Does this situation sound familiar?: you go on holiday to a beach, a little town or a foreign country and you come across a stall or a very small shop selling silver jewelry. You fall in love with lots of pieces and you buy one or two since the price seems right, maybe a little bit steep but "still ok for silver". You go back home very happy with your new acquisitions. Weeks pass and then you start noticing that your beautiful silver pieces start changing color. It is not that they look tarnished, they have lost their luster and look completely different from the ones you bought or at least the memory you had of them.
Surprise! what you bought was not silver.
But how to know on the spot if what you are buying is or not silver?
First, let me tell you that to be completely sure about the composition of a jewel, you have to send it to the lab so they can perform the necessary tests to determine the elements and the percentage that the piece contains.
Obviously this is not an option for a regular buyer but it is always good to know that if you are in doubt, there's a way to get out of it.
Now, if you are in any of the situations that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, your chances to find out whether it is a legit silver piece are kind up to you. What I mean is that you need to remember these few tips that may bring you to a conclusion:
1) Common sense:
Last year, my family and I went to Mexico City on holidays. We visited Teotihuacan, an impressive archeological site only two and a half hours driving from the city. There you can see the majestic Pyramids of the Sun, the Moon and the Feathered Snake Temple, amongst many other vestiges of the great city once stood there. We spent the whole day there and we came across many vendors that had their merchandise on the floor, just on top of a rug. One of them was selling "jewelry" and he had many different pendants made of colorful "stones". Immediately my daughters fell in love with them because they changed color and they were really cute. At this point I don't remember if the guy tried to convince us that it was silver but as you can imagine, we immediately knew that it was not, just by taking into consideration who we were buying it from.
This is the piece we bought in Teotihuacan. Easy to know it was not silver.
The first thing you need to take into consideration is who are you buying from. And this does not mean that you just have to buy from Tiffany, Thomas Sabo or another great brand name jewelry, there are thousands of small businesses offering wonderful and original handmade silver pieces, that you won't easily find in a regular well known jewelry shop. Even in some flea markets, you can find interesting and legit silver pieces that not even the owner knew about their value.
The first thing you need to look for when buying silver, is the markings. These hallmarks tell you the level or purity of the silver which nowadays is usually 925 or 950. In some cases, you can also find the code of the manufacturer or silversmith and the country of origin. However, you need to bear in mind that sometimes the pieces are so small or delicate that it is not possible to mark them, but that doesn't mean they are not made of silver.
The pieces coming from Taxco are usually marked 925 or 950 (depending on the case) and for the pieces that can't be marked, I have found that some of the silversmiths attach a small silver plate to them.
3) The magnetic test
It's important for you to know that silver, gold, copper and most precious metals are nonmagnetic. So, if you take a magnet and you notice that the piece sticks to it, then it is not silver. Now, sometimes a silver piece contains other metals to make it more resistant to wear. For example, some cuff-bracelets have metallic hinges or you will notice that in some chains, the springing clasp is not made of silver, but the little ring where it attaches, actually is.
In this video I am testing two chains with the same design, one is made of silver and the other one I really don't know :) As you can see, the fake one is attracted by the magnet whereas the silver one is not attracted at all.
I know, you must be thinking "where will I get a magnet from all of a sudden?". There is another simple test that you can perform that might give you a hint whether the piece you are eyeing is made of silver or not:
4) The polish test
What you can do, is take a white or light colored soft cloth (can be your t-shirt) and rub the piece as if you were polishing it. If it leaves a dark stain on your cloth, then it is more likely silver. Remember that silver oxidizes and tarnishes, so it is completely normal if it stains the cloth, but it has to be a black residue, not a rust stain though.
5) Ice test
At home, you can perform the "ice test" that consists of putting the silver piece you want to test on an ice cube. Silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any metal, so the moment you put it in contact, immediately the ice will start melting. You should try, it's very cool to see how fast the ice melts when the silver touches it. I have done it and every-time I've done it, it amazes me!
I understand that sometimes it could be hard to know if you are buying a legit silver piece, but with these tips, perhaps the risk is not that high.
There's a last advice that you need to know while buying jewelry and it is to know the difference between Sterling Silver, German Silver, Nickel Silver and Alpaca Silver.
Sterling silver is an alloy made of 92.5% silver and the rest is usually copper.
German Silver, Nickel Silver or Alpaca Silver the only silver they have is in their name, which is quite misleading. These pieces are the result of alloying copper with nickel and often zinc or iron. Argentan is another way to call this kind of jewelry.
So, if someone tries to sell you a piece of German silver, now you know it does not contain silver at all. It may look very similar to sterling silver, but the price will be significantly lower. So, if the piece is beautiful, you like it, you know it doesn't contain any silver but you still want it.... just buy it. There is no better choice than the one you love. And it doesn't need to be a precious metal.
One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is made of colorful wooden beads and common thread. My daughter made it for me when she was in Kindergarten and I still wear it. I love it!!!
Have you ever been cheated buying jewelry? I hope not and if so, I would love if you could share your experience below in the commentaries section.