The quality of sterling silver products is based on a set of standards referred to as hallmarks. Most countries develop their own hallmarking systems, but usually keeping with the principal sterling silver alloy combination of 92.5% pure silver to 7.5% other metal that has been in use since the 14th century.
The usual markings found in high-quality sterling silver jewelry include sterling, sterling silver, Ster or .925. The shape of the mark varies from country to country, and in the US, the markings are also unique to a manufacturer. It is also illegal for jewelry sold in the US to be marked as sterling silver, sterling, or using the abbreviation Ster. only if it contains less than 92.5 percent pure silver.
The lack of marking in sterling silver jewelry makes it difficult for the purchaser to determine if the silver alloy used is of the desired purity. It will also prevent identification of the company that made the jewelry or the date and location of the manufacture. Unless these considerations are of little importance to you, then require that each piece of jewelry you purchase is properly marked.
Caring for Sterling Silver Jewelry
Currently, there is no definitive solution to the development of tarnish and firescales in sterling silver jewelry. The only solution is proper care of the jewelry. Sterling silver jewelry develops a beautiful, mellow patina when worn frequently, and jewelry that is often worn is less likely to tarnish.
However, for a bright and shiny look, it is necessary to perform regular cleaning and polishing of the jewelry with a soft cloth and products specifically formulated for sterling silver, preferably a detergent with no phosphate. Toothpaste is not advisable as it is too rough.
It would be advisable to avoid too-vigorous buffing and polishing to prevent damage to the jewelry. Sterling silver is still comparatively soft even with the addition of more durable metals, and with older pieces care should be observed to preserve the patina of the genuine antique. Wheel polishing, a machine used by professional jewelers, is only used when the jewelry is heavily tarnished or corroded.
Using a cloth pouch to separate the sterling silver pieces from other jewelry will help prevent scratches, and exposure to household chemicals should also be minimized. Some cloth bags are treated to prevent the jewelry from tarnishing. A cool, dry environment will further inhibit oxidation. If tarnish becomes visible, it is best to remove it at once to keep it from setting into the metal.
A homemade cleaning technique for sterling silver jewelry is to use salt and baking soda in a tin foil-covered container filled with hot water. Place the silver pieces in the container allowing them to touch, and soak for at most five minutes. Rinse and pat dry with a cotton cloth.
At one point in history, silver was held to be of more value than gold. Many believed that it had mystic powers and was associated with the moon. It has been suggested that it has influence over the mind and emotions of its wearer or possessor, especially love and healing. Indeed, silver has medical applications because of its malleability and aseptic properties.
Later on, it lost its monetary but not its emotional value, and many people find the beauty of sterling silver appealing. It seems appropriate, then, that sterling silver continues to play an important role in bringing beauty and pleasure in today’s homes, much like it did in its heyday.