What is Sterling Silver? Should I Buy It?

You hear the term thrown around a lot. It seems like more and more things are being made of this relatively inexpensive metal; sterling silver silverware, sterling silver cookware and silver CZ jewelry. But what is it exactly?

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925. Fine silver or pure silver, which is 99.9% pure, is generally too soft for producing large functional objects. That is why with Sterling Silver the silver is usually alloyed with copper to give it strength, while preserving the beauty of the metal. Other metals can replace the copper, usually with the intent to improve various silver glass properties of the basic sterling alloy such as reducing casting porosity, eliminating firescale and increasing resistance to tarnish. Other metals they used can include germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as a variety of other additives, including silicon and boron. A number of alloys have appeared in recent years. These have been formulated to lessen fire scale or to inhibit tarnish. This has caused a spark in heavy competition among the various manufacturers, who are rushing to make claims of having the best formulation. However, no single alloy has emerged to replace copper as the industry standard, and alloy development is a very active area.

Sterling Silver is most commonly used in jewelry. There are very specific rules for taking care of your Sterling Silver Jewelry. First, make sure to clean your sterling silver jewelry with a soft 100% cotton cloth or flannel cloth. Remember silver is a very soft metal and you can scratch it if you aren’t careful so don’t rub it too briskly. To remove light dirt, fingerprints or makeup just use a small amount of mild liquid detergent to a 1/2 cup of warm water and rinse thoroughly with clean fresh water. Dry it completely before storing it in an air tight zip lock bag. When cleaning sterling silver jewelry a couple of factors need to be taken into consideration. If the pieces have gemstones, this requires a bit more care. Make sure you remove any trace of the polish from gemstones and rinse thoroughly with clean water. Rub with a lengthwise motion. Never clean in a circular motion because this may cause scratches on the soft metal. Many people choose to leave the tarnish in the deep crevices to enhance the look of the piece.

However, if you want to remove the tarnish from the hard to reach areas, use a very soft brush like a child’s tooth brush or a jewelry horse hair silver brush. A mushroom brush works well for this and can be found at most grocery stores. After cleaning with a silver polish, use a clean cloth to remove any residual cleaner from your jewelry. Remember that all metal cleaners have some type of small abrasive particles that help them to clean and will inevitably cause some form of fine scratches. These are not that obvious and after a time will blend with the fine scratches just from wearing the piece and are not that obvious. They will still have a beautiful soft sheen that is prized by many. Don’t feel that you have to get every bit of tarnish from lines and crevices. Leaving some of the tarnish in hard to reach areas just adds definition and an antique look.

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