There are several types of silver used in jewelry these days…Fine silver, sterling silver, argentium silver…and these are just the precious metal silvers. There are plenty of less expensive silver-colored metals that don’t contain any actual silver in them at all, like nickel. Did you know there are varying degrees of purity & strength in silver? Fine silver is the purest form of the metal. Nothing added, just pure silver as mother nature created it. It comes with a purity mark of .999FS, meaning that it is 99.9% pure silver. I think that 0.1% wiggle room is for natural impurities or contaminates from manufacturing. Fine silver is naturally soft, pliable and easy to work with. It can be heated with a torch and fused to itself without the use of solder, which makes for a much cleaner process. No pickling (a chemical process to remover fire-scale from silver after soldering or firing with a torch) is required after heating fine silver, either, because there is no copper or nickel or other metal in it to oxidize (tarnish) when exposed to extreme heat.
You may have noticed the mark .925ST on your sterling silver jewelry, or grandma’s silver. This indicates a version of silver which contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% something else. The something else is usually copper or nickel added for strength. Some older sterling might have a stamp of .95 STER, meaning it’s 95% silver. Sterling silver has a higher rate of oxidation (it tarnishes faster) because of the inclusion of these other metals in its composition. Because sterling silver is stronger, it is a better choice for rings, and other jewelry that takes a bit of a beating throughout the day like watches, bracelets and chains.
Argentium silver is a relatively new formulation of 93.5 to 96.0% silver and the metals germanium and copper combine to make up the rest of the 4.0 to 6.5%. The plus side of argentium is that it combines the strength of sterling silver with the fusibility of fine silver, plus the added bonus that it is a bright white/silver color and tarnish resistant. The only down side to argentium for me is the higher price tag. I like to use fine silver for my charms, focal pendants and earrings because of its work-ability. I use argentium silver for my signature handmade ear wires, and I let some very talented Italian engineering create the chains I buy to present my creations on.
The earrings in the photo above are a great example of the way I combine silvers in my jewelry. The circles I made by fusing fine silver (.999FS) wire and hammering the texture by hand. The ear wires I made from argentium (.960AST) silver wire, so they are a bit stronger & will keep their shape better than fine silver wire would. I have been using this wire for ear wires for a few years now and all my customers have been very happy with them. I have also never heard back from anyone about any kind of allergic reaction caused by the argentium wires…another added bonus. If you have questions about different degrees of silver purity in an item you are purchasing, look for the label or stamping and remember, the higher the number, the higher the purity of the silver:
Fine Silver = (.999FS)
Argentium Silver = (.935AST) or (.960AST) *Argentium brand silver stamped with a tiny unicorn.
Sterling Silver = (.925ST)
I hope this was helpful!