How to Tell if Silver Jewelry is Fake: 6 Tests to Try at Home
Everywhere you look – from fashion runways to Instagram feeds—bold, chunky silver earrings (like those pear-shaped drops at Bottega Veneta’s Fall 2023 show), stacked bangle bracelets and all manner of silver chains are having a moment. The good news: with silver jewelry, the price is right when compared to gold jewelry. The bad news: there’s lots of jewelry out there that looks like it’s silver but is in fact some other metal of a lesser quality.
Most of the time, the lesser metal is not going to detract much from the appearance of your jewel—it will likely present as a shiny white metal or a matte white metal with an antiqued patina (picture vintage Southwestern jewelry).
The issue is that the mystery “silver” metal content may cause your skin to have a reaction. It might mean that it’s not as valuable as an authentic silver piece (and certainly its price should reflect that). It might mean that it loses its luster more quickly, is more prone to breakage, or requires a special care and cleaning method.
These are all good reasons to check if your jewelry is the real deal. Ahead, we’ll share easy do-it-yourself, at-home tests to help you determine if the silver you own or are looking to buy is the real deal, silver plated, or another metal entirely (such as aluminum, chrome, or stainless steel, which are all used in jewelry).
What is Silver Jewelry Made Of?
Did you know that silver jewelry is rarely 100% silver? This is because silver on its own is too soft and brittle to be used for jewelry-making. To make silver jewelry more durable and less prone to scratches and dents, silver is often alloyed (mixed) with other metals, such as copper, zinc, or nickel.
The most common alloy used in jewelry is sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% another metal (often copper). Sterling silver jewelry is the best quality you can get—look for a stamp of “925” somewhere on the jewel for confirmation (more on that later in this post).
Other alloys that may be used in silver jewelry include fine silver (99.9%) and Brittania silver (95.8% silver). Keep in mind that fine silver, while lovely, is more prone to damage.
What Are The Types of Fake Silver Jewelry?
If the jewelry you’re interested in purchasing is not marketed as sterling silver, don’t be afraid to ask the seller to specify whether the metal is silver or something else. What might that “something else” be? Keep reading…
Unlike sterling silver and pure silver, silver-plated jewelry isn’t made of silver at all. In fact, it’s made of different base metals, such as brass or copper, and then painted with a sterling-silver coating. Silver-plated jewelry isn’t durable and will chip, flake and tarnish easily. If your silver jewelry is imprinted with “EP,” “EPNS,” or “Silver on copper,” you will have confirmation that it’s silver-plated and not sterling. If there are no markings at all, it’s also likely to be silver-plated.
Tibetan silver jewelry
Despite the name, Tibetan silver is neither silver nor from Tibet. Rather, this is a type of costume jewelry made from inexpensive silver-colored metals like tin or nickel. Many Tibetan jewelry pieces feature spiritual symbols and mythological animals and have a matte and muted “vintage” silver appearance.
Nickel silver jewelry
Nickel silver jewelry, also known as German silver or Alpaca silver, contains 0% silver. Rather, these pieces are formulated from a mixture of copper, zinc, and nickel. If you have an allergy to nickel, this type of silver jewelry should be avoided.
How to Test Silver at Home
Now that you have a better understanding of silver’s chemical composition, there are a number of tests you can perform at home to verify whether your silver jewelry is real or fake.
One last thing: When trying the methods below, keep in mind that they can’t guarantee 100% accuracy. So when you’re playing silver jewelry detective, leaving no stone unturned is the best approach. That’s why we recommend trying more than one test to be extra sure.
The hallmark test
The quickest way to find out if your silver jewelry is real is to check for a hallmark, or stamp imprinted somewhere on the piece (often on its underside or clasp). These markings can be numbers, letters, or symbols and may require a magnifying glass to see up close.
Check to see if your sterling silver jewelry has any of the following markings:
- 925 (i.e., the piece is 92.5% silver)
- 925/1000 (i.e., 925 parts per thousand are pure silver)
- 92.5% pure
- Sterling silver
Additional silver purity marks that indicate you’ve got the real thing include:
- 800 (i.e., the piece is 80% silver)
- 900 (i.e., the piece is 90% silver)
- 999 (i.e., the piece is 99.9% silver)
- FS (i.e. fine silver)
- 958 (i.e., the piece is 95.8 % silver)
- Lion passant, or a lion with one paw raised (for sterling made in England)
- Thistle mark (for sterling made in Scotland)
- Crowned harp (for sterling made in Ireland)
Silver jewelry that has zero markings or any of the markings below indicates that the piece is not sterling silver:
- EPNS (for electro-plated nickel silver)
- EPBM (for electro-plated Britannia metal)
- EP (for electro-plated)
- BP (for Britannia plate)
- Quadruple Plate
- Sterling Cap
- Silver filled
- German Silver
- Nickel Silver of Alpaca
Although the hallmark test is a good way to confirm the composition of your silver piece, some sketchy sellers may use a counterfeit stamp. Therefore, we recommend using this test in combination with any of the other methods below to know for certain that your silver is real.
The magnet test
As a rule, silver does not attract magnets. To perform a magnet test, you’ll need a stronger-than-average magnet, which you can find at your local hardware store.
Place your silver jewelry on any non-magnetic surface and slowly bring the magnet closer to your piece. Does the piece repel, or have no reaction to the magnet? You’ve got the real thing. If, on the other hand, the piece attracts to the magnet, it’s a silver-plated item made of other metals or one of the other “impostors” described above.
One caveat: The clasps on necklaces and bracelets will often have a steel spring in them which can attract a magnet. For more accurate results, hover your magnet over the body of the piece, not the clasp.
The ice cube test
This one’s a fun way to test your silver jewelry: place an ice cube on top of it. (Yes, really!) Silver conducts heat better than most metals, so real silver should melt ice fairly quickly.
The smell test
Do you know that strong, dingy “dirty metallic” smell that gets on your hands after you grab a handful of loose change? Real sterling silver shouldn’t have this smell. In fact, it should be odorless. So, go ahead—take a sniff and see.
The polish test
Real silver jewelry tends to tarnish and turn black. To test this theory, rub your silver jewelry with a white cloth. If no black residue appears on your cloth, it’s likely not silver.
The professional test
Want to know if your silver jewelry is real or fake definitively? Bring the silver piece to a trusted jewelry retailer who will employ professional tools and equipment to get you answers. Many jewelers use expensive, specialized equipment to conduct tests of silver and other metals that are designed to detect every metallic element present in a piece of jewelry. So when in doubt, go this route!
If you do have authentic silver jewelry of significant or sentimental value to you, the ultimate way to preserve and protect it is to obtain personal jewelry insurance through Jewelers Mutual. It’s an affordable option and covers loss, damage, and mysterious disappearances. You can receive a jewelry insurance quote in just 30 seconds by clicking the button below.