Sterling Silver Purchasing Guide

Posted by Claudia Muller on

What does Sterling Silver Mean? 

The term "Sterling Silver" is used frequently online to describe products that are in fact, not sterling silver. In this guide, we will provide details about what to look for when buying sterling silver. 

1.) Silver Purity: What sets Sterling Silver Apart

One of the main things most people look for when purchasing silver is the purity. The silver industry has a universal system for identifying this factor. 

Note: The higher the number, the higher the percentage of silver alloy in your silver jewelry.  

  • Fine silver is made of 99.9% pure silver. It is too soft to make items such as jewelry and flatware. Thus, it is mainly used for trade as bullion bars. 
  • 950 Sterling Silver is made of 95% pure sterling silver. It is the highest grade of usable sterling silver, and mainly reserved for jewelry. Flatware, for example, would be better purchased at the 92.5% mark. 
  • 925 Sterling Silver is the minimum standard for sterling silver. This is best suited for flatware and jewelry. Today, many vendors claim to sell "sterling silver", when in actuality the item is only "sterling silver plated".  

Silver Finesse:  

Silver Grade  Description: 

Pure Silver

(Not Usable)

Pure Silver is 100% silver and is too soft for daily wear. Thus, for commercial purposes, other metals like copper are mixed with the silver to improve durability. 

950 Silver


950 Silver contains 95% pure silver and is the highest grade of silver used for jewelry. This grade is used by Artisan Silver & Gifts for its handmade jewelry. 

925 Silver


925 Silver contains 92.5% pure silver and is the lowest possible grade to be considered "sterling silver". 
Italian Sterling Silver (Plated) Italian Sterling Silver is Plated. This means that although the Italian Government allows for objects to be labelled "Sterling Silver", it is not solid sterling silver. Instead, it is a base metal like brass or copper covered by a thin coating of sterling silver. Italian Sterling Silver will tarnish differently than solid Sterling Silver.


2.) Solid Silver vs. Silver-Plated: Mislabeling Online

Online, it is common for vendors to mark their items as sterling silver, when in actuality they are items merely coated in sterling silver. Unless an item is labeled as "solid sterling silver", it is best to assume that the vendor is selling a plated item. 

Thus, even though a frame is titled: "Italian Sterling Silver Picture Frame", the vendor may be trying to market a frame plated in sterling silver as a sterling silver picture frame. It is not the case and is a rather misleading but widespread practice. 

When choosing a piece of sterling silver online, remember that the finesse will determine how the item will age. The higher the purity, the shinier the item will become with age. If an item is silver-plated, then it is common for the enamel to crack with time. 

3.) Identifying Sterling Silver

Sterling Silver Marks:

  • .925
  • .950
  • sterling
  • ster
  • stg
  • sterling silver

Sterling silver labelling depends on era and location of labelling. When purchasing sterling silver antiques, buyers should research the sterling silver markings common to silver pieces of the particular era and location. It is often that sterling silver produced outside the United States and UK are marked differently. A quick Google search can help you identify genuine antique sterling silver. 

Less common Types of Silver: 

  • Britannia Silver is the highest kind of sterling silver, containing 95.84% pure silver. 
  • German Silver contains 80% pure silver. 

Purchasing Sterling Silver Online

Sterling Silver Markings do not ensure that the item is actually made of sterling silver. Thus, buying sterling silver online is recommended through a reputable source. Traditionally, the top Sterling Silver Brands for collectors include: Tiffany & Co., Gorham, and Reed & Barton.

Artisan Silver & Gifts sources sterling silver the most trusted artisans in Peru. The artisans are multi-generational, and therefore have guaranteed solid sterling silver. 

Check out our Sterling Silver Frames and Jewelry.

Happy Shopping! 


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