Posted on 2 Comments

How To Identify The Silver Content of Silver Jewelry

The purpose of this blog entry is to help a buyer/collector identify the silver content of jewelry based on the silver marks present on the jewelry. It will be helpful for you to have a jeweler’s 10X magnification loupe on hand. These can actually be purchased right here on eBay and are very helpful for identifying jewelry marks.

My guide is quite simple. There are a couple of excellent web sites out there with a world of knowledge. If you Google “Silver Marks”, you’ll probably find some excellent resources.

First, look on the back of your jewelry for any silver stamps.

What is sterling silver? Sterling silver is silver that is 925/1000 parts silver. Pure silver is too soft for jewelry making so the highest silver content usually (but not always) found in silver jewelry is .925.

Since the early 1900s, American sterling jewelry has been required to have a sterling mark if it is truly sterling silver. In my experience, older sterling is stamped “STERLING” usually on the back of the piece of jewelry. Sometimes you might see a portion of the word, such as “STER”. This might be because the jewelry was stamped this way or it might have worn away over years of wear.
Newer sterling silver jewelry is often stamped “925”. Again, this stamp is meant to convey the silver content of the jewelry. I’ve also seen “SS” stamped on a few pieces, but this is rare.

I’ve seen a 950 mark on vintage jewelry once in a while. Usually, it’s been on Mexican sterling before WWII era. 950 silver does have a higher silver content than sterling but is not seen too often.

On older and antique jewelry, you might see a 900 stamp. This is meant to show that the jewelry is 900/1000 parts silver. Not quite as high a silver content as sterling. Coin silver can literally mean silver made from melted down coins.
Vintage Native American jewelry may often not have a silver content mark on it. Often this jewelry may have a silver content in the range of coin silver.

4. 800 SILVER
Sometimes, you’ll see an 800 stamp on a piece of vintage silver jewelry. This means that the content of the jewelry is 4/5 silver.
Many times, based on the style of the piece and the 800 stamp, this will point my jewelry research toward European jewelry or other foreign makers. I’ve seen vintage silver filigree jewelry with an 800 mark.

Commercial silver test kits are available for silver (and gold) jewelry. These are probably available on eBay. I personally do not use these. If I have a question about my vintage jewelry after I’ve exhausted my own research, I take a trip down to see my favorite jeweler for his advice.

Posted on

How To Clean Sterling and Silver Jewelry

I have my particular preferences for cleaning sterling silver and silver plated jewelry. My preferences have been formed from years of experimenting and sometimes RUINING jewelry by cleaning with harsh chemicals.

First, let’s talk about sterling silver. Since the early part of the 20th century, US sterling jewelry is required to be stamped so. You will normally see either “Sterling” or “925” on the back of a piece. Sterling jewelry is at least 925/1000 percent pure silver, thus the .925 mark on sterling. You may see marks on silver from “800, 850, 900” to “950 and 970”. Anything above 925 is considered sterling silver. There is an excellent online site dedicated to silver marks, Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers’ Marks:

Sometimes I’ll come across a silver piece of jewelry with some tarnish on it. I know it has some silver content because it is tarnished but I don’t know how much silver is there.

Regardless, how do I remove tarnish?

1. Well, the first way to PREVENT tarnish is to WEAR your jewelry. The slight rubbing that silver jewelry gets when being worn prevents tarnish from forming.

2. I’ve seen sterling stored in soft felt-chamois type fabric storage bags. I’m not sure where to buy these but they prevent exposure to air and prevent tarnish. I’d check with the silver flatware replacement sites online for these bags. Also, there are anti-tarnish pads that can be purchased where jewelry supplies are sold. I’ve not used them but you put them where you store your jewelry and they are supposed to prevent tarnish.

3. NEVER, EVER dip jewelry in dip cleaners. Dipping jewelry in a dip cleaner WILL remove the tarnish but it also changes the patina of the piece. The silver will turn a white silver color….too bright for vintage jewelry. There are some pieces of silver jewelry, such as Native American jewelry, that have blackened details. If you dip your silver, these details will go away and you’ve just messed with the original patina. Also, some natural stones are porous and can be ruined by dip cleaners, especially pearls, opals, turquoise.

4. If a piece of sterling or silver has many details, I will start with the Wright’s paste cleaner. I dampen a sponge or rag and clean the jewelry with the paste mix. Once cleaned, I rinse and dry thoroughly. The paste cleaner is good for getting into crevices with a Q-tip. Cleaning with a paste cleaner gives the jewelry a soft glow and protects the silver from tarnish in the future. The silver will tarnish again but at least it retards the process.

5. My favorite method is to clean with MAAS Metal cleaner. It is a small silver tube that can be purchased at Walmart, on eBay, in hardware stores. It can be used to clean about any kind of metal. The advantage of Maas is that it will remove tarnish but can also slightly buff vintage jewelry. Buffing removes some of the tiny scratches that occur when jewelry is worn. To clean with MAAS, I put a pea-sized drop on a clean cloth and start rubbing the jewelry. It takes some elbow grease but you should soon see black tarnish coming off onto the cloth. It’s amazing what comes off jewelry that appears to be fairly clean. Once I’m satisfied with the cleaning, I polish with a clean cloth. In my opinion, MAAS is a miracle worker which restores the beauty to silver.

I do not worry about removing plate from silver plated jewelry. I’ve used paste cleaners for years and have not had problems.