For those “born with a silver spoon in mouth,” sterling versus silver-plated makes quite a difference. To the untrained eye, the two may be difficult to tell apart as they might seem almost identical. Outside of taking a piece in for appraisal, there are characteristics you can look for to differentiate between the two.
The “plating” in silver plating comes from the process of coating a base metal such as copper, nickel, or pewter in a thin layer of silver. These items are often labeled “EP” or “EPNS” and have a notably lighter color than sterling silver. While plated items tend to be more durable, they are also heavier due to the base and the silver might come off over time due to wear. Silver plating is more affordable but has no real silver value and very little resale.
Sterling silver is made of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals like nickel or copper. Authentic pieces are certified by having a numeric value like “925” or “.925” stamped in the metal. These stamps also certify the silver was made in Europe and is accompanied by a small, stamped image – usually of a big cat of some sort. Sterling silver is a bit softer than plated, making it easier for details to wear over time. While sterling is more expensive, it often has a high resale value.
Tests can also be performed if you are still uncertain that the item is silver at all. Silver has a weak magnetic effect, so if the magnet reacts strongly the piece is not silver. Although other metals may not be magnetic, so this test is not full proof. Ice can make for another useful test. Silver items will become cold in under a minute if you place an ice cube on them. Also, if you have another metal present, this can help differentiate coolness and timing.
If there is still uncertainty, the most accurate way to test your silver items is by getting them appraised by an expert.