Identifying Silver Jewellery

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If you are thinking about selling silver jewellery, you’ll first need to be able to identify your silver. You may have some questions about the origin, such as “is my necklace real silver?” or “how can I tell if silver is real?”.

We answer all these questions and more in our guide to help you learn more about your silver jewellery, and whether it’s worth much money.

Is my jewellery silver?

First you need to understand how to tell if your jewellery is silver. Since silver is a soft metal it comes in various alloys. This means pure silver is mixed with other metals to make it more hardwearing. 

Pure silver is usually marked 999 and only contains 0.01% alloy material. It is rare to find 999 jewellery because the metal is so soft it makes the jewellery hard to care for. It also scratches more easily and will wear away over time. 

Silver used to make jewellery is usually called sterling silver. It contains 92.5% silver and is usually marked on the piece. Look for this marking to make sure you are selling silver and not costume jewellery:

Image Credit: https://lovetaliesinjewellery.co.uk/silver/what-is-925-silver/

Some pieces of jewellery do not have a 925 hallmark stamp and may instead have a small tag that says 925. These pieces are less likely to be actual silver jewellery as, in more modern times, these tags have been attached to fashion jewellery. So, if your silver jewellery has a tag instead of a stamp, seek the advice of an expert who will test it for you.

Is sterling silver real silver? Sterling silver meaning

Jewellery is not usually made from pure silver. The metal is soft, difficult to shape into jewellery and gets damaged easily. Even the purest silver is 99.99% silver.

To make silver stronger, it’s mixed with other metals like copper, zinc or nickel. The resultant metal is called an alloy. Sterling silver is an alloy that usually has a purity of 92.5%, this means sterling silver contains 92.5% pure silver and the other 7.5% is the alloy.

Copper, zinc and nickel react with elements in the air. This process is called oxidization. Since the levels of these metals are higher in sterling silver, it tarnishes faster than pure silver.

The Assay Office in the UK states that sterling silver must have a minimum purity of 92.5%. There are countries in Europe that may sell silver jewellery with a lower purity as sterling silver. If you bought your jewellery from somewhere other than the UK or the US, it’s best to get it tested. Silver hallmarks UK-wide vary from other countries which include the marks 800, 835 and 900. In the US silver is commonly marked with the word sterling.

The best place to have jewellery appraised

If you are in doubt and you want to know if your jewellery is silver, only an appraisal expert will be able to confirm this with any certainty for you. You might be wondering how to tell if silver is real. They can test the metal with acid or a metal testing ‘gun’ that detects the purity of a metal.

If you are getting your silver jewellery valued and have the time and inclination, it can be wise to shop around. Make sure you know what type of valuation you are getting. Retail value, insurance value and regional values are not the same thing. For example, if you get an insurance valuation for an antique item you won’t necessarily be able to sell it for that price.

That’s why at Vintage Cash Cow we offer free returns, because we need to see your items in person to accurately value them.

We’d rather send the items back for free than offer you a disappointing price if your items aren’t what you thought they were.

Silver hallmarks

Most silver has a hallmark of some kind but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some older pieces may not include a hallmark or a 925 stamp but this doesn’t always mean it isn’t silver.

If your silver jewellery looks old and doesn’t have a hallmark, send it in to be appraised. If it looks new and has no hallmarks, it’s probably costume jewellery
(
which we will also buy, just so you know!)

As we said before, old silver jewellery might not be hallmarked at all. By the same token, some hallmarks can be forged or imitated, although this is rare.

Silver jewellery can sometimes have a hallmark if it’s silver plated. Silver plated jewellery is common so, if the jewellery is not valuable as a collector’s piece, it will only be worth the value of its base metals.

In silver plating, a base metal, usually copper, is coated with silver. Vintage silver plate can sometimes have hallmarks. More modern silver plate is usually marked with the letters E.P.N.S., which stands for Electro Plated Nickel Silver, referencing the method used to plate the base metal.

Silver hallmarks in the UK – Tips on Identifying your Silver

Though it is always best to get your silver jewellery identified by a professional, there are a few telltale signs and hallmarks which may help you to get some idea of where your jewellery is from and what it may be worth. Could you be sitting on some valuable jewellery?

Silver hallmarks – anchor

An anchor is a Birmingham hallmark. If you see an anchor sign it could mean that your jewellery is from Birmingham.

Silver hallmarks – crown

A crown hallmark indicates Sheffield silver. It was used to indicate silver from Sheffield from 1773-1975. It has since been replaced with a Tudor rose.

Silver hallmarks – leopard’s head

A leopard’s head has been used since the 1800s as a silver hallmark of London. Before 1820, a different leopard’s head with a crown on top was used.

Image Credit: https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/guides/information-guides/hallmarks/

There are many more silver hallmarks that are easy to read if you are trying to establish where your silver is from. You can see a full list here with some photo examples. It is worth noting that the jewellery industry is plagued with fakes, so it’s best to get a professional appraisal if you can. Identifying silver jewellery is best left in the hands of the pros if you need a reliable appraisal and evaluation of jewellery or other silver items.