What Does 925 Mean on Jewelry?
When buying new jewelry, you want to make sure that your jewelry items are genuine. Not only is this helpful for your own peace of mind -- so that you know your fingers won’t turn green after a while -- but it is also a sound financial decision. Being tricked into purchasing fake silver jewelry can mean that you will ultimately end up spending more money later on to purchase the genuine sterling silver piece you had initially intended to buy. This 925 Jewelry Guide will help you determine genuine jewelry pieces vs jewelry items that are plated or filled. If you see “925” on jewelry, it means that the base metal is sterling silver, regardless of its outer layer or appearance. For more information, check out our Gold Filled Vs Gold Plated blog, and our Complete Guide: Pros and Cons of Gold Plated Jewelry.
In this complete 925 Jewelry Guide, you will learn:
What is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is a silver alloy made with copper and other metals to create sterling silver. To be considered sterling silver, the item must contain at least 92.5% silver, which is why sterling silver is stamped with “.925.” The metal alloy composition of sterling silver makes it harder than pure silver and less likely to scratch the pure silver, but still fairly easy to scratch. Regarding color and appearance, sterling silver can range from a bright white appearance to a gray white, and can have a matte or shiny finish.
What is an alloy?
Metal alloys are compounds composed of at least 1 metal and other metal or non-metal elements. The end result is an impure substance or mixture of chemical elements that retains the characteristics of metal. The composition of the metal determines the characteristics or properties of the metal (e.g. its strength and corrosion resistance). In a metal alloy, there is usually a primary base metal, and the name of this base metal can also be the name of the alloy. For instance, a silver alloy contains copper or nickel, though it is simply called “silver.”
Some examples of metal alloys are:
- Brass. Zinc + Copper
- Bronze. Tin + Copper
- Rhodium. Copper + Tin + Zinc + Nickel
- Pewter. Tin + Copper/Bismuth/Antimony
- Red Bronze. 80% Copper + Deoxidizers
What causes silver to tarnish?
Silver jewelry items are known to tarnish. The reason for this is because the metal alloy (usually copper) reacts to oxygen, sulfur and moisture in the air. When copper oxidizes in the air, a build up occurs on the outer layer of the sterling silver piece. Though tarnishing can be seen as a bad thing, it is a sign that the silver item is genuine sterling silver. To keep your sterling silver jewelry looking new:
- It needs to be regularly polished with a special cloth or dipped in a jewelry cleaning solution
- Keep the jewelry items in tarnish preventative bags
- Store them in a cool, dry place
- Contact with certain materials (e.g. cosmetics, hairspray, perfume, deodorant, body lotion, bleach, etc.) can speed up the tarnishing process. So, put your sterling silver jewelry on after you have applied any of these materials and keep away from bleach
- Before putting on your jewelry, use soap and water to wash the areas where your silver jewelry will touch your skin. Make sure your skin is completely dry before putting silver jewelry on.
How to prevent tarnish on your 925 sterling silver jewelry?
Try these products:
What is 925 Silver?
925 silver is sterling silver. The 925 stamp on jewelry is a hallmark found on silver jewelry and is used to denote the silver item is sterling silver, or 92.5% silver. 925 sterling silver means that the composition of the silver is 92.5% pure silver. The remaining 7.5% is composed of alloy metals, usually copper or nickel.
Sterling Silver vs Silver
The silver purity is determined by the amount of precious metal (i.e. silver) within the alloy mass. To denote silver purity levels in jewelry items, the percentage of silver is commonly displayed as a decimal.
- 99.9% purity: .999 [fine silver, pure]
- This is the closest metal to the pure element of silver. The remaining 0.1% is composed of insignificant trace elements. In appearance, this fine silver appears more dull and gray than .925 sterling silver. It is very soft and will dent, scratch, or change shape very quickly. Because of this, it is not often used for jewelry items. However, the benefits of fine silver are that it is easy to form and is highly resistant to tarnish. It is best used for earrings or necklaces, rather than bracelets or rings which are bumped more frequently.
- 92.5% purity: .925 [sterling silver, alloy]
- This silver purity is the color most recognized with the “silver color.” 925 silver is the silver standard in the US and most world markets. The remaining 7.5% is usually copper, but can be nickel. This silver is bright and shiny, but can dent, scratch, and tarnish easily.
