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What is Difference Between Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver?

Written by Serena Norr
February 16, 2018

Silver and stainless steel are both used in jewelry because they are both shiny, silvery metals when they are polished, but the similarities end right about there.

Silver is a precious metal. It is rare, but not quite as rare as gold or platinum. Along with gold and platinum, silver is considered a precious metal. It’s also a metal used in making coins, or a coinage metal. Other coinage metals include gold, copper, bronze, lead, zinc and nickel.

Like pure gold, pure silver is too soft to be worn every day, so it’s usually alloyed with another metal to make it stronger. However, fine, 99.9% silver is used for earrings, which aren’t subjected to the wear and tear of jewelry pieces such as rings or bracelets. Read on to learn more about the different types of silver and stainless steel, below:

Stainless Steel vs. Silver: What are the Differences?

What is Difference Between Stainless Steel vs. Silver?

1. Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent copper alloy. Sometimes a person will see 925 or “Sterling” stamped on a piece of silver jewelry to let them know that it is sterling silver. Argentium silver is a type of sterling silver with the addition of germanium, which makes the metal even harder and tarnish-resistant.

2. Silver Plate

Silver plate is pure silver that’s put over another metal such as copper. Though it sounds like a modern technique, silver has been electroplated over baser metals since the 1830s.

3. Coin Silver

This type of silver ranges from 89.2 to 90 percent pure silver. These values were set by the U.S. Mint for making silver coins after the War of Independence. Another type of coin silver, .900, wasn’t used for coinage but was made from leftover coins.

4. Venetian and Nevada Silver

These are solid alloys of silver and nickel, but do not have as much pure silver as silver plate. If a person asks, “What is silver?” one of the wrong answers is “nickel silver.” Nickel silver is not a type of silver. It’s an ally pf copper, nickel and zinc. Another non-silver silver is tribal or Tibetan silver, which may contain no silver at all and may even have toxic metals such as lead.

Different countries and different types of silver have their own standards. A buyer can tell the purity of the silver by the hallmark stamped on it. The hallmark system used in England has been in place since the 14th century and is somewhat complicated. American hallmarks are far simpler. Silver plate has yet another system of codes.

The problem with silver, if it is a problem, is that it tarnishes very easily. A silver dinner service will tarnish just from the perfectly normal levels of sulfur in the air. The good news is that the tarnish doesn’t damage the silver and can be polished to its initial brightness in an afternoon with a soft cloth and special silver polishing paste.

Silver jewelry should never be placed in plastic bags but should be stored in flannel bags to prevent tarnishing. These bags are easily found in jewelry stores.

All About Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a kind of steel, which itself is an alloy of iron and carbon. Chromium is added to stainless steel to make it corrosion-resistant. When chromium reacts with oxygen it produces a transparent skin that protects the steel from rusting. The percentage of chromium that makes steel stainless is at least 10.5 percent. Other metals that can go into making stainless steel include titanium, nickel and molybdenum. Stainless steel does not have to be polished until it is blindingly bright but can have a soft, attractive matte or satiny finish.

People may wonder if there is any difference between the stainless steel that goes into making jewelry and the stainless steel that goes into constructing buildings. The answer is probably not. The stainless steel used most often for jewelry is 304 or 316L. Both have chromium and nickel, while 316L also has about 3 percent molybdenum. Both types of stainless steel are used in construction, and 316L is the same stainless steel used for making prosthetics such artificial hips. It is the stainless steel of choice for people who’ve just gotten their ears or other parts of the body pierced. These types of steel are also austenitic, which means they are non-magnetic and can withstand very high temperatures besides being corrosion resistantand strong.

Despite its great strength, stainless steel is quite ductile and malleable and a good choice for certain types of jewelry. Stainless steel jewelry does not have to be plated, so most wearers will not have an allergic reaction even though it does contain small amounts of nickel. This is good news if the jewelry is going to be worn throughout the heat and humidity of the summer, when skin reactions are at their worst.

Because it is as tough as it is, stainless steel jewelry doesn’t need pampering. Wash it in warm, soapy water, rinse it thoroughly, and let it air dry on a clean towel. Place it in its own soft bag so it doesn’t scratch and isn’t scratched by other pieces of jewelry.

We hope this article helped you to better understand what the differences are between stainless steel and silver.

Looking for more editorial features? Check out our latest post on What is the History of European Jewelry?

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Heidi Bookenstock

I know my boyfriend is planning to propose to me soon, so I’m doing a little research on the type of ring I would want. I don’t know too much about jewelry or the materials used to make it, but I know that silver and stainless steel are common. This article is very informational, I like that stainless tell doesn’t require a great deal of care, and can be washed with soap and water.


I am a jewellery designer and have always used sterling silver. I want a different price point so looking inTwo stainless steel I have noticed some designers use ion plated stainless steel is that necessary? Or is it just a fancy way of saying stainless steel?


Hi Jenn,

Stainless steel is the base metal. Ion-plated stainless steel is stainless steel treated with particle vapor deposition (PVD). It’s basically the difference between plain, silver-colored stainless steel and colored stainless steel (like those black men’s rings on the market)

Dawn Warren

“Well-Written” & very informative. Saved me from ruining my Silver jewelry!! (Replacing my Ziploc bags w/Flannel.) Thank you!