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What is "REAL" Sterling Silver and How Consumers Have Been Misled Their Entire Life

There is a ton of information out there about silver: sterling silver, pure silver, does it easily tarnish, does it not? Well, in this blog, we’re here to give you the REAL scoop! 

Sterling silver is not as pure as pure silver, but it is not far off. Sterling silver is a metal alloy. This means that sterling silver is a combination of metals instead of just one single metal. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% alloy - other symbols are “925” or “.925”. 

STerling Silver Stamp

Sterling silver is easier to shape and is used more when creating jewelry. Sterling silver is very delicate and can easily tarnish. Many consumers claim that “real sterling silver” does not tarnish, however that is fairly inaccurate.

The FTC does not require jewelry stores to disclose if or what plating has been applied to sterling silver. It is a very common practice for big box jewelry stores to not disclose their plating on a sterling silver piece of jewelry. Therefore, it has misled customers into thinking that a piece of jewelry does not tarnish if it is “real” sterling silver. 

According to the Statement of Basis and Purpose: Proposed Revisions to the Jewelry Guides, "The silver section includes general guidance regarding surface applications, but does not discuss coating terms in detail. Among other things, Section 23.6(a) states it is unfair or deceptive to misrepresent that a product has a silver plating, electroplating, or coating.59 Section 23.6(d) states it is unfair or deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise represent all or part of a product as plated or coated with silver, unless all significant surfaces contain a silver plating or coating of “substantial thickness.”60 2) Comments In response to the 2012 Notice, four commenters raised issues concerning precious metal surface applications.61 After reviewing these comments, the FTC published a Federal Register Notice on May 6, 2013, announcing a June 19, 2013 roundtable and soliciting additional comments.62"

"Commenters generally concurred that discrepancies among the various terms for coated products have confused industry members and consumers alike. However, commenters disagreed whether amendments would help sellers avoid unfair or deceptive practices and, if so, what form the guidance should take."

So, unfortunately, many jewelers can still "get away" with falsely misinterpreting the type of silver they use for their jewelry. 

Some items are known as “sterling silver plated” items. This means that the piece itself is coated with another metal. The added durability means it won’t get  damaged as quickly by everyday use and normal wear and tear. Whether a piece tarnishes or not (and how quickly) is 100% because of the plating. REAL sterling silver tarnishes if not cared for properly. With bare sterling silver you CANNOT sweat, wear perfumes/lotions, go near or in water, wash your hands, wash your dishes, etc, or it will tarnish quickly. As a disclaimer we do NOT sell "sterling silver plated" jewelry.   

At PaulaMax, we put a thick coat of rhodium over our jewelry BECAUSE most people don't have the time and/or patience to take their jewelry off and therefore will ruin their piece. We use a rhodium which gives it that smooth shiny white gold color LOOK. In the 6 years we've been doing this and over 100,000 orders later, we've only had to warranty 3 pieces ever for "tarnish". We always include a free 3 year warranty on all metals and stones on our sterling silver rings and necklaces.

Kate Lowery

Kate Lowery

Kate Lowery is a writer for PaulaMax Jewelry. She has written a lot of content over the years on various topics, but has found a passion for jewelry along the way. When she is not writing, you can find Kate riding her horse or swimming among the waves of each coast of the U.S.

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