- 90.0% purity: .900 [alloy]
- This alloy was once common in the US and was composed of 90% silver and 10% copper. This silver (also known as coin silver) was named because it was made from refined scrap coins.
- 83.5% purity: .835 [alloy]
- 835 is the purity hallmark of European silver, which contains 83.5% silver and 16.5% copper. The stamp “835” imprinted on silver is used to denote the silver items were produced in the countries of Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal.
- 80.0% purity: .800 [alloy]
- Silver with an 800 grade value is a silver alloy containing 80% silver and 20% other metals.
What is 925 Gold?
Sometimes, when buying gold jewelry, many people don’t realize the “925” stamp. It can be easy to overlook this small hallmark and is only realized when the outside gold layer wears off or the underlying metal core peaks through. Many people have said that the 925 on gold jewelry means that the item is made of 925/1000 parts gold, or 92.5% gold. However, this is false. 925 is not an accepted value for gold purity and it has no connection to karat hallmarks, which denote gold purity. When the 925 hallmark is seen on jewelry where the outside appears to be gold, this is gold vermeil jewelry. 925 gold means that the jewelry item is gold plated with a 925 sterling silver base.
What is Gold Vermeil?
Gold vermeil jewelry is a specific kind of gold plating, in which the base metal is .925 sterling silver. To create gold vermeil, a .925 sterling silver jewelry item is coated with a thin layer of gold that is at least 10 karats and 2.5 microns thick. To be legally called “vermeil,” the item must have a gold thickness of 2.5 microns and the coating must be over a sterling silver base.
In gold vermeil jewelry, the gold layer can range from different levels of gold purity (e.g. from 10 karat to 24 karat). The choice of gold purity for the gold layer determines the color of the gold vermeil piece: a 10K gold vermeil piece would be a lighter, more subtle yellow, whereas a 24K gold vermeil piece would have an intense, deep yellow color.
To know what is gold vermeil and what isn’t, there are two options:
Filled vs Plated vs Solid Metal
In general, the process of plating is a piece of jewelry (that is made from a certain metal or alloy) is covered or coating with a layer of another metal. For the most part, plating of jewelry items is done to enhance the look or appearance of a piece of jewelry, not to fool buyers. A gold plated jewelry item typically has a base metal of copper or sterling silver with a thin layer of gold on the top. (Note: if the base is sterling silver, this is gold vermeil!) A silver plated jewelry item usually has a base metal of copper, brass, or nickel with a thin coating of silver on the outside.
So, what is the process of plating?
After the item is prepared, cleaned and rinsed (this can include stripping, polishing, sandblasting, tumbling, ultrasonic cleaning and steaming), a strike layer or flash layer is applied with a direct electric current. By using a direct electric current, the base metal and the coated metal partially dissolve, which creates a bond between the two layers. By creating a chemical bond, the plating is a permanent addition to the surface of the base metal.
However, the top coated layer can be worn off after months or years of use, since the top layer is so thin. The coated metal layer that is applied is generally less than 0.05% of the entire piece. When compared with filled jewelry, plated jewelry has a thinner coating.
Filled jewelry is similar to plated jewelry, except that the outer coating is much thicker, and so, these jewelry items tend to last longer and be more valuable. For example, there is almost 100% more gold in a gold filled item than in a gold plated item. Filled jewelry is regulated by the government and it is required by law that the gold layer (for gold filled) must be at least 5% of the total weight of the piece. The core metal for filled pieces is generally brass.
There are single clad filled pieces and double clad filled pieces. A single clad gold filled piece has all the gold content in a single layer on one side. A double clad gold filled piece splits the gold content between both sides of the item. Using heat and pressure, the outer gold alloy coating is then bonded to one or both surfaces of the base metal.
Solid jewelry is not the same as a jewelry with 100% metal purity level. A common misconception is that if the jewelry item is solid gold, then it is 100% gold (24K). The same goes for silver jewelry: sterling silver does not mean 100% pure. Solid jewelry means that the jewelry piece does not have an outer coat or layer that would change its appearance. Solid jewelry is usually made from alloys, since a lot of metals used for jewelry are too soft in their natural, pure state to retain a shape.