The growing search for precious metals as an investment has increased the amount of counterfeits in the market. Therefore, bullion coins, cutlery, and jewelry have been targets of uncountable homemade tests to evaluate their purity.
One of the most common ways to discover fake silver bullion is the magnet test, begging the question: is silver magnetic?
This article compiles a complete guide on how silver reacts to a magnetic field and how we can use that information to test silver bullion at home.
Considered one of the oldest metals discovered by humanity, along with copper, gold, lead, and iron, there are traces of objects made of silver dating back to 4000 BC in Greece. Silver was also one of the main precious metals used for coinage during the Roman Empire.
Twelve Caesars Vespasian AR Denarius AD 69-79
Silver is found on the top layers of Earth’s crust despite its relative scarcity. It turns up in rocks as an alloy with gold, copper, and other metals, which demands mining and refining to achieve its pure form.
In the US, the discovery of silver in Nevada in 1858 resulted in a sudden silver rush. In 1859, it was discovered in California, heating the mining movement and developing the local economy during the 19th century.
Today, most countries that find silver in their territories, like Peru, Australia, and Russia, mine ores, but Mexico holds the position of number-one silver-producer nation, refining approximately 23% of the world supply.
Silver is a chemical element. In the periodic table, it appears with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47.
The word “silver” comes from “seolfor” in Anglo-Saxon. But the symbol “Ag” corresponds to the Latin term “Argentum,” which also means silver.
Silver is a precious metal, along with gold, platinum, and palladium. It exhibits a brilliant white luster, malleability, and softness, demanding extreme care when polishing. In addition, It is also scarce, ductile, and corrosion-resistant, which makes it very useful in manufacturing coins, ornaments, and jewelry.
According to Faraday's Law of Magnetic Induction, when certain materials get placed within magnetic fields, these materials' electrons will be affected.
That reaction depends on the atomic and molecular structure of the material tested and the overall magnetic field associated with the atoms of the item. Because of that, elements react quite differently to the presence of an external magnetic field.
Based on how materials react, they can be diamagnetic, paramagnetic, or ferromagnetic.
Diamagnetic materials are those slightly repelled by magnetic fields, and the content does not retain the magnetic properties when the external field gets removed.
All the electrons are paired in these materials, so there is no net magnetic field or force per atom. Diamagnetic properties arise from the realignment of the electron paths under the influence of an external magnetic field.
Most elements in the periodic table, including copper, and pure gold (e.g. a .999 fine gold coin or gold bar), are classified as diamagnetic. They have a weak, small negative susceptibility to magnetic fields. Therefore, they are not magnetic.
Opposingly paramagnetic materials have small, positive susceptibility to magnetic fields.. They show a slight attraction to magnets but will not stick to them. They do not retain the magnetic properties when the external magnetic field gets removed.
The related properties result from the presence of some unpaired electrons and the realignment of the electron paths caused by the external magnetic field.
Paramagnetic materials include palladium, platinum, rhodium, rhenium, ruthenium, magnesium, molybdenum, lithium, and tantalum.
Unlike the others, ferromagnetic materials have significant, positive susceptibilities to an external magnetic field. They exhibit a strong attraction when exposed to magnetic fields and can retain magnetic properties even after the external magnetic field is removed.
Ferromagnetic materials have some unpaired electrons, so their atoms have a net magnetic attraction. So, when a magnetizing force is applied, the areas become aligned to produce a strong magnetic field within the part.
Iron, nickel, and cobalt are examples of ferromagnetic materials.
Non-magnetic material is not attracted nor repelled by magnetic fields. It cannot be magnetized. Some examples include plastic, rubber and water.
Pure silver is not magnetic. Opposingly, it tends to repel a strong magnet. It falls into the category of diamagnetic materials. Likewise, gold is not magnetic either.
In other words, if a silver coin is supposed to be pure (i.e. .999 fine), it should never be attracted to a magnet.
The following video exhibits a test demonstrating silver reacting to a magnetic field using neodymium magnets.
Watch this silver magnet test to see how silver and other precious metals react to strong magnetic fields.
At 1:12 of the video, we can see silver repelling the external magnetic field from the neodymium magnet.
The same reaction happens to 24-karat gold at 1:38 of the video. In conclusion, gold and silver are diamagnetic. Gold or silver items will slightly repel an external magnetic field, rather than be attracted by it.
Lincoln Memorial 11 oz Sterling Silver Statue
The term “sterling” comes from the Normans, who used to decorate their silver pennies with stars. The original word “sterre” became “starling,” and over the years, “sterling” to nominate the British currency.
On the other hand, sterling silver corresponds to an alloy that contains 92.5% of silver and 7.5% other metals. In most cases, it is either copper or zinc.
For instance, sterling silver silverware and jewelry have copper mixed into its .925 purity to make it harder and more impervious to warping or wear.
As pure silver is a diamagnetic material - the attraction caused by magnetic fields does not come from silver, but it may come from the other material alloyed with silver.
Jewelry, for example. Sterling silver jewelry items, such as .925 silver necklaces, may have ferromagnetic materials on the clasp or other fasteners. Thus, magnets may attract parts of it.
The same goes for silver-plated items. Jewelry that has an iron or nickel core and is merely plated with silver will likely be attracted to a magnet.
To test your silver product at home, you should first look for labels or authentication stamps. A commercialized silver product, especially from international sellers, usually includes certification cards, tags, or stamps indicating the product's information and purity levels.
Numbers like 900 or 925 on the labels indicate the silver concentration in the item. A 900 indication means that the piece contains 90% pure silver, while 925 means 92.5% pure, like Sterling Silver.
The equivalent correspondence between the product sold and its labels is mandatory, which makes fraud less probable.
However, if your silver item has no label or any form of authentication, or if you are in doubt if your product is not as pure as advertised, there are a few things you can do to test it.
The Magnet Test
The magnet test may be the simplest test you can perform. As we know, gold and silver items are not magnetic metals, and the objects are not supposed to be attracted. The expected result is seeing your magnet fall, repelled by the silver item. If the magnet sticks, you know it may not be real silver.
The Polish Test
A second simple test is a polish test. Silver tends to tarnish quickly and turn black. You can test your piece using a white cloth and a bit of polish. If you notice the black residue on the fabric as you polish and your item recovering characteristic white luster, your piece tends to be real silver.
The Ice Cube Test
Silver is the element with the highest thermal conductivity. Therefore, if you place an ice cube on top of a silver object, it should melt faster than one on top of an iron object, for instance.
The Gravity Test
The gravity test is one of the most reliable tests you can take at home.
The following video shows a few other noninvasive home silver authenticity tests you can apply.
Does silver stick to a magnet?
As a diamagnetic metal, pure silver does not stick to magnets. Magnetism is a characteristic property of ferromagnetic materials, which suffer strong attraction when close to magnets. If magnets stick to your so-called real silver, it is possible that the item is fake or the result of an alloy of silver with other metals. Hence, the attraction happens because of the presence of those metals but not of silver.
Will a magnet stick to a silver-plated item?
A silver-plated object is not a silver-made item. It is essentially made of other materials, which may be ferromagnetic, paramagnetic, or even diamagnetic, and coated with a thin layer of silver. Silver is a diamagnetic material. So, magnets will not stick to them. The silver plating tends to isolate the magnetic field of the piece and repel the magnet.