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What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling Silver enjoys a place in nearly every home in the America. Sterling Silver is a Precious Metal alloy that beautifies our dinner tables and ornaments our bodies. Sterling Silver is the material of choice for precious photo frames and Christmas tree ornaments. This practical guide details the information necessary to identifying quality sterling Silver.

Hallmarks and Identifying Characteristics

Sterling silver is an alloy metal containing 92.5 percent Silver and a 7.5 percent amalgam of other metals. You will notice the number 925 stamped inconspicuously on your sterling Silver jewelry, for example. Many products crafted from sterling Silver are also stamped with hallmarks and other emblems to signify the metal’s nation of origin and purity. Hallmarks, also called assayer’s marks, generally take the form of a figures significant to a particular nation. Silver made in Ireland usually bears the word “Hibernia,” which is the island’s name in ancient Latin, while French Silver is generally marked with an image of the goddess Minerva. There may also be a maker’s mark, a designation of purity, or other markings. Understanding the tradition hallmarks used on sterling Silver objects can help you assess a piece’s age, origin and authenticity.

How Much Is Sterling Silver Worth?

The value of sterling Silver at any given moment is relative to the spot price of Silver. Spot price is the amount per ounce that buyers can pay for a given commodity Precious Metal—in this case, Silver—at a given moment in time. Spot price fluctuates from day to day, so the value of sterling Silver fluctuates, too. Bulk trading that takes place at a COMEX has a significant influence on the spot rates of all Precious Metals, including Silver.

Trends in Buying and Selling Silver

Buyers generally want to purchase sterling Silver at a price that’s under the Silver spot price; in the 92.5 percent range is ideal. In essence, the buyer wants to pay based on the actual value of the pure Silver in the piece. Expect to realize a price slightly below spot when selling sterling Silver. Multiple factors influence the demand and price for commodities such as Silver, including the economic health of a region and political climates. For example, diminished currency value generally drives commodity prices upward whereas a strong currency lowers the cost of commodities.

The Value of Sterling Silver

Sterling Silver isn’t an “investment grade” metal because it does not have the purity of fine Silver, which is 99.9 percent pure. Despite the fact that sterling Silver has no place in Precious Metal investment or retirement accounts, sterling Silver has many important applications that add to our everyday lives. Humankind has used alloyed Silver to craft a variety of household items, and even surgical equipment, as far back as 30 BC. Below is a list with some of the most common household items made with sterling silver:

  • Silverware: Flatware manufacturers traditionally used sterling Silver in creating knives, forks, and spoons for the metal’s beautiful luster.
  • Musical Instruments: Silver components used in woodwind instruments including saxophones and flutes create a distinct resonance prized by some musicians.
  • Jewelry: All types and styles of Silver jewelry have been made with sterling Silver, and it is strong enough to set with gems.

Because pure Silver is too soft to support everyday use, silversmiths found it necessary to alloy it with other metals, often Copper, to lend it strength. Adding other metals gives Silver the strength to be used in household items and personal accessories, but it also leads to an increased chance of corrosion as items are exposed to air. That’s why old sterling flatware tends to tarnish. Sterling Silver salt shakers show corrosion faster than any other tableware because sodium chloride in salt reacts with Copper.

Holding Sterling Silver

If you wish to hold sterling Silver in large quantities, remember that it may have incalculable artistic value or sentimental value, but that sterling is not an investment grade Precious Metal. Seek the advice of an appraiser and a financial advisor before you count sterling pieces as anything other than heirlooms or fine jewelry. That said, there is real melt value in sterling Silver, so it can be a way to hold wealth while you enjoy its beauty.

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