It’s safe to say that humans have been obsessed with silver for thousands of years. As one of the first metals discovered—and among the first to ever be used as currency—silver has been prized for its rarity and luster for ages. It’s no wonder the ancient Egyptians once thought it more valuable than gold!
Today, we continue to use various types of silver in everything from coins and jewelry to electronics and tableware.
Given the huge spectrum of uses, of course, it’s safe to say that not all variations of silver are created equal. Whether you’re seeking a silver ring for your collection or silver coins to expand your investment portfolio, it’s a good idea to know about the common types of jewelry. Here’s what to keep in mind about the most popular varieties of silver that exist today.
Fine silver is the purest of all the silver grades available, and it’s the closest thing to true silver that we have. This material is 99.9% silver, with the remaining 0.1% made of insignificant trace elements, often nickel or copper.
You might be surprised to know that fine silver is less desirable for jewelry than other types of silver. Its softness makes it easy to shape, but it also makes it easy to dent and scratch with normal use. What’s more, its appearance is often duller than the types of silver listed below.
It is, however, possible to find fine silver bullion bars and coins created for the purposes of trading. This option is popular among many fine metals investors.
One of the most common silver alloys in use today, sterling silver is strong where fine silver isn’t. Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver—which is why most quality stamps will contain a .925 or .925 STG marking—along with 7.5% copper or nickel. These trace metals are what enhance this type of silver’s durability and create its prized luster and sheen.
Like fine silver, sterling silver tends to tarnish without regular cleanings. In addition, while it tends to be hypoallergenic, some wearers may find that the trace amounts of nickel cause an allergic reaction in their skin.
As with fine silver, investors can find collectible sterling silver coins and bullion for trading purposes. For more information about silver prices, check out this article.
Savvy silver investors may be familiar with this type of alloy, which consists of 90% silver and 10% copper. Taking its name from the U.S. silver bullion coins it was once used in, coin silver is less common today than it used to be. Because of its copper contents, this alloy tends to be durable and long-lasting.
Today, old coins and antique jewelry that contain coin silver can fetch a high price, though the expense is often due to their rarity instead of the 90% silver content. As with the options above, coin silver can be a popular choice for smart investors, though it’s always worth doing research to understand the market and pricing.
Rarely available for sale in the U.S., this type of silver was first produced in 17th century Britain. Containing at least 95.83% silver, Britannia silver isn’t as hard or durable as sterling silver—even though the goal of its invention was to compete with it.
Investors and jewelry enthusiasts should look for the quality stamp, a depiction of the goddess Britannia, before purchasing.
This relatively recent addition to the spectrum of silver alloys is considered a modern version of sterling silver. It comes in two varieties, 93.5% or 96% silver, with a mixture of copper, boron, zinc, and germanium as the remainder.
Argentium silver is well-known for its non-tarnishing properties. Durable, hypoallergenic, and easy to clean, this type of silver tends to be more expensive than its sterling silver relative. Investors and jewelry enthusiasts should look for the Argentium quality stamp, a flying unicorn, on any purchased products.
This broad label covers a number of different varieties of silver from continental Europe. The silver content can vary from location to location, with French silver containing up to 90% silver and Dutch or German silver containing between 80-83.5% silver, for example.
Anyone seeking to purchase or invest in this type of silver should research the quality stamp marks and records for the location of production, as different countries have different silver quality standards.
Other Types of Silver
As you get to know the different types of silver, it’s important to keep in mind that some varieties are less valuable than others. Some items labeled “silver” might not actually contain said precious metal at all! Here are a few common labels to look out for:
- Silver-filled: This refers to a layered metal that contains a heavier layer of plated silver on top
- Silver-plated: This means that a base metal is covered with a thin silver plating, often to make the final piece more affordable
- Nickel silver: Silver in appearance only, this refers to a base metal alloy of copper with nickel or zinc
- Tibetan silver: Silver in appearance only, this refers to a base metal alloy that may contain a wide range of metals
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing any of the types of metals above, if you’re hoping to purchase an item made of true silver, it’s better to look elsewhere.
Get to Know This Popular Precious Metal
Whether you’re a precious metals buyer expanding your portfolio or a lover of finely crafted jewelry, understanding the differences between different types of silver is crucial. As you search for the right pieces for your needs, do your research to stay on top of the quality stamps you should look out for. This is especially true if you want to purchase anything that you hope will maintain its value for years to come!
Looking for more essential guides like this one? Be sure to check out our other posts for additional insights.