June 01, 2020

Is My Jewelry Sterling Silver?

Real vs Fake Silver Jewelry

Don't get ripped off by fake silver jewelry.

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 real silver.

But how to know on the spot if what you are buying is silver or not?

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 should consider is who you are purchasing from. And this doesn't mean you have to buy from Tiffany, Thomas Sabo, or another great brand name jewelry; there are thousands of small businesses offering wonderful and unique handmade silver pieces that you won't find in a regular well-known jewelry store. Even in flea markets, you can find interesting and genuine silver pieces that the owner was unaware of their worth.

To be on the safe side, buy from reputable sellers.

I've met some people who tell me they like to buy their silver jewelry when they go on vacation to Mexico, and they buy it from vendors on the beach!
Of course, that type of jewelry will be less expensive, but there's a chance they're getting alpaca or something else instead of sterling silver.

You can be confident that what you are purchasing on my website Nueve Sterling is genuine sterling silver, because all of the workshops I work with are certified by the "Consejo Regulador de la Plata" (Silver Regulatory Council).

To maintain their certification, all of these workshops must undergo periodic reviews in which random pieces from their inventory are selected and analyzed in a laboratory, to ensure that they meet the sterling silver quality standards.

This certification ensures that the items you are purchasing are of the highest quality and, more importantly, nickel-free to avoid skin reactions or allergies.

2) Hallmarks

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.

The only word of caution is that if you have sensitive skin or are allergic to non-precious metals, don't buy any German, nickel or alpaca silver piece of jewelry, even if you really like it and the price is tempting. If that's your case, it is preferable to purchase your jewelry from a reputable retailer.

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!!!


My favorite necklace
If you want to get nickel-free real silver jewelry with confidence you can visit my website Nueve Sterling where you'll find a beautiful selection of handmade silver jewelry from certified workshops in the iconic silver town of Taxco, Mexico.


Now tell me... 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.