Silver is a highly coveted precious metal. Many societies throughout the centuries have used it as money or bartering item. To this day, many investors trade this rare metal as a hard asset. To top it off, silver has many uses in different industry sectors. It is the best electrical and thermal conductor of all metals. It is resilient, yet very lustrous and won’t tarnish or corrode. Jewelry, electronics, medicine, dentistry, photovoltaic solar energy, and many industries resort to silver’s unique qualities.
And precisely because silver is always in high demand, many wrongdoers see it as an opportunity to take advantage of ill-advised people. According to a survey conducted by the National Coin & Bullion Association Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force, more than 40% of U.S. coin dealers that took part in the survey reported that customers have tried to sell them fake American Silver Eagle bullion coins.
In this article, we will cover some basic tests you can do at home to try and identify counterfeit silver coins, jewelry, or even flatware. They are not 100% accurate and, if possible, check with your trusted precious metal dealer or jeweler to confirm the results.
What is real silver?
Before we get into the tests, first let’s clarify what is considered real silver. When it comes to silver bullion (silver coins, silver bars, and silver rounds, for instance), most products contain 99.9% pure silver, or .999 fine in millesimal fineness. That is the preferred standard for bullion, to maximize the investment in terms of pure silver. However, some old silver coins may contain a less pure alloy. The term “junk silver” refers to old common silver coins, with not much numismatic value. Most of them contain 90% silver.
The term “sterling silver” is an indication of 92.5% silver content. .925 fine silver is largely used in jewelry. Pure silver is relatively soft, so it is often mixed with a small amount of copper for improved hardness and strength. Zinc or nickel sometimes are used in sterling silver as well. It does, however, make the metal more prone to tarnishing and corrosion. It is possible to find good-quality jewelry with .900 or even .800 fine silver.
On the other hand, silver-plated items contain a large amount of cheaper metals, such as copper, zinc, and/or nickel, and a thin layer of silver plating. Those are not considered real silver items.
Let’s analyze a few ways in which we can test silver at home:
1. Look for hallmarks and mintmarks
Most manufacturers will include a stamp, engraving, or some sort of marking to attest to their product’s quality. That can be either a small logo or inscription. Silver products might also contain an indication of the silver content. That can be in millesimal fineness, such as 800, 900, 925, 950, or even 999. Or, with the term “STER”, indicating a variation of sterling silver, such as .925 fine silver.
When it comes to bullion, many manufacturers are adding anti-counterfeiting measures to their products. The Royal Canadian Mint is famous for its innovative security features. One example is the Canadian Maple Leaf silver coin. They contain the RCM’s "Laser Mark Micro Engraving" privy marks, along with laser engraved radial lines in the fields of the coin.
Not only national mints but also private mints take certifying and authenticating the purity of their products very seriously as well. PAMP Suisse, one of the world’s most renowned refineries, secure their products with their state-of-the-art Veriscan technology. They engrave their products with microscopic marks, much like fingerprints, that can only be read and identified by their advanced scanners.
Although these security features can’t really be checked at home, other unique characteristics can be easily spotted through the naked eye. For instance, the Silver Britannia, by the Royal Mint, portrays a wave-patterned background on the reverse. When moved under the light, it creates a surface animation, like moving waves.
Silver bars produced by the Perth Mint and PAMP Suisse come in an assay package. The protective package contains a serial number that is also engraved on the silver bar itself. The number can be used to verify its authenticity with the manufacturer.
2. Look for discolorations
Make a simple inspection for any discolorations on the surface of your silver jewelry, silverware, or bullion. Fine silver (.999 and above) won’t easily tarnish or corrode. Thus, if you see any discolorations starting to show an inner core of a different color, that is an indication that your item is may be either silver-plated or of a lesser purity such as sterling silver. For instance, if you start to see reddish wear marks, that suggests your piece is made of copper.
3. The Ice Cube Test
As we have mentioned before, silver has the highest thermal conductivity among metals. That means if you place an ice cube on top of a silver surface (such as coin or flatware), it should melt faster than a second ice cube on top of other metals, such as nickel or zinc.
4. The Magnet Test
Pure silver is not a magnetic material. To be more specific, silver is not ferromagnetic. Which means it won’t attach to magnets when close to one. In fact, silver is classified as diamagnetic. Like gold and copper, silver is slightly repelled by magnetic fields. The reaction is very subtle, though.
