewelry. But jewelers in some European regions continue to fashion jewelry pieces according to their traditional silver quality standards.

Since European silver is a generic term for several silver types for jewelry, it carried several quality standard stamps.

Silver Coatings

“Silver jewelry” need not be made from a solid silver alloy to have a metallic-grey shine appearance. It can be made from affordable base metal and then coated or plated with a layer of silver. These are some examples:


Silver-filled consists of a relatively thick layer of silver mechanically bonded to a cheaper base metal, usually brass. Instead of being alloyed, silver is bonded onto the surface.

A silver-filled ring

The silver used to layer a base metal in silver-filled jewelry is usually 5% to 10% sterling silver. This corresponds to the precious metal percentage composition used in gold-filled jewelry—5% to 10% gold alloy by weight.

While the layered silver may not be a significant amount, silver-filled is the best and thickest type of silver surface coating available on the market. And if silver-filled jewelry is properly taken care of, it can last for many years before the outer coating wears off and show the base metal underneath.

Silver-filled quality stamp marks:

  • Silver-filled or SF
  • 1/20 (for 1/20 parts, or 5% silver)
  • 1/10 (for 1/10  parts, or 10% silver).

Silver plated

Silver plated jewelry is made of base metals like bronze or copper, then dipped into a liquid silver plating solution giving it a very thin layer of silver.

Usually, the plating is so insubstantial, making the jewelry unfit to withstand the rigors of daily wear. The silver plating quickly rubs off, making the base metal tarnish, or even rust.

On the positive side, silver plated jewelry is so cheap compared to other types of silver jewelry. And they could still look like the real thing for the first few wears. This makes them a good choice for experimenting with new trends and styles. They are kind of a wear-and-throw thing.

They also come with a variety of quality stamp marks like:

  • Silverplate, Silver Plated, or SP.
  • Quadruple Plate (for 4x thin layers of silver).
  • EP (for electroplated) or EPNS (electroplated nickel silver).

Fake Silver

Not all jewelry that looks like silver is made of silver. In fact, some non-precious metal alloys with a silvery color are generically called silver in the jewelry trade—even if they contain no silver content at all and don’t bear any quality stamp. Here are two of the most common:

Tibetan Silver

No, Tibetan Silver does not come from Tibet. The term refers to “costume quality” jewelry made from various cheap silver-colored alloys. Of course, they are made to look dull, not shiny, to give them a “vintage” appearance. These are mostly manufactured in China.

They are an interesting mix of intricate designs such as Eastern scripts and patterns, spiritual symbols, and mythological animals. Often, they are given a black finish to highlight the jewelry’s design details.

The base metal of Tibetan Silver is either nickel, copper, tin, or zinc. Unfortunately, toxic metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium are sometimes used as base metals.

Nickel Silver

This silver look-alike comes in many names like German silver, Alpaca silver, and many others. Though they differ in names, they share one thing in common—they contain zero silver. Its standard formulation is usually 60% copper, 20% zinc, and 20% nickel.

If you can, stay away from Nickel silver. Its high nickel content is not suitable for you if you have sensitive skin.

Jewelry makers like to work with this metal because it is cheap and easy to work with. Hence, nickel silver alloy is mainly found in costume jewelry and fashion-quality jewelry.

The above list, by no means, covers the entire spectrum of silver used in jewelry. There are more. Which might make you ask, “which metal looks like silver?” Well, there is more than one: like aluminum, stainless steel, palladium, platinum, and titanium. On the lower scale of things, there is zinc and pewter.

Silver Types and Prices

Silver is a precious metal and as such, its price is driven by speculative market forces. It goes up and down depending on the current supply and demand. For example, the current price of pure silver is $ 0.64 per gram. It can go up or down at any minute depending on the factors stated above.  Effectively, this price fluctuation also affects every silver alloy down the line like fine silver, silver sterling, Britannia Silver, and so forth.

Silver, since its discovery about 5,000 years ago, has been used as eating and drinking vessels, sculpture, and, of course, jewelry. Currently, aside from jewelry, it is used in other applications such as electronics and medicine. Among the precious metals, it is one that has found so many applications in man’s day-to-day living.

To keep abreast of the current state of the silver market, check out our trending article, “Jewelry and Silverware Market Expands, Doubles in Size.”