First, let’s talk a little about silver. Hi ho silver and away!
Silver has been a human obsession for over 4000 years and the fascination is still with us today. Sterling silver jewelry is the standard for beautiful high-quality jewelry.
Silver is one of the most famous metals in history. Nowadays, besides jewelry, it is used extensively in electronics and other industrial and medical applications. But thousands of years ago, silver was very important to trade.
ANCIENT RECORDS OF SILVER
In the ancient Near East, Societies including Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Phoenicia, and Israel used standards of value for precious metals as a means of payment. There are many records remaining from day-to-day transactions of these early societies.
A court document from the reign of Ramses II in 13th century B.C. describes how a merchant sold a Syrian slave girl to an Egyptian woman for 4 Deben 1 kite or about 373 grams of silver. That’s about 183 dollars by today's silver price of 49 cents per gram.
In ancient Mesopotamia, people kept accounts in silver. As in Egypt, silver by weight was a standard means of accounting for the value of different goods. Silver was also used as a means of payment in commercial transactions.
Cuneiform tablets from ancient Babylonia tell us that the price of barley averaged about 17 grams of silver per 100 quarts.
Silver served as money, and both kings and temples established the weight standards and published in inscriptions the values of certain commodities in silver, as well as the amounts to be paid for fines, interest, or wages. In those days no distinction existed between silver as money and silver as jewelry or utensils.
In those ancient days, there were no coins. No one came up with the idea of making standard value coins until the Lydians in 600 B.C. Since silver is less valuable than gold it was used for a lower denomination of coins to be used in everyday transactions. Silver was the most widely used material for coin-making ever.
When we say “was” that is because silver is no longer used for coins. For 180 years in the US, silver was used in coins and circulated as money up until the year 1964, when they stopped making silver coins. The use of silver in coins worked only so long as the value of the silver in each coin was less than the coin’s face value.
Silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars minted in 1964 and earlier are 90% silver. The US deregulated the price of silver back the 1960’s. This soon raised the “melt value” of silver coins far higher than their face value. So, everyone began melting their silver coins and soon there were not many silver coins left.
STERLING SILVER JEWELRY
If you have sterling silver jewelry or would like to acquire some, it can be a good investment. But that depends on the quality of the jewelry and who made it, not just because it’s made with silver.
Keep in mind sterling silver is not pure silver. It is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal such as copper, which is added to make it more durable and less soft.
An average silver ring can weigh between 2 and 4 grams. At the current price of around $0.44 Per Gram of sterling silver, the melt value would be between $0.88 and $1.76. But a quality sterling silver ring can cost between $20 to $500 or higher.
HOW CAN I TELL IF IT IS REAL STERLING SILVER?
Because sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver, you will see it marked “925.” But cheats can add that mark or tell you it is. If you do business with a trusted, reputable jeweler it should be no problem.
If you see beautiful silver jewelry on sale at an amazingly low price, you want to make sure that you are getting the real deal. Or if you want to buy from an unknown source, like at a garage sale, or have already heirloom items at home, there are some tests you can do.
CHECK FOR STAMPS AND OTHER MARKINGS
First, check for stamps that say STERLING .925 or 925/100. These may be on the inside of rings and bracelets. If you find them, as mentioned, it could be a fake stamp added by a crooked jeweler, so further investigation is needed for 100% proof. Also, your silver jewelry or other silver items may just be silver plated with a very thin layer of silver.
Look for markings that include stamps of single-digit numbers, stamps starting with the letters EP, and words like "heavy plate" or "triple." These silver-plated items have little monetary value because they contain very little precious metal.
However, some silver jewelry is given a coat of pure silver. In a process called "flashing" to give it a shiny finish, sterling silver jewelry is sometimes plated with a thin coat of .999 fine silver. It can also be plated with rhodium or gold. This is good.
TEST WITH A MAGNET
You can test your item with a magnet. Sterling silver is non-magnetic. If it sticks to the magnet it is not silver. However, if it doesn’t stick this does not always mean it is sterling silver, but this will help eliminate definitely fake 925 silver.
Real 925 silver oxidizes when exposed to air and is tarnished over time. If you rub the piece with a soft white cloth and the cloth has black marks, then the jewelry is most likely real sterling silver.
There are certain chemical tests that can be done that can give a more reliable result on the silver in question. These include vinegar, bleach, and nitric acid. Tests like this can make your jewelry less valuable if it is marked in any way. And nitric acid is dangerous to work with.
FIND A REPUTABLE JEWELER
What this all boils down to is the best thing you can do to learn whether something is sterling silver is to have it checked by a reputable jeweler. They have the knowledge and tools to test the item in question.