Silver comes in many forms. There is pure silver, sterling silver and silver plated. But what is the difference? Do you know? If not, then read on! This post will explain it.
Pure silver or fine silver is 99.9% --100% pure. Very few items, if any, are pure silver as it breaks, bends easily and is very malleable. Items that are pure silver are marked with ".999" or ".999 fine silver" or "999." Platters, candlesticks or jewelry made from pure silver would easily warp and owners would be unhappy.
Silversmiths and others who manipulate silver add usually add copper, though some countries may add other material. And this silver and copper mixture is sterling silver How much copper is added will depend on what is being made.
92.5% silver has 7.5% copper and is industries standard for sterling silver. The little bit of copper makes the silver harder and more resilient to change. Sometimes there is less copper and it is 95% silver with 5% copper. Both of these are considered "silver." Most jewelry and silver items are made out of one of these. ".925", ".950" and/or "sterling silver" (or any variation) will be marked on the silver item to designate how much the silver to copper ratio is. (Silversmiths, companies and artisans will often stamp their work with their name as well.)
Some items, you will find, have 90% silver with 10% copper. This is generally used for bigger items like platters, bowls and candlesticks. The 10% of copper gives the silver the sturdiness it needs and does not detract from the beauty of silver.
Silver-plated items have a thin coat of silver around another metal, most often copper or brass. This is done through electro-plating and the machinery for the job is quite expensive. It also makes the silver very difficult to extract once it has been plated to an item. Also, there is no mark on the item to identify it as silver
Side note: Silver-plated items also smell different. They have a "bitter" or "a bit of a sour" smell to them while sterling silver and pure silver tends to have a "sweet" smell to them. But this is not a fool-proof test an item with a very heavy or thick silver plate will smell like sterling silver. The best test is with acid. A silversmith will make a small scratch on the item. Then a drop of acid is placed on the scratch. if the acid turns green, then it is silver-plated. It the acid turns light brown, it is silver.