For hundreds of years silver has been used in various ways, such as to make tools and jewelry. Currently sterling silver is labeled as a mix of 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent copper. Because pure silver itself is very soft, it is not functional; therefore, it is mixed with other metals to make it sturdier for everyday use. To drive costs down of sterling silver in jewelry and other uses, nickel silver was created by mixing nickel, copper and zinc, with a coat of silver. The result is generally a very sturdy metal that can appear just as precious as sterling silver, with few differences.
How to Spot Difference Between Nickel and Sterling Silver
Check the interior of the silver piece for the marking ".925" engraved on any component of the metal. This number indicates that the piece is made with 92.5 percent silver, which means it is sterling silver. The other 7.5 percent is generally copper. A sterling silver necklace or bracelet will have the .925 stamped on the clasp or other component of the jewelry. Nickel silver, on the other hand, will not have the .925 indicator engraving.
Notice if the metal is wearing down, exposing a darker, dull metal. This indicates that the metal is not sterling silver, but is nickel that has been plated with silver. Wear and tear of the metal will cause the base metals--nickel and other metals such as copper and zinc--to appear through the silver plating. To keep nickel silver shiny, re-coat the metal regularly.
Put the metal under a strong light and take notice of its reflective quality. Sterling silver tends to be the most reflective metal. While nickel silver is shiny, it does not have the same light reflective quality as sterling silver, particularly if the silver plating is wearing down and the base metal is showing through.
Rub the metal with a cloth. While sterling silver and nickel silver both tarnish, nickel silver can be shined fairly easily with a cloth alone. The tarnish on sterling silver comes off only by using a special tarnish removing solution and not just a polishing cloth.