How to Tell the Difference Between Silver and Stainless Steel?

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Silver and stainless steel are the two shiny, silvery metals used in jewelry. Note, however, that despite the similarities in appearance, these two metals differ significantly in their function and structure. It is, therefore important to know how to differentiate one of these metals from the other.

This article explores ways of identifying either silver or stainless steel. The identification is expected to help you choose the right jewelry for your skin while ensuring that you get value for your money. But before we look at the How’s, here is a definition of these two metals.



Contrary to popular belief, silver is more of a chemical element, and it’s merely a metal. Its chemical symbol, Ag for Argentum is the Latin word for metal. Silver is one of the rare metals out there, though not rarer than platinum or gold – making silver one of the precious metals. Silver is, however, a soft metal, limiting its use. In jewelry and industrial use, silver has several metals added to it for hardening


Stainless steel

Stainless steel is the most common type of steel. It has chromium as its main constituent which is the reason for its rust resistance. Rather specifically, stainless steel is an iron alloy with at chromium making up at least 10% of its composition. Stainless steel is harder than silver and various other metals hence the use of stainless steel industrially.

To understand just how hard stainless steel is, against silver; stainless steel ranks as a 6 on the MOH scale hence its use for medical implants, as well as body piercings. Silver, on the other hand, is super soft – it ranked as a 2.5 on the MOH scale. To understand the MOH scale (Mineral Hardness Scale), Diamond, the hardest mineral is a 10 while talc is the softest mineral with the lowest rating. Hardening silver with copper only raises the hardness of silver to 3.


So, how can you tell these metals from each other, especially when used in jewelry?

  • Generally assessing sterling silver

If you’re purchased or dealt with precious metals before, you know that precious metals come with a stamp of quality, a symbol or even a series denoting its purity, type, as well as its authenticity. While it isn’t a requirement for precious metals to bear a standard mark of quality, it’s necessary that the jewelry comes with the maker’s hallmark. The acceptable hallmarks for sterling silver are “925,” “S925,” and “.925.”

  • Listening for the bell-like ring

To know whether the ring sold to you is genuine sterling silver or not, tap it gently. Sterling silver produces a high-pitched bell-like sound/ tone that will last anywhere from 1-2 seconds. For an accurate test, consider tapping the silver piece with either a metal coin or your finger. True sterling silver produces a high-pitch ring while fakes or pieces not made of sterling silver will not generate a ring.

Just don’t ding it or dent the piece.

  • Smelling

Silver doesn’t have a smell. For this test, hold up the piece up your nose and then smell for a few seconds. If the piece of jewelry has a smell, then it means that the piece has a lot of copper. Note that even though sterling silver 925 has copper in it, it is not a lot to make the piece smell.

  • Testing its malleability

As a soft metal. Silver is a bendable/ malleable metals. So, if you’d like to test a piece, bend it with your hands. If the piece doesn’t bend, then it’s less likely sterling silver.

You can also run other tests like:

  • Running tests for oxidization

Silver oxidizes when exposed to the air – what this means is that air causes the silver to tarnish, taking on a black tint with time. You can test your sterling silver ring by rubbing a white cloth over the ring then examine the cloth. If it has black specks, then the ring is made of sterling silver or silver. Without the mark, the item is most unlikely silver or sterling silver.

  • Run a magnetic test

Just like platinum and gold, silver is non-ferrous – this means that it’s non-magnetic. So, if the piece you are testing isn’t attracted to a magnet, it’s non-ferrous.

  • Running an ice test

Silver has the highest rate thermal conductivity, which means that it conducts heat super-fast. If the item you’re testing is made of silver or sterling silver, ice cubes will melt very fast.


Testing Stainless Steel

When it comes to identifying stainless steel, you have to keep in mind that stainless steel is both heavy and strong.

Visual Inspection – stainless steel come with a specific number printed on it. The code is either printed or even wrapping steel. In common cases, however, stainless steel comes with either an AES code system or an ASTM code system on the bar. The 4-digit code guides you on the type of steel you’re dealing with.

Color – Stainless steel is a shiny silver metal. You can also check the fractures on the metal. Stainless steel’s fractures are silvery.

Magnetic properties – the other big property is that stainless steel is non-magnetic because the nickel added to stainless steel during manufacturing reduces its magnetism.

Weight – in comparison with aluminum, stainless steel is more solid, stronger, and not fragile.

You can also test the hardness of the metal by filing one end. If the test item is made of stainless steel, most of the available metal files will not affect it.

So, which of these two metals are preferable for jewelry?

Despite the differentiating tests above, you can further differentia these two metals by looking at features like:

Related Posts You might want to read:  

Zinc Alloy vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry(You Need to Know)

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Which of the two metals makes the finest jewelry

Silver is soft and stainless steel is tough meaning that it’s easier to carve words and images on silver an almost impossibility with stainless steel. When it comes to stainless steel jewelry, most of them are made in the factory and mold copies required because hand-crafting is impossible. On the other hand, silver can be hand-carved which is why most artisans deal with silver.

Which is shinier?

Even though both metals have a silver shine, silver jewelry is distinctively lighter and brighter than stainless steel, especially when polished. When it comes to shine, silver has an extraordinary charm absent in stainless steel. And though silver tarnishes with time, you clean off the tarnish.

Which is more Flexible of the two?

Silver is more flexible than stainless steel.

Which jewelry lasts longer than the other?

Although jewelry made of either material is likely to last long, constant use of jewelry, especially in toxic environments reveals that stainless steel lasts longer than silver.

Keep in mind, however, that stainless steel jewelry is heavier than silver making silver the go-to option for most people.


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