How to Know if Your Sterling Silver is Genuine and How to Keep It Sterling
In the United States, jewelry cannot be sold as silver or sterling silver unless it contains a minimum of 92.5% pure silver. One way to know that what you are buying is "real" sterling silver is to look for markings such as 925, .925, 92.5, or the abbreviation Ster. - only jewelry containing the minimum amount of silver can bear these silver markings.
Simply clean your sterling silver with a silver polishing cloth when necessary, but it should never be subjected to silver dips, any chemical solutions or ultrasonic cleaners, as these substances can cause the stone to discolor.
Keep Your Silver Sterling
The short answer is - yes. Genuine sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver so the other 7.5% has to be made up of some other metal. Usually that other metal is copper, valued for adding hardness and durability to the pure silver (which is actually very soft) with which it is mixed. However, the copper component of the mixture can cause the sterling silver to tarnish or blacken as it reacts to the environment around it (gases in the air, etc.). A tarnished piece of silver jewelry is not necessarily a "cheap piece of junk". Look for the silver markings to verify that it is real sterling silver and then clean it properly to restore its luster. *Also, it is important not to confuse tarnish with the oxidation that is meant to be part of the design on some jewelry pieces. Please keep in mind that some jewelry designers use oxidation to highlight aspects of the jewelry so if you do not like the look of it on the piece you are considering, it is probably better to save yourself the hassle and not make the purchase.
If It Turns My Skin Green or Black, Is It Real Silver?
The short answer is – yes. Sometimes even when a piece of jewelry has the 925 silver marking it can still turn the skin green or black when worn, however, this does not mean that it is not real silver. Again, it can all be traced back to the 7.5% "other metal" that has been added to the 92.5% pure silver. Copper, in particular, is known to chemically react with soaps, lotions, the salt in human sweat, and even medications taken by the wearer. When this chemical reaction occurs, it can show up as skin discoloration in the area that has been touched by the jewelry. So, even if the jewelry turns the skin a different color, if it has the 925 silver marking then it is real silver.
According to jewelry manufacturer and merchant Carolyn Pollack Jewelry, "… sterling silver and stone jewelry…should be handled carefully. It should be stored in a plastic bag, dry and wrapped in tissue paper, when not being worn or displayed. Simply clean your sterling silver with a silver polishing cloth when necessary, but it should never be subjected to silver dips, any chemical solutions or ultrasonic cleaners, as these substances can cause the stone to discolor. No substance containing chemicals or oils (such as common household cleaners, soaps, shampoos, chlorine, etc.) should come in contact with the silver or stone, as both can be damaged by the harshness of these chemicals. It is never a good idea to wear any of your jewelry or watches in a chlorinated spa or pool or while bathing."
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