Fine silver jewelry is fun to buy for collecting or for an accessory, and if you purchase it retail, it will have tags and information to tell the silver content. If you are out shopping on the secondary market in thrift stores and flea markets, this information is not available.
Acid testing may tell the silver content, but carrying a test kit is not a practical approach.
Learning the key points to identifying fine silver jewelry and sterling silver will make finding fine jewelry much easier.
Things You'll Need
- loupe and magnifier
Look for marks and hallmarks.
Use a loupe. Much of the sterling silver jewelry is marked. You may see hallmarks or three little logos that indicate an English origin, or you may see .925, .950 or "sterling". Many of these marks can only be seen or read with a loupe, so be sure to carry a loupe and a magnifier with you to shop. .900 is not quite sterling silver, but is still fine jewelry. .800 is a lesser quality silver, often from Germany or European countries.
Check for country of origin.
Look for the country of origin. Much of the new sterling silver jewelry is coming from Thailand. It is often marked with "Thai" or "Thailand". There are also pieces marked SR or two-initial combinations that are from Thailand, too.
Mexico has provided sterling silver and fine jewelry for a century, and much of the older fine jewelry is marked with an eagle incised that has the number for the city of manufacture. Fine jewelry marked Mexico Silver is usually older Mexican silver, as is fine jewelry marked "plata".
Sterling silver and fine silver jewelry are currently available from Italy, and this fine jewelry is usually marked on the clasp.
Fine jewelry from the American Southwest is often signed with a name, but not silver content. This is usually fine silver jewelry, although unmarked. The newer sterling silver jewelry from the American Southwest is marked .925.
Check for oxidation.
Look for black surface residue on silver jewelry. Fine silver jewelry oxidizes with a black surface residue. Silverplate usually oxidizes with a brown surface residue. You can learn to spot the difference, and be accurate most of the time.
Check for texture.
Feel for a fine surface. Fine silver jewelry is usually not rough to touch or visibly rough when looking with a loupe. Silvertone costume jewelry is often rough or textured on the backside, and shows a visible difference with the loupe.
Check for wear.
Look for wear on the edges and points. Sterling silver or fine silver jewelry will not show that the surface is worn off to reveal another metal color or texture. The points are the best place to look. If you can see another metal or texture, the jewelry you are examining is probably silverplate or costume jewelry.
Check for layers.
Look on an edge, especially a cut edge where links fit together, to see if there is a layer of metal on the top. Remember that fine silver jewelry is usually the same metal all the way through.
Buy by quality.
Check the artistic merit of a piece of fine jewelry as well as the quality of the workmanship. If the quality is good and the piece looks like fine silver jewelry with the use of a loupe, you have probably learned to identify fine silver jewelry worth your investment.
Tips & Warnings
- We often write about fine jewelry and costume jewelry. Other articles are available in Resources below.
- copyright 2009 Linda Richard
- Feel free to link to this article or send it to a friend.
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