Silver is a precious metal that has long been used to make jewelry, tableware, coins, etc. According to the millesimal fineness system, pure silver contains 99.9% silver, and is termed fine silver. This type of silver is too soft and breaks easily. So, it is rarely used for making jewelry and other such items. Fine silver is sold as bullion bars that are often stamped as .999 or 999 fine silver. In order to make it harder and malleable, metals like copper are added to silver.
Usually, jewelry and other silver items are made with sterling silver that contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Such items are stamped as .925 or 92.5 silver. Usually, jewelry made of sterling silver comes with a fine silver coating that gives an extra sheen. There is another type of silver called coin silver. In the United States, coin silver has 90% silver and 10% copper, and is used for making coins. It is called one nine fine or 900 silver. The silver content may vary in coins that come from other nations.
So, the silver content may vary from one type of silver to another. Keep this in mind while buying this precious metal. Apart from that, beware of fake silver items too. But, how can you check the purity of silver? How to identify fake silver items? Given below are some tips to identify real silver.
How to Tell if the Silver is Real
❑ Check the Stamp
According to International standards, silver items to be sold are stamped, indicating the purity of the metal and the mark of the manufacturer. Sterling silver is often marked as 925 or 92.5. Silver bullions have .999 or 999 marked on them. So, check the marking before buying silver. However, some countries may not follow these standards and sell silver items without such stamping. In that case, you have to resort to other methods to check the purity of the metal. Silver items like jewelry and tableware, especially antiques, may not have any such marking. Silver articles bought online may also lack such stamping. Silver-plated items and fake silver seldom have any stamp on them. It may get difficult to distinguish fake silver and silver-plated items from the real ones. In that case, you may try these simple methods to check the purity of silver.
❑ Ice Test
This method is ideal for testing silver bullions, coins, or other items with flat surfaces. Place an ice cube on the silver coin or bar. If the ice melts quickly, the metal is likely to be sterling silver. This is because silver has the highest thermal conductivity, as compared to other metals. We all know that ice melts at room temperature, but when placed on a silver bar, it will melt at a faster pace. The silver will turn cold in a few seconds. However, copper too has a high level of thermal conductivity. So, you have to confirm the result with another test.
❑ Magnet Test
Method I: For this purpose, you need a strong magnet like neodymium (rare-earth magnet). Silver is a metal that does not stick to magnets. Move the magnet slowly over the silver item. If it sticks to the magnet, it is not sterling or pure silver. Metals like copper, lead, tungsten, etc., are also not attracted to magnets. So, try another method to confirm the result.
Method II: If you have silver bullions or coins, try the sliding test. Place the bar over a flat surface and hold it at a 45-degree angle. Now slide the magnet over the slanting surface. If it slides slowly, braking in between, the bar is sterling silver. The faster the magnet slides, the lower the level of silver in the bar.
❑ Sound Test
Gently tap your silver bar or coin with another coin. Pure or sterling silver produces a distinct, high-pitch ringing sound. As the silver content decreases, the bell-like sound changes to a dull voice. You may also do this test by dropping the coin to a flat surface. In case of a ringing sound, you can make sure that the coin is sterling silver.
❑ Weight Test
Weigh the silver item. If it weighs more than what it ought to be, it could be lead plated with silver. If it weighs less, there are chances that the material is made of light-weight silvery alloys, rather than sterling silver. In case of coins and bars, try to find authentic information about the weight and dimensions of genuine products. This will help you to compare the weight and dimensions. Pure silver is cooler than silver-plated items that can be shinier.
❑ Acid Test
You may buy an acid test kit from a jewelry store to check the purity of silver. Avoid this test on expensive silver items, because the acid may cause slight damage when it reacts with the metal. Wear gloves while handling acid. Apply acid on an inconspicuous part of the silver article. Make a small scratch to expose the inner metal (this is helpful to identify silver-plated items). Place a drop of acid on the scratched part. If it turns bright red, the item is made of pure fine silver. If the color is dark red, the metal is sterling silver. While 800 silver develops brown color, 500 silver produces green color. The color will be dark brown for brass, yellow for lead and tin, and blue for nickel.
Alternatively, rub the silver on a black stone plate that is available in jewelry stores. Rub the metal on this stone, till a thick horizontal line is made. Apply acid on this line and check the color. This method is ideal, if you want to avoid any unsightly marks on the silver, that may develop due to the action of the acid.
You may also try a bleach test for checking silver items. Place a drop of bleach on the metal. If it is pure silver, oxidizing chemicals like bleach will react very fast, thereby tarnishing the metal. So, silver turns black, when exposed to bleach. In this case, even silver-plated items may turn black.
In short, these methods are useful for distinguishing fake silver from the real metal. While most of them are reliable to a certain extent, magnet and acid tests are found to be authentic. If you want to confirm the results, consult a trusted jeweler. If you want to buy new silver, opt for trusted local dealers. Be careful while buying silver online, as there are numerous dealers who sell counterfeit coins and bars.