The first thing you should know when buying sterling silver jewelry or accessory is that an authentic sterling silver contains 92.5% of pure silver and 7.5% of alloy or metal. This is because some manufacturers make use of silver plating, which has more alloy than pure silver specifically on the surface of a supposed sterling silver product to make it look real. Thus, if a product has more metal or alloy, it has lesser quality since it has lesser silver. Consequently, other factors should also be considered in determining authentic sterling silver products from fake or silver plated products.
In order to discern whether your sterling silver item contains 92.5% pure silver, it should have markings on the metal. Some of the most common markings include “925,” “Ster,” “Sterling Silver,” or “Sterling.” Most often than not, markings are found in clasps of sterling silver jewelry or bottom of other sterling silver products. Sometimes markings could be very small and so you have look for it carefully. Otherwise, if your sterling silver product does not have markings, it is most likely silver plated or fake.
If you are just about to purchase a sterling silver product from a retailer, you can ask the merchant to test the product with nitric acid to make sure it is authentic. Nitric acid is a poisonous liquid acid with strong oxidizing factors. An industrial chemical like nitric acid is able to discolor a silver item with high copper content. You can ask the merchant to test your product or you can do it yourself if you prefer. Prior to testing, you should wear protective gear such as goggles and gloves as nitric acid could irritate or even damage your skin with only a single drop. When you are ready to test your silver product, use a dropper and add nitric acid to a small area that cannot be seen when you are done with the test. Say, if you added nitric acid in the back part, it should turn creamy in order to consider it authentic sterling silver. On the other hand, if the back part turns to green, better call or go back to the merchant and have it replaced with an authentic one. Better yet, ask for a refund since it is more likely that the merchant is selling fake or silver plated items only.
Another way to test if your sterling silver product is authentic is by using a magnet. Gold, silver, and platinum are not supposed to be magnetic. As such, since sterling silver has high content of pure silver, the magnet should not attract it. If the magnet attracts your sterling silver product, it does not have any silver value at all. Some people can identify the authenticity of a sterling silver product through its weight. If you have a product that is guaranteed authentic, compare it to the product that you are testing. If it has the same weight, it is probably authentic. However, it is best to check the authenticity by following the first 2 tips.