A Guide to Metal Jewelry
Industry pros answer common questions so you can get the most for your money.
It's durable, it's inexpensive, and it looks great with basic black. What's not to love?
What, exactly, is sterling silver?
Sterling silver consists of 92.5 percent pure silver alloyed with 7.5 percent of other metals, usually copper, which makes it harder and more durable. (An alloy is a fusion of two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal.) If the silver hails from another country, the country of origin along with the silver's purity may appear on the jewelry.
What other markings should I look for?
Pieces made of sterling silver should be stamped "925" (for 925 parts pure silver per 1,000) and also with the name or registered trademark of the manufacturer.
What other types of silver are there?
Designers don't usually work in pure silver, since it's quite soft. (A ring made of it would be damaged by the slightest bump.) If you don't fancy sterling, silver-plated jewelry is a fine alternative. In the plating process, a layer of silver is bonded to a base metal, such as nickel or copper. The price of silver-plated pieces usually depends on the thickness of the silver. Thicker, more expensive layers generally last longer, while cheaper coatings can wear off.
Silver is inexpensive, right? So why are some pieces extremely pricey?
Basic machine-made pieces can cost as little as your lunch. If a piece has a higher price tag than you would expect, you're probably paying for the design (details such as gemstones and workmanship) rather than for just the metal itself. For a hand-crafted piece in gold at the same price, "you'd get something that is maybe one-tenth the size" and not as beautifully crafted, says Scott Kay, a jewelry designer in Teaneck, New Jersey. Because silver is a precious metal that's malleable, resistant to corrosion, and inexpensive, "it's the perfect playground for designers," says Kay.