How to Know if Something Is Sterling Silver

Three Methods:Conducting a General Assessment of the ItemTesting the ItemAsking Professionals to Assess Your Silver Items

Sterling silver is not pure silver. It is an alloy composed of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals. The vast majority of items made from sterling silver contain a hallmark, a stamp placed in a discrete spot that denotes its purity. If your item does not contain a hallmark, you can determine if your item is made from sterling silver by conducting a variety of at home tests or consulting a professional.

Method 1
Conducting a General Assessment of the Item

  1. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 1
    Search for a sterling silver hallmark. Precious metals are stamped with a hallmark, a symbol or series of symbols that denote its type, purity, and authenticity. If your item contains a sterling silver hallmark, it is sterling silver; if it does not have one of these markings, it is more than likely a silver plated piece.Use a magnifying glass to search for hallmarks in discrete locations. The United Kingdom, France, and the United States of America each have a distinct hallmarking system.
    • American sterling silver is marked with one of the following hallmarks: “925,” “.925,” or “S925.” the 925 indicates that the piece contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.[1]
    • Sterling silver items made in the UK contain a stamp of a lion. In addition to this stamp, UK made items will also contain a town mark, a duty mark, a date letter, and a sponsor’s mark. These marks will vary from item to item.[2]
    • France currently marks its sterling silver items with the head of Minerva (92.5% and below) or a vase (99.9% pure silver).[3]
  2. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 2
    Listen for a bell-like ring. When sterling silver is gently tapped, it will produce a high-pitched bell-like tone that lasts for 1 to 2 seconds. To conduct this test, carefully tap the sterling silver item with your finger or a metal coin. If the item is truly sterling silver, it will generate a high-pitch ring. If you do not hear a ring, the item is not sterling silver.
    • When you tap the item, use extreme caution so you do not ding or dent it.[4]
  3. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 3
    Smell the item. Silver does not produce a smell. Hold the item up to your nose and smell it carefully for a few moments. If you sense a strong smell, the item the item likely contains too much copper to be sterling silver.[5]
    • Copper is a common alloy in sterling silver, but 925 sterling does not contain enough to make a smell.[6]
  4. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 4
    Examine the item's malleability. Silver is a soft, bendable metal. To determine if the item is silver, you can attempt to bend the item with your hands. If it bends easily, the item is probably made from pure silver or sterling silver.
    • If the item does not bend, it is less likely that it is made from silver or sterling silver.[7]

Method 2
Testing the Item

  1. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 5
    Test for oxidization. When silver is exposed to air, it oxidizes. The oxidization of the silver causes the metal to tarnish and take on a black tint over time. To test the item for oxidization, you will need a white cloth. Rub a clean white cloth over the item and then examine the cloth.
    • If you see black marks, the item is either silver or sterling silver.
    • If you do not see any black marks, the item is less likely to be made from sterling silver.
  2. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 6
    Determine if the item is magnetic. Like gold and platinum, silver is a non-ferrous metal—it is not magnetic. Run a strong magnet over your item. If the item is not attracted to the magnet, it is made out of a non-ferrous metal. To determine which type of non-ferrous metal your item contains, you may need to run additional tests.[8]
    • If the item sticks to the magnet, it does not contain sterling silver. More than likely, the item is made from highly polished stainless steel intended to look like pure silver.[9]
  3. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 7
    Conduct an ice test. Silver has the highest thermal conductivity rate of any known metal—it conducts heat extremely fast. You can use this knowledge to determine if your item is made from silver. There are two ways to conduct the ice test.
    • Set your item on a flat surface. Place one ice cube on the item and another ice cube on the work surface. If they item is made from silver, the ice cube on the coin should melt much faster than the ice cube on the table.[10]
    • Fill a bowl with several ice cubes and an inch of water. Place your silver item and a similarly sized non-silver item into the ice water. The silver item should become cold to the touch in approximately 10 seconds. The non-silver item will not feel as cold at this time.[11]

Method 3
Asking Professionals to Assess Your Silver Items

  1. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 8
    Have your item appraised. If your home tests yield inconclusive results, you may need to consult a professional to determine if your item is silver, sterling silver, or silver plated. While there are a variety of professionals to choose from, some are more qualified than others. Select a professional that is certified, experienced, and highly recommended.
    • Professional appraisers are highly trained and experienced. Many reputable appraisers are certified by the American Society of Appraisers. Their job is to assess the quality and worth of items.
    • Graduate jewelers are trained and certified by the Gemologist Institute of America. They are skilled artists and experienced repairers of jewelry. They are also capable of evaluating an item’s materials.[12]
  2. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 9
    Ask a professional to conduct a nitric acid test. When nitric acid comes into contact with metal, it reveals if the metal is real or imitation. The professional will nick or scratch the item in a discrete area. They will place a drop of nitric acid into the nick or scratch. If the area turns green, the item is not made out of silver; if the area turns a creamy color, the item is made out of silver.
    • You may purchase a kit and conduct this test at home. When handling nitric acid, you need to be extremely careful. Always wear protective gloves and eyewear.[13]
  3. Image titled Know if Something Is Sterling Silver Step 10
    Send to a lab for further testing. If your item requires further testing, you may send it to a professional advanced jewelry or metal testing laboratory. Ask a local, trusted jeweler for lab recommendations or search for a reputable advanced metal testing lab online. At the lab, scientists will conduct a battery of tests to determine the chemical makeup of your item. These tests may include:
    • Fire assay—melting down a sample of the metal and conducting a chemical assay
    • The use of an XRF gun. This item send x-rays through the item to test the metal’s purity.
    • Mass spectrometry—a test used to determine an item’s molecular and chemical structure.
    • Specific gravity assessment—a water displacement test.[14]


  • If your item is unmarked, you may need to conduct an acid test or use an XRF Analytical machine to determine if the piece is sterling silver.


  • Before you sell market an item as sterling silver, you must be absolutely certain that it is sterling silver.

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Categories: Jewelry and Watches | Silverware