If you're a fan of antiques, you probably have seen your fair share of silver collectibles. Silver jewellery, serving ware and utensils are valuable additions to any kitchen and, if you know a little back story, can even be conversation pieces at social gatherings. Silver plated items -- pieces that are composed of cheaper metals plated with silver -- are not as valuable as genuine silver and the silver plate can wear down to the base metal over time. (Reference 1) Silver plate can be nearly indistinguishable from genuine silver, however there are some tell-tale signs to help you identify silver plate.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Sterling silver or silver plate
- Jeweller loupe
- Soft towel
- Safety goggles
- Jeweller file
- Nitric acid
Look for a sterling mark. A sterling mark will read "Sterling" or may read ".925" or "925/1000," which signifies the percentage of pure silver content. However, the absence of these marks does not necessarily mean the item is not genuine silver. If there is no mark, use another testing method.
Inspect the piece for copper-coloured patches or flaking. These are indications that the silver plate has worn away to reveal the cheaper copper or brass underneath. (Reference 2)
Rub the metal firmly but gently with a cloth. If the piece is genuine silver, a black tarnish may rub off on the cloth.
File the piece lightly in an inconspicuous spot to determine if there is brass or copper underneath.
Apply a tiny amount of nitric acid to an inconspicuous area. Wear goggles to protect your eyes from splatter. The acid will turn silver plate green or black. If it turns pale, the piece is genuine silver.
Take the piece to a professional appraiser if the tests are inconclusive.
Tips and warnings
- Practice your testing techniques on an inexpensive item before testing a potentially valuable sterling silver piece.
- Store genuine silver in plastic freezer bags to insulate the pieces from humidity and airborne chemicals that cause tarnishing. (Reference 3)
- Use extreme caution when working with nitric acid to avoid injury. You may want to have the acid test performed by a jeweller.
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