Sterling Silver vs. Plated Items: What's the Difference?

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When it comes to silver items, you'll notice that there are many to choose from and a variety of price points. If you're shopping for these items, you may run into your choice of sterling silver and plated silver, but how can you tell which item is the better find? Just like anything you shop for, there are high quality pieces and there are less quality pieces and depending on what you're looking for and your budget, you'll need to decide which is the best choice for you. When it comes to sterling silver versus plated items, what's the difference?

  What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is perfect in a variety of applications, such as:

  • Jewelry

  • Serveware

  • Vases

  • Bowls

  • Candle holders

  • Decorative items

To be considered sterling silver the item should be comprised of 92.5% pure silver. The remaining 7.5% belongs to other types of metals, which give the material its strength. Pure silver is not used, simply because it isn't strong enough to be constructed into some of these items that you see everyday. The remaining metals ensure that the item will stand the test of time, provided that it is cared for properly.

What is Plated Silver?

When an item is considered to be plated silver, it means that the base metal of the item is not silver and that is it simply coated in a thin layer of silver. These items typically are constructed out of the following metals:

  • Brass

  • Copper

  • Nickel

 Since they don't contain the amount of silver that can be found in sterling items, these plated items have less resale value.

How to Tell If An Item is Sterling Silver or Plated Silver

Don't be discouraged if you're finding that your silver is starting to tarnish. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's not real silver. Sterling silver can tarnish if not properly cared for, but plated tends to tarnish more quickly and the results are irreversible. One test that can be performed is the acid test. A small sample is taken from the item and immersed in an acid solution. If the item changes the color of the solution, it means that it is composed of less than 92.5% silver and is not real. Now, this can pose a problem when shopping, since it may be a little difficult to perform a test of that caliber on the spot; however, just taking a look at the price differences should give you your answer. Sterling silver carries a higher price point than plated silver and will most likely be marked accordingly.

  Collecting Sterling Silver and Plated Items

Depending on what you're looking for and your budget, you'll be able to find some beautiful items, both sterling silver and plated silver, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled when it comes to finding some unique pieces for your collection.