Silver is a highly popular choice for jewellery and antique items. If you are looking to buy or sell silver, then you should learn how to test silver. We should note that almost all silver items you’ll find are actually made from sterling silver, which contains 92.5% silver. Sterling silver is still real silver, and actually improves the durability and practicality of the metal.
If you are looking to test silver jewellery or other items yourself, there are many methods you can try at home. Some can be done with typical household items, but others like the magnet test or acid test may require some shopping. Either way, these tests won’t cost you much and can be done quickly. Ok so, how do you test silver? Let’s find out below.
How Do You Test Silver Overview:
- How To Tell If An Item Is Made Of Real Silver
- How To Spot Fake Sterling Silver
- How To Tell If Something Is Silver Plated
How To Tell If An Item Is Made Of Real Silver
There are various ways to tell if an item is made of real silver. Check out some of the ways to test silver below!
1. Look For Hallmarks And Mintmarks
The first way to test silver is to check for hallmarks. This isn’t technically a test, but it’s certainly the easiest way to discern real from fake silver. Hallmarks are the small engravings you can find on the inside of silver rings or on bigger antique pieces. These marks act like tags telling you who made the piece, what it was made from, and sometimes even when it was made. Most often you will see a maker's mark which is almost like a signature of the maker, and a quality mark that indicates the amount of silver in the piece.
If you can’t make out the hallmarks or you still aren’t sure, then try one of the methods below to test your silver.
2. Ice Cube Test
Research tells us that silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any metal, meaning heat will pass through silver quicker than copper or gold. More importantly, this means silver will conduct heat much faster than other white metals, like aluminium, zinc, tin or nickel.
The ice cube test makes use of silver’s thermal conductive properties. How do you test silver using an ice cube? Here’s how you can try it yourself:
- Take two ice cubes of similar size and place one on the test item, and the other on a different metal object. These objects should ideally be flat (if not, we’ll cover that after) and have a similar amount of contact with the ice cubes.
- Observe which ice cube melts faster. If the ice melts faster on the test object, then it is most likely silver or sterling silver. This is because the silver will transfer heat through solid contact noticeably faster than any other metal.
While this test may be great for silver coins or other large objects with flat areas, it’s not so practical for jewellery. Luckily there is another way you can work the ice cube test.
For jewellery, try this similar method:
- You’ll need to find a piece of jewellery as close to your silver piece as you can, both in terms of size and shape. If you are going to test a ring, see if you have a similar ring made from another metal. You should aim to have the same amount of surface area in contact with the ice cube for a fair test.
- Place two ice cubes on a surface that won’t conduct much heat, like wood, plastic or ceramic. This stops other metals from interfering with the test and should be easy to clean up.
- Take your test piece and non-silver piece and place them on top of the ice.
- Watch as your item melts the ice and creates a jewellery shaped indent into the cube. If the test piece is silver, it should create a deeper cast than the other jewellery piece in the same amount of time.
Pure silver has weak magnetic properties and won’t respond to powerful magnets. The same is true for sterling silver as the alloy is often completed with copper, another non-magnetic element. While the weak magnetic properties of silver prevent you from sticking to your fridge (okay, this probably isn’t a real problem), it also helps you identify real silver from the fake.
This test can give you a great idea of whether your piece is silver plated with a magnetic metal core or not silver at all.
Silver is a naturally tarnishing metal which means you can find smudges and spots after some wear. This is easily cleaned with warm soapy water, or resisted by rhodium plating. This property can also be of use if you are trying to determine real from fake silver, as many other metals used in jewellery or homeware don’t tarnish.
In this test, you’re aiming to create a small spot of tarnish on your piece using a bleach solution. If you are trying this on jewellery, do it on a spot that won’t be seen when you wear it. Again, you can clean this spot with a cloth and some soapy water after — but it pays to be careful.
Put a small drop of bleach on your chosen space, and the spot should immediately turn a black colour if it’s made from real silver. This shouldn’t take any longer than a few seconds. If the spot doesn’t tarnish, or takes too long, then the item likely isn’t real silver.
The bleach test can be a little messy, so make sure you have a container or empty sink to try this in. You should wear some older clothes or gloves, too. It’s important to be careful when using bleach, as contact with the liquid can irritate the skin.
If you want to know how do you test silver in the most accurate way, the acid test or ‘scratch test’ is the best method. This test is more precise than the others, but will require you to buy a silver testing kit. These kits can be bought online and shouldn’t set you back too much.
If you already own or are planning to buy a silver testing kit, it’s important to use it carefully so you don’t damage your jewellery or antique. A silver testing kit will usually come with gold and platinum tests too, but you will be using the silver test solution and provided test stone.
You might also have heard that vinegar is a good alternative for the acid test, but this is an unreliable and inaccurate method. You are much better off investing in a silver testing kit, as you will be able to reuse it for any other silver you are unsure about.
How To Spot Fake Sterling Silver
Almost all silver jewellery you buy is made from sterling silver. By no means does this mean your item is fake, though it does mean it contains less silver content than fine silver. Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver, and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper, tin or zinc.
The easiest way to spot real sterling silver is by checking the hallmark. This is found usually on the inner parts of rings, and in other places that won’t be seen when the jewellery is worn. Hallmarks that read ‘Ster’, ‘Sterling’ or ‘925’ tell you the piece is sterling silver. If you spot other hallmarks, it might be best to look them up online. If you are still unsure if the piece is proper sterling silver after finding a hallmark then you can try some of the tests you’ve read on this list.
All of the tests listed above will work on sterling silver. The acid test in particular works great for sterling silver, as you should be able to tell how much silver content is in the jewellery piece based on the resulting colour. Unfortunately, this means you will have to find a place on the jewellery that you are okay with scratching. Though this shouldn’t leave much of a mark, as always it's good to find a spot that won’t show when you wear it.
How To Tell If Something Is Silver Plated
If you check your jewellery or antique and can’t find a sterling silver hallmark, then it could be silver plated. Generally, silver plating is more common in antiques than jewellery, but it’s still worth finding out the make of your jewellery if you aren’t sure.
Silver-plated items do in fact contain real silver, but only a thin layer. The inner part of the piece might be made of copper, brass or even steel.
A good way to tell silver plating from sterling silver is in appearance. Silver-plated items will likely have a lighter colour to them, as the surface is almost entirely silver. Sterling silver, however, can be slightly darker which tells you there are other metals in its composition. Sterling silver should also feel lighter than silver plate, as the white metal is light and airy, and a copper or brass core would add more weight.
One of the best ways to tell the difference when shopping for silver is by checking the price tag. Silver-plated items have less precious metal content and are usually cheaper than sterling silver. If the price seems too good to be true, maybe you should try some tests.
It’s best to try a combination of tests if you’re looking for silver plating. You may find a difference between sterling silver and a silver-plated piece in the ice cube test as the higher silver content in sterling silver should melt the ice faster. You could also try a magnet test - but be careful, a copper or brass inner core won’t react to a magnet either. This method would however work for silver-plated steel, so it’s worth checking.
Finally, you could try the acid test. This would be the most accurate method, though you will have to scratch deeper into the item to test its inner composition. Any other metal will show a different colour to the silver content and signify a silver plating.