Silvertone jewelry, often confused with sterling silver or silver plate, is a costume jewelry meant to give the illusion of silver without the cost. Extremely popular, silvertone can be seen on products from off-brand earrings to designer and celebrity jewelry lines. Because it is not actually silver, it requires different methods of cleaning and care.
Silvertone jewelry has the look of silver but contains no actual silver metal. Compared to sterling silver jewelry, silvertone jewelry is less expensive and less long-lasting. It is made by dipping a metal piece of jewelry in a silver-looking substance that coats and hardens as a top layer. Silver plate, another silver look used in jewelry, can contain as little as 5 percent actual silver in a coating used over another metal.
Silvertone jewelry can be made from a variety of metals and the quality varies greatly between combinations. However, it is always considered costume jewelry. Over time, the silver-colored coating on jewelry will wear off, exposing the usually copper-colored base. Depending on the base metals used, silvertone jewelry can rust or turn a wearer's skin green. Silvertone jewelry can be re-dipped in a silver-colored solution to regain its silver appearance.
Unscrupulous jewelry dealers have tried to market silvertone jewelry as actual silver. The best way to avoid being scammed is to look for a piece's hallmark stamp. Silvertone jewelry typically has no hallmark. Silver plate may be stamped SP or EP. Only sterling silver jewelry, which contains 92.5 percent silver, may be stamped 925.
Because of the amount of copper and other metals used in the base of silvertone jewelry, it has a tendency to turn the wearer's skin green. This can be avoided by applying clear nail polish or a skin protectant sold by jewelers to whatever part of the piece touches the skin.
Because of the fragile nature of the jewelry's silver-colored coating, it cannot be cleaned using an ultra-sonic cleaner, silver polish or a chemical jewelry cleaner. Avoid rubbing or scraping as this can remove the silver coat. Use a soft cloth, warm water and gentle soap if necessary.