Silver plating, or silver electroplating, is the process of depositing a thin layer of silver on a base metal, such as copper, nickel, etc. This procedure was first developed in the 1830s and is now widely used due to its low cost and wide array of benefits. These include improving conductivity, preventing corrosion, protecting against radiation, and most prominently, to decorate jewelry. Two types of silver are most popular for electroplating: plated silver and sterling silver. This article discusses which one is better for whom, how to care for silver plated jewelry, and whether silver plating is better than stainless steel.
What Does Silver Plated Mean in Jewelry?
Silver plating, as mentioned, is essentially coating a metal with a layer of silver. The thickness of this coating is measured in microns (1 micron is approximately 0.0001 centimeter) and can range between 1-40 microns. For jewelry, this range is restricted to 1-10, with the average being around 2 microns. One of the main determinants in buyers’ choice between sterling silver and pure silver is the cost. Plated silver is significantly cheaper because it is not nearly as pure as sterling silver. The latter is 92.5% pure, with the rest consisting of other metals. While the former is often a combination of copper, tin, nickel, etc. This ensures that sterling silver-plated jewelry retains some trade-in value after purchase, while plated silver often contains too little silver to be worth much over time.
Plated silver might trigger nickel allergies for some people, who essentially have no other option but to save and go for sterling silver. This usually entails suffering from an itchy rash. To the naked eye, the difference between the two is hard to distinguish. But a handy tip is that plated silver has a lighter color than its alternative. Plated silver jewelry is also heavier than sterling silver due to the base metal underneath, which can be a crucial factor when purchasing items like earrings.
The easiest way to tell the difference between the two: Look at the labels on the jewelry. Sterling silver is usually marked by ‘.925’, ‘925’, or simply ‘sterling’, while the other carry “EP” or “EPNS”. Furthermore, sterling silver in Europe is usually hallmarked. When making expensive purchases, looking for the label and comparing the jewelry piece with other options is the best way to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
Is Silver Plated Good Quality?
As mentioned earlier, a piece of jewelry made of sterling silver is much more valuable than just simply plated silver. There is an even more valuable type of silver, called fine silver, which is 99% pure. This is the purest silver can be but unfortunately, it is too soft to be used in jewelry.
The quality of the silver plating also depends on how thick the coating is. Besides the additional silver, a thicker coating can provide complementary benefits depending on the jewelry piece. Overall, silver plated jewelry is of fairly good quality for the price that you’ll pay for it, but if you’re looking for something that’ll last you years – you should opt for an actual silver piece instead.
Does Silver Plated Jewelry Tarnish?
Yes, silver plated jewelry does tarnish over time. However, silver plated jewelry is more durable than sterling silver due to the base metal, but the latter is easier to clean. There are a number of things one can do to prevent their silver-plated jewelry from easily tarnishing:
- Take off your silver jewelry for tasks that require you to come in contact with liquids and chemicals. This includes household chores, gardening, bathing, etc.
- The lesser you wear your jewelry overall; the slower the plating will fade. This is because of the oils in our skin that degrade the silver layer.
- Keep jewelry of the same metals/plating in the same container.
- Sulfur is a big cause of silver losing its shine and turning black. To minimize exposure, store your jewelry in airtight containers with some anti-tarnish paper.
- The thinner the plating, the less time it will last. Make sure to choose the appropriate thickness level while electroplating your jewelry.
- Avoid polishing or cleaning your silver jewelry excessively. This can cause unwanted wear and tear that could corrode the plating faster than normal.
Is Silver Plated Better Than Stainless Steel?
The answer to this question ultimately comes down to one’s individual preferences. Stainless steel has a number of advantages over the silver. It is hypoallergenic, which means that one runs no risk of skin irritation by wearing it. Stainless steel is also much harder than silver. The former scores around a 5 on the Moh’s scale, while silver is less than 3. Stainless steel doesn’t tarnish either and will remain good for a hundred years if maintained properly. Plated silver, even with good care, will likely only last for around twenty years.
Other advantages of stainless steel include its price. It is generally much cheaper than silver and is resistant to corrosion. This means that one need not worry about overusing stainless steel jewelry. Daily use does not have the same degrading effect on stainless steel as it does with plated silver. This also means that one need not stress over improperly storing and caring for their stainless steel items since they can take a fair amount of rough and tumble.
The main advantage that silver holds over stainless steel is its shiny, royal appearance. The former has a duller look, and that can often be the deciding factor before making a purchase. Silver also holds a greater trade-in value in case you decide to exchange your valuables, and can make for a good investment for the right person.