November 11, 2022

Here at Muzeum, we see a lot of silver. People bring us their unwanted jewellery, tea sets, flatware, coins, and other silver items all the time. We are professional gold and silver buyers, and we pride ourselves on our transparency with our customers.

When you want to turn your silver into cash, we offer the best prices guaranteed. To help you prepare to sell your silver, we want to take up a common question: how can you tell the difference between sterling silver and silver plated items?

It can mean a significant difference in value between two items, and we want to make sure you’re familiar with what you have before you bring it in.

Sterling Silver vs. Silver Plated

First, let’s talk about the difference between these two types of silver items. When you first glance at silver flatware, a teapot, or jewellery, the untrained eye likely won’t recognize any difference, but it has a significant impact on resale value.

Sterling silver is an alloy that contains 92.5% pure silver. The remainder is usually copper, which is included to give the precious metal hardness and durability, as it is usually a very soft and easily-damaged metal. While coins and sometimes jewellery can have higher purities, the extra durability of the sterling silver alloy makes it a popular option for items like flatware, jewellery, and objects that are meant to be used, unlike fine silver coins and bars.

Silver plating is a process in which a silver coating is applied to a cheaper base metal such as copper, nickel, or pewter (an alloy composed of tin, bismuth, copper, and other metals). The layer is thin, and while it gives an item the look of something made from silver, it will not have the same kind of resale value that fine or sterling silver would fetch.

What Is Fine Silver?

Unlike sterling and silver plate, fine silver is 99.9% pure. This is the purity used in many bullion products, including Silver Maple Leaf Coins made by the Royal Canadian Mint. While some coins around the world formerly used different standards, today, most have switched the composition of their coins to fine silver.

Without the benefit of another metal to provide more durability, these products are more prone to dents, scratches, and other damage, but damage is not necessarily cause for concern. Coins and bars are meant to be stored somewhere safe and not handled that often. Even if coins or bars are damaged, their resale value won’t be affected unless they are also collector’s items.

How to Tell the Difference Between Sterling Silver and Silver Plate

Before you sell your silver, you want to know what you’re bringing in. It will help prepare you for what to expect when it comes to pricing, and there are several ways you can identify what it is you have at home.

#1 The Hallmark

The easiest way to tell the difference between sterling silver and silver plated objects is to check for a hallmark. There should be a mark like a stamp or a hallmark on your tea set, flatware, or other objects that you believe are made from silver. This is a mark made by the manufacturer and may tell you who made the piece, as well as what it is made of. These marks originated in Medieval England and have been used on silver products for centuries as a guarantee of the quality of the product.

Sterling silver products should say “sterling,” “sterling silver,” or the numbers 925 in some variation. The number refers to parts per thousand, referring to the fact that the alloy is 92.5% pure silver.

If an item is silver plated, there are several common hallmarks to look for:

  • Silver plate
  • EP (electro-plated)
  • EPNS (electro-plated nickel silver)
  • EPBM (electro-plated Britannia metal)
  • BP (Britannia plate)

However, not all silver plated items have a hallmark. The lack of a hallmark altogether may be a good indication that the item is not sterling silver.

For items like sterling silver flatware, the hallmark can usually be found on the back of the handle, while larger items like candlesticks, plates, bowls, tea sets, and mirrors will likely have a hallmark on the bottom or on a handle.

A sterling silver hallmark

#2 Magnet Test

Besides looking for a hallmark, the magnet test is a quick way to rule out whether or not there could be silver in an object. Silver is a non-magnetic metal, so if you take a magnet to the object and it sticks, it means the object is made of a different metal.

Unfortunately, the magnet test is only a starting point. Other non-magnetic metals include gold, aluminum, copper, brass, and lead. Brass, a common alloy used in silver plated items, is also non-magnetic. A lack of magnetism will not tell you anything definitive.

#3 Flakes and Discoloration

You may be able to tell whether a piece is sterling silver or plated based on its wear and tear. If the item is flaking, you may be able to see if the flakes reveal another metal underneath.

