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How Can I Tell if Silver is Real or Not Real?

Updated on February 26, 2015

While it may not necessarily be the most expensive precious metal, I personally love the elegant look and display of silver. From its incorporation into household d├ęcor, to its common usage as jewelry, a pure fascination with silver and its properties led me to do much more research. Like most at one time or another, I began to wonder how exactly one can tell if silver is actually real or not.

Like me, have you ever looked at a piece of silver and wondered how to tell if it is authentic or not? You are definitely not alone! Silver can be alloyed in many ways, and there are a lot of things that claim to be made from it. These pieces can indeed be solid silver, or they can be an alloy or simply silver plated. It is pretty important to learn how to tell if silver is real or fake.

This article is all about silver, and the various forms it can be found in today, both as a precious metal with intrinsic value, and as jewelry, cutlery and silverware. It will talk about the various alloying practices, and the ways you can look for telltale signs, and learn how to tell if silver is real or fake.

Let's get going!

How to Tell If Silver Is Real: Properties of Silver

If you want to learn how to tell if silver is real, you should investigate and understand the properties of the metal itself. Silver is a plentiful metal that is produced often as a by-product of refining gold, copper, lead and zinc. It's an extremely good electric conductor, and it can occur naturally in a pure form.

One important factor for learning how to tell if silver is real is the malleability of the metal in its pure form. It is a very ductile and malleable metal, meaning it can be both squashed and stretched. It is only a little bit harder than gold, so you can easily mark pure silver with your teeth with a hard bite.

Because it is a lustrous white metal that shines to a mirror finish if produced properly, silver is often used as a currency source or as jewelry. Lately, silver is used as an electrical component due to its ability to conduct, and is used in many chemical processes, including traditional photography.

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Sterling Silver

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How to Tell If Silver Is Real: Sterling Vs. Pure

So is sterling silver real silver? Sterling silver is mostly pure, but it is an alloy. As we mentioned above, the metal is quite soft in its pure form, so it isn't ideal for cutlery or jewelry in that state. It would be too easy to damage. Sterling silver is real silver, but it contains as much as 7.5% other metals, usually copper. This lack of purity means that it tarnishes a lot more quickly than it would otherwise. Pure silver rarely tarnishes, and will stay bright and shiny for a long time.

Sterling silver is real silver, and it is commonly accepted as so. In order to be considered sterling, it must contain no less than 92.5% solid, pure silver. It can contain more than that, but not less. You can tell the purity of a piece of sterling by checking the stamping on it. Many pieces will have something like this, that reads either '925' or '925/1000'. This refers to the parts-per-1000, and it's a sure sign.

With sterling, it's quite easy to figure out how to tell if silver is real, but with purer forms it can be difficult.

How to Tell If Silver Is Real: Tests For Pure Silver

So, to figure out how to tell if silver is real, you'll need to perform some tests, or take it to a professional. A metal smith or a jeweler will be able to tell (sometimes by sight) if a piece is authentic or not. Sometimes it might be plated but not solid. A conductivity test will quickly confirm or deny the metal contents.

Another way to tell is by trying to bite or bend the piece. This isn't always recommended because it can mar the beauty of jewelry, but pure silver will bend, stretch and dent far more easily than most other metals. A silver coin when bitten should be dented.

If you're wondering how to tell if silver is real in coin form, you can weigh it. US standard silver coins almost always contain the same weight and proportion of silver, so weighing it can easily tell if it is authentic or not. A half-dollar silver coin should weigh 12.5 grams.

Sterling silver is real silver, but a way to tell the difference between it and the purer stuff is to take notice of the amount of tarnish. Pure silver will almost never tarnish, and retains a beautiful white shine to it. Sterling, being usually comprised at least partly of copper, will oxidize over time with a black substance.

If you're stumped on how to tell if silver is real, take it to a professional. Any jeweler will do, and it's easier than trying to guess. If you think you've made your fortune, guess again. While it's precious, silver still isn't anywhere near the value of gold or platinum yet!

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    • DIYmommy profile image
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      Julie 4 years ago

      Thank you both for the nice comments and share, it is very much appreciated. I am so glad you both found this hub useful!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 4 years ago from London, UK

      Very useful to know. Thanks for sharing. I also liked the new Hub you published today (4 March) about Antique silver. It's exquisite.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 4 years ago from India

      Very useful hub, i have learnt some new things today from the above. Thank you so much for sharing this informative article :) Voted UP and shared.