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Classifying Silver

  • Classifying Silver

    Silver and the various ‘grades’ of silver can seem a little confusing.

    Here are a few facts to shed a little light on the issue of classifying silver.


    Fine Silver or pure silver is 99.9% silver.  The remaining .01% purely amounts to trace elements and impurities found naturally within silver.  This grade of silver is used to make bullion bars for trading and investment in silver.  It is generally thought of to be much too soft for general use.  Any item (usually jewellery) made from pure silver will be quite susceptible to bending.  Interestingly people often refer to old silver, for example Georgian candlesticks, as being solid, pure silver, when in fact the main body of the candlestick was a clay base and silver was added purely as a finish.


    Britannia silver is 95.8% silver.  It is an alloy; 95.84% pure silver and 4.16% copper.  The Britannia standard was developed in Britain in 1697 to help prevent British sterling silver coins from being melted to make silver plate.  Britiannia silver was obligatory between 1697 and 1720 and from then on became optional.


    Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver and should always carry the 925 stamp of purity.  Be dubious about buying sterling silver without the stamp.


    French 1st Standard is 95% pure silver with 5% copper or other metal


    Russian zolonik silver is 91.6% pure silver.


    It is worth being aware that pure silver does not tarnish. Sterling silver is, however susceptible and it is important to learn how to clean and polish your silver items.  Silver cleaning is not always straightforward and some cloths sold for the purpose do actually scratch your fine silver.

    Before cleaning you must be aware as to whether your item is sterling silver or silver-plated.  Each require a different approach.  More detailed information is available under a separate article.


    Silver–plate or electroplated silver is often referred to as EPNS (electro plated nickel silver).  Nickel silver, which in fact contains no silver but is an alloy of nickel, zinc and copper, is plated with silver to give the appearance of fine silver.  Silver-plated items make very attractive but less expensive silver gifts.  In time the silver-plating will wear and it is important to clean these items correctly to encourage longevity of the silver finish.

    If your chosen silver item seem a bargain in price beware…it may actually be silver-plated.  If it is truly fine silver or sterling silver it will be clearly hallmarked.

    Please note, when buying silver-plate opt for EPNS, which can easily be re-plated.  If you choose EPSS (electro-plated stainless steel) it is unsuitable for re-plating.

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