Silver or sterling silver–which would you buy? Most people don’t even realize that there is actually a difference in the two metals, even though the differences are not that great.


Pure silver is 99.9% silver, where sterling silver is 92.5% silver with copper, zinc or nickel added for strength. Pure silver is more pliable and not suited for larger objects or where strength is needed, such as in bowls or silverware.

Why the Name Sterling?

The name sterling silver came from the Easterling area of Germany where silversmiths developed sterling silver alloy.

Difference of Quality

Pure silver is too soft to hold shapes well and difficult to mold into everyday objects, where sterling silver is more durable and typically marked with the hallmark number 925, which indicates 92.5% pure silver.

Tarnish and Shine

Pure silver will tarnish, but sterling silver is less prone to tarnishing. Pure silver may turn almost black or leave green marks on the skin when worn as jewelry. Sterling silver is shinier than pure silver because it is typically polished.

Silver Coins

Silver that is 90% or less pure is known as coin silver, and coins were minted from it once, although not at the current time.

Price Differences

Prices of silver fluctuate with trading markets, but pure silver is worth considerably more than sterling silver.

References and Resources

Sterling and Silver