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Nickel, German, & Sterling silver - What is it?


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I've searched the archives and found Nickel, German, & Sterling silver are names that are kicked around without definition. Here is some clarification.

Fine Silver is 99.9% silver

Sterling Silver (Established by England in 1300) is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals (various formulas but, mostly copper). Sterling is often stamped .925.

US Coin silver (1964 and earlier) is 90% silver 10% copper.

950, 925, 900, 850, 800 are various stamps used through the years in different countries. The number refers to the parts per 1,000 that are fine silver.

Nickel Silver is a copper alloy (Copper Alloy Nos. 730-779 incl.) — Copper alloys containing nickel and zinc, formerly sometimes called German Silver. These alloys are primarily used for their distinctive colors which range from yellow to silvery white.

That is the jeweler side of me comming out!


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This is good information to questions that come up often. I used to wonder why bows were not marked with 925. It is my understanding that you have to have a registration hallmark to stamp your silver. There is a legal requirement to register a hallmark and it costs money to register. You cannot legally buy a stamp and start marking your silver without being registered. A jewelry supply house can provide a chemical kit to use in testing silver vs. nickel fittings. You need to test a known sample of silver and then compare the reaction to your piece in question. However, the test might cause some surface staining. With experience I think you can do a fairly accurate visual comparison and not mess with a chemical test. You can also drop the ferrule on a hard surface and listen to the difference in sound compared to a nickel ferrule.

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