Discoloration is not necessarily a bad thing. Silver naturally tarnishes, and this would be a sign that the object is real silver. Silver tarnish begins with a yellowish colour that turns black as it ages and thickens. However, if you notice a different type of discoloration, such as red, it’s a sign that there’s likely copper in the base metal, and the item is silver plated.

#4 Have Your Silver Evaluated

The easiest way to tell if your items are real silver is to bring them to Muzeum. We will evaluate your items right in front of you. We use an XRF machine to test the precious metal content of any piece. We can determine the precise alloy breakdown of any piece you bring us without damaging it. Once the purity has been determined, we weigh the piece right in front of you and calculate our payout. We pride ourselves on transparency, and our expert evaluations are free.

#5 Avoid Acid Testing Kits

A little bit of research online will quickly turn up silver testing kits and chemical analysis tests as a way of testing the silver purity of your belongings. An acid test or chemical analysis test works by applying nitric acid directly onto the metal. If the area turns white, you know it’s fine or sterling silver. However, you’ve simultaneously damaged the piece. If it’s an antique or vintage piece, any damage like this could harm the resale value.

There are much easier ways to identify silver that do not involve damaging the piece. Don’t risk the value of your silver. Instead, bring your silver to a buyer whom you trust to give you an honest assessment and offer a fair price.

Is It Silver? Identifying Silver Objects in Your Home

As you accumulate gifts, heirlooms, and purchases you’ve forgotten the details about, it can become a struggle to identify what’s real silver and what just looks like the metal in your home. Let’s take a look at common sources of silver in your home and how you can identify the metal that they’re made from without causing any damage.

Antique Silverware

When it comes to silverware, the quickest way to see if it contains real precious metals is to look for a hallmark or imprint. Usually, the maker will have left a mark showing who made it. The mark may not be conspicuous, so you may need a magnifying glass to find it. Alongside the imprint should be an indication of the silver content, such as “sterling,” 92.5% or 925.

The other question is whether it really is antique silverware or just old. The value of heirlooms can often wind up exaggerated as they’re passed down. Antique silverware should be over 100 years old to qualify as antique. It should show signs of wear, such as a patina, acquired exclusively through age.


Real silver jewellery should have an imprint telling you what it’s made from. The imprint can be very small on items like rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Look in places that aren’t meant to be very visible when the piece is worn. Sterling silver should have an imprint that says “.925” or “925.” You may even want to look with a magnifying glass to make sure you don’t miss it.

Not all jewellery has a stamp, and if it’s missing, have it evaluated or try other ways of identifying the metal.

A ring made from sterling silver with a black stone

Pocket Watches and Wrist Watches

If you think you have silver wrist watches that you want to bring in, you may want to double-check the materials used. A “silver watch” usually describes the colour or tone, not the metal it’s actually made from. It’s far more likely that you’re looking at stainless steel or white gold.

Silver is rarely used in watches because of how it tarnishes. The combination of exposure to natural air and human skin means that a silver watch would tarnish rapidly. It would need frequent polishing or quickly lose its appeal.

The good news is that a watch can still be valuable even if it’s made from stainless steel, especially with the right designer name. Stainless steel is becoming even more popular than gold at the high end. As stainless steel rises in popularity, so does the second-hand market for luxury brand names. Don’t despair if your watch doesn’t actually have any silver in it.

What Do Silver Buyers Want?

What are we looking for when we buy silver? When it comes to most pieces, we are looking at the weight and purity of a piece. The price we offer depends on the quantity of silver you bring in. We do not purchase silver plated items.

Sometimes we’re brought an antique or vintage piece that has a higher resale value than the metal content alone. We often work with rare collectibles, and it’s our goal to bring such rare and unique pieces to the right buyer.

If you’re not sure about the silver contents of a piece, bring it to Muzeum and take advantage of our free, transparent evaluations.

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