Sterling Silver vs. Fine Silver
We all sort of take it for granted – I know I do. We see or hear that this wire jewelry or that chain mail jewelry is made of “sterling silver”… ok, so that’s a good thing, right? Yes, it’s good but do you know why it’s a good thing for wire jewelry (or any jewelry for that matter) to be made of sterling silver as opposed to "fine" silver or even exactly what “sterling silver” means? I thought it might be good for all of us to explore this a little bit – it’s fun to look at something we take entirely for granted and figure out exactly what it is. So, what is sterling silver? How about fine silver?
According to Wikipedia, sterling silver is an alloy (that just means a mixture) made up of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% “other metals” – usually copper. So, look! If you see “925” stamped on a piece, this is where that comes from: 92.5% pure silver = “925”. So "925" is code for sterling silver....but you proabably already knew that, right?
Now, how about “fine” silver as opposed to "sterling" silver? Well, so-called “fine” silver is 99.9% pure silver (remember that sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver). And, because it has so much more silver in it and because pure silver is a pretty “soft” metal, fine silver is generally too soft to make functional objects (such as jewelry). Soft, easily bent out of shape, not strong enough to be used.
Sterling silver, on the other hand, is harder and much stronger (but still retains the beautiful silver look of fine silver) with just the addition of that little bit of copper that is mixed in with the “pure” or “fine” silver. With that added copper, sterling silver wire becomes perfect for making wire earrings, or any other jewelry, including the chain mail jewelry that I so dearly love creating!
I am Laura Teague, a metal smith, knitter and sewist living and working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and traveling the western US whenever I can!