In order to properly take this test, use a strong magnet, such as a neodymium magnet. Bring it close to the piece of silver you want to test. If it gets strongly attached to the magnet, it means your item is not really made of silver. Maybe it is silver-plated with a nickel core, or another ferromagnetic metal, such as iron.
Keep in mind that if the core is made of another diamagnetic metal, such as copper, the object is not going to attach to the magnet as well. So, this test might be good to confirm cheap fake silver (if the object is attracted to the magnet), but it doesn’t guarantee you have real silver (if the object isn’t attracted to the magnet).
5. The Density Test
This test requires a good scale in grams, not ounces, and a graduated cylinder or a kitchen container with milliliter markings. Just make sure the container will fit your silver item inside.
First, weigh your silver item on the scale and write down its precise weight.
Next, fill the container with water and write down the exact amount of water it contains in milliliters. Then, slowly drop your silver item in it. The water level will rise. Take notes of the new water level.
Now, subtract the number of the final water level by the original one. For instance, if the water level was at 10 milliliters and it went up roughly to 13, the water displacement was close to 3 milliliters. That number represents the object’s volume. Write it down.
Silver has a density of 10.49 g/cc (grams per cubic centimeter). So, simply divide the item’s weight in grams by its volume in milliliters. So, if your product weighs 31 grams, and it displaced 3 milliliters, the math will be:
31 / 3 = 10.33
10.33 is pretty close to silver’s actual density, which is 10.49. The numbers used in the example are only approximate, though. For example, an American Silver Eagle coin weighs 1 troy ounce or 31.1035 grams. Its volume should be around 2.96 mL. So the real numbers aren’t quite as exact as in the example above. However, if the math results in a density way off 10.49 g/cc, that certainly means the object is not pure silver.
For instance, copper has a density of 8.96 g/cc and nickel 8.902 g/cc. Aluminum, on the other hand, is very light. It has a density of 2.7 g/cc.
Watch the following video for more information on this test:
6. The Bleach Test
Bleach is an oxidizing agent. If you drop it on silver, the metal should turn black. But we don’t want to ruin your silver piece by bathing it in bleach. Find an inconspicuous place of your silver item, like the inside of a ring or bracelet. Drop a single drop of bleach on it. If the surface of the metal creates a black spot, then you have real silver. If not, it’s probably a fake.
7. Silver Testing Kits
These kits contain some acid solutions to test your material. Although very accurate, this test can damage your piece. It is, sometimes, referred to as the scratch test or acid test. The kits contain a touchstone or something else you can use to scratch the surface of your metal.
Scratch your silver piece on the touchstone to create a silvery line on it. Apply the acid on the line and it will change colors according to its metal content. For instance, pure silver will turn orange, while sterling silver will turn red. Lead or tin will turn yellow and nickel will turn blue.
8. Sigma Metalytic Scanners
Although expensive, Sigma Metalytic Scanners or other similar electronic testers are, by far, the most accurate way to check the precious metal content of your item. Keep in mind, however, that there are different scanners for jewelry and bullion.
The scanner sends electromagnetic waves over the surface of the metal. It analyzes the metal’s resistance to the waves. Each metal has a unique resistance, so the scanner can identify the object’s composition.
Metalytic scanners are usually the test of choice among jewelers and precious metal dealers. If you just need to test one or two items, it is certainly cheaper to have them tested by a professional than purchase a scanner for your personal use.
How to avoid buying fake silver?
The best things you can do to avoid buying fake silver are:
- Educate yourself. Learn more about how to buy silver before you start putting your money into this market;
- Buy from reputable dealers only. SD Bullion has been in operation for almost a decade. Throughout this time, we have grown to be one of the largest and most respected precious metal dealers in the world by providing the best prices and best service.
Here at SD Bullion, we have a range of silver products available, along with gold, platinum, and palladium to meet any investor’s needs. Contact our customer support service in case you need any help. You can reach us over the phone at 1(800)294-8732 and at email@example.com. Or you can talk to one of our agents through our live web chat feature on the bottom right of your screen.
Lastly, please note that none of these methods are 100% fail-proof. You should always seek a third parties opinion as well on the value and validity of gold or silver.