From The Bench

Sterling Silver vs Silver Plated A Guide to Telling the Difference

Many sellers of beads and findings represent their items as sterling silver, gold-filled, or copper. When the product arrives, they are plated.

Here is a guide to help you find remedies to determine what you got. So, is it .925 silver or just plated??


Procedures to determine real versus plated items:


Determining Sterling Silver:

Fire Assayed The best and most reliable test. The items in question are melted, and the silver content is assayed. Unfortunately, not a viable method for most people.

PRICE A good indicator is the price being asked for the items. Is the item priced in an area you think would be a reasonable price for real sterling silver? Let”s say $3-4 per gram. If a lot less cost probable, not the real Mccoy.

To ascertain this, you would need to know the weight of the item. An example would be, say someone is selling a 19mm sterling silver bead for $3-4.

That bead weight is the area of 6 grams. There are 31.1 grams in a troy ounce, $26.00 an ounce silver is now 83 cents a gram wholesale in lots of 100 Troy ounces.

Six x.83 per gram =4.98 x .925= 4.60 is the scrap value of silver in that weight bead. Someone is selling these items at a little under 1/5 the raw silver cost to make them. Do you think it is silver of silver-plated based on these costs? I would say yes.

You would be foolish not to mortgage your house and buy everything you could and scrap the beads at one of the many smelters. You could generate a king’s ransom is a short time following this business model.

Magnet test. Silver is paramagnetic. Meaning it will not snap to a magnet passed over it. See this video for a great demonstration. As explained, if the item snaps to the magnet, it is probably plated. If it reacts as in the video, it is likely to be silver.

Color: Silver plated items are much shinier than sterling silver. Sterling is less silvery with a colder tone to it that plated items.

Polishing Rubbing sterling silver on a white cloth will produce a black streak where the sterlings oxidization rubs off. You will get no streak from a plated item.

Vinegar Proported to be accurate, just scatch the metals surface and put a drop of vinegar on the scratch. If the metal turns black, it is likely to be plated.


Determining Gold-Filled:

Unfortunately, there is no home test to determine if an item is gold-filled.

Your choices are as follows,

Fire Assayed The most reliable test, but not viable for most people, and the test object is destroyed in the process.

The price Test is a good indicator. If those gold-filled items are dirt cheap, they are likely plated. Current law requires gold-filled items to be at least 5% real gold. So using the silver example earlier, look at the weight of the item to make your determination.

Acid test While unpractical for most people, this method puts a drop of acid on the jewelry. If the gold disappears immediately, is it plated not so with gold filled jewelry.

Electronically A method where an electronic device tests the thickness of the gold. Jewelers may or may not have this equipment, but owning one is not in most people’s budget.


Determining Real Copper:

Color: Look at the color. Copper has a reddish-brown hue while plated items will be lighter in color.

Salt and vinegar Clean the item. Rub a mixture of salt and vinegar on the bead. Copper will turn green when it oxidizes.

Magnets Copper is diamagnetic. A strong magnet will appear to levitate or repel pure copper.

These methods may or not suit your tastes for determining plated versus real metal. It does offers guidelines on how to proceed if you are concerned about your beads or jewelry quality.

I use the magnet as I have a powerful one on my workbench, and it works quite well.


The best way to make sure of your beads and jewelry quality is to buy from a reputable source of which there are many.

Please contact us if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for reading!

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