half pound silver dollarWe are frequently asked “Is this silver?”

Various regulations are in effect regarding the marking of sterling silver jewelry. The first law regulating the stamping of silver products was enacted by the Massachusetts legislature in 1894 followed by several other states before the National Stamping Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and put into effect in June 13, 1907. This law, enhanced and amended several times over the years, provides the basis for regulating the marking and stamping of silver products.

Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Jewelry made from pure silver would wear more quickly, as pure silver is quite soft. Sterling components and jewelry made in the USA are often stamped Sterling. Goods made for international trade are often marked .925 indicating 92.5% fineness.

The 1906 act required that any product marked "sterling" or "coin" must contain 925 per 1000 parts pure silver for "sterling" and 900 per 1000 parts pure silver for "coin" silver, permitting a divergence of only 4 parts per 1000 from this standard. An amendment in 1961 required also the maker's trademark to be stamped next to the silver standard mark.

Mexican Silver, German Silver, Indian Silver, Montana Silver, or simply Silver do not guarantee any silver content. German Silver is another name for the alloy of Copper, Nickel and Zinc usually called Nickel Silver. Nickel Silver contains no silver.

In many countries, precious metal must be stamped with a quality mark such as .925 for sterling. Some countries require that jewelry of precious metal be submitted to a governmental assay office for appropriate testing before being marked and sold.

In the USA, The National Gold and Silver Marketing Act DOES NOT require precious metals to be marked with quality. However, if a quality mark is used, the National Stamping Act, as amended, not only requires the use of trademarks, but also specifically requires the registration of such a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). In spite of the law, many regularly used marks on American jewelry are not yet registered trademarks.

If in doubt as to whether your unmarked jewelry is silver vs. silver plate vs. bright nickel plate, you can try a couple of simple tests. Silver oxidizes readily (remember your mom’s blackish-looking teapot?). Rubbing the item with a clean white cloth should produce a black stain on the cloth, identifying it as silver or silver plated. Sterling is not magnetic, so if the piece is attracted to a magnet it is not sterling. Bright nickel is simply too “shiny”- it lacks the duller appearance of sterling.

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