Buying fine silver jewelry at a store is easy -- the jewelry will have tags and information that tell you silver content. If you are out shopping on the secondary market in thrift stores and flea markets, though, the task becomes more challenging. Acid testing can 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
Look for marks and hallmarks using a loupe. Most 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 with a loupe, so be sure to carry a loupe and a magnifier with you to shop. A .900 content is not quite sterling silver, but is still fine jewelry. If you see .800, you're looking at a lesser quality silver.
Check for country of origin. Thailand has become a major producer of sterling silver jewelry. Jewelry from this country often is 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 made in Italy usually is 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. 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 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.