What is Sterling Silver? - What is 925 Silver?

Sterling silver is a kind of silver alloy that is used since the 12th century at least. Because pure silver (.999 fine) is relatively soft, silver refiners started mixing a small quantity of copper in the alloy to make it harder.

Nowadays, sterling silver is widely used for silverware, jewelry, watches, ornaments, and even currency coins. The standard sterling silver piece has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925. It is 92.5% silver and usually 7.5% copper or zinc.

Troy the Bull 8 oz Sterling Silver Statue

The History of Sterling Silver

One of the earliest accounts of a variation of the word “sterling” being used comes from the Old French “esterlin”, referring to early Norman Silver Pennies. The theory is that it got the moniker from having small stars minted on them.

Norman Silver Penny. Source

Other numismatists believe the term “sterling” comes from the word “ster”, as in “strong” or “stout”.

Despite the origin of the name, an alloy of silver mixed with small amounts of copper or zinc was already in use in continental Europe for commerce and trading around the 1100s. But the first legal resolution of sterling silver composition came in 1275 when King Edward I determined that in coinage, 12 troy ounces of silver should contain 11 ounces and 2.25 pennyweights of silver and 17.75 pennyweights of alloy. 20 pennyweights being equivalent to 1 troy ounce. This is close to .926 millesimal fineness.

Read more about the conversions between pennyweights and troy ounces.

In Colonial America, the composition did not change much. Sterling silver pieces usually contained 91.5% to 92.5% pure silver and 8.5% to 7.5% of copper.

The standard, nowadays, remains .925 fine silver content. It is common to engrave sterling silver products with a hallmark indicating the purity level. It also serves to identify the company or silversmith who produced it and protect against counterfeiting.

How much is Sterling Silver worth?

You can check the live silver spot price on the top of our website, right above our logo. It is possible to assume that sterling silver is worth 92.5% of the silver spot price, at least. However, one should consider some added values depending on the silver products.

For instance, sterling silver flatware, or sterling silver jewelry will incorporate the cost of production and a designer’s value. The same goes for sculptures. The more work put on the silver item, the more valuable it will be. The uniqueness of the piece can play a significant role in determining its price as well.

Collecting .925 silver is very common (.925 silver demand in India remains robust to this day).

In the following video, you can take a 360-degree view of one of the most extensive sterling silver vaults in the world located in London, England.

Does Sterling Silver tarnish?

Even real sterling silver is prone to tarnishing when exposed to open air due to sulfide production.

See the time-lapse video below to see how 925 silver in silverware or sterling silverware tarnishes over time when exposed to open air.

How to clean tarnish off of Sterling Silver?

Cleaning the tarnish or discoloring off of sterling silver and 925 silver pieces is a simple process and can be done using many everyday household items.

Clean Sterling Silver with Baking Soda

In a small bowl, add two parts of baking soda to one part of water. It will create a paste. You can use a cotton swab to gently rub the mixture onto the tarnished silver piece. Let it dry completely, then rinse and dry with a soft cloth.

Mix Lemon and Olive Oil

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to ½ cup of lemon juice. Use a clean cloth to apply the mixture and softly rub the silver piece. Rinse and dry when done.

Combine Vinegar and Baking Soda

You can also mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda to 1/2 cup of white vinegar and let your tarnished sterling silver jewelry soak for a couple of hours in it. Then, rinse and dry it.

Three tips to prevent sterling silver from tarnishing

Although sterling silver is quite resistant, it can be a little subject to tarnishing, as we have mentioned above. To prevent it from happening and maintain its value, here are three tips that will help you:

  • Always keep sterling silver in a dry, cool place. Humidity and sweat can be the worst enemies when it comes to tarnishing your silver jewelry. And remember to take them off if you are about to shower, swim or do the dishes;
  • Keep them separated to prevent scratching. Try to avoid jewelry boxes where all your items are mixed together in the same compartment, rubbing against each other every time you move the box;
  • Use a soft cloth to polish them regularly. It should help your silver maintain its shine. Don’t ever use rough materials, such as paper or polyester.

How to test sterling silver for authenticity?

In the following video clip, Rick Harrison of the favorite TV show "Pawn Stars," talks about what sterling silver markings mean, and how to test for 925 silver and weed out the sterling silver clad fakes that come into his store.

Find out more about how to test for real silver at home.

Purchase Sterling Silver Products at SD Bullion

SD Bullion is the perfect place to shop for sterling silver products. Check out our collection of silver statues. In addition, we offer a range of silver bullion products, such as silver coins, silver bars, and silver rounds for investors and collectors alike. Enjoy the lowest premiums of the spot silver price. 

If you have further questions about our silver products or any other bullion items we have in stock, talk to our sales staff at 1(800)294-8732 or through our live web chat feature on the bottom right of your screen. You can also reach us at sales@sdbullion.com. We will reply as soon as we can.

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James Anderson
James Anderson
Senior Market Analyst & Content

A bullion buyer years before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, James Anderson is a grounded precious metals researcher, content creator, and physical investment grade bullion professional. He has authored several Gold & Silver Guides and has been featured on the History Channel, Zero Hedge, Gold-Eagle, Silver Seek, Value Walk and many more. You can pick up Jame's most recent, comprehensive 200+ Page book here at SD Bullion.

Given that repressed commodity values are now near 100-year low level valuations versus large US stocks, James remains convinced investors and savers should buy and maintain a prudent physical bullion position now, before more unfunded promises debase away in the coming decades...