Silver and Its Evil Twins

Wire Wrapped Jasper Cabochon with
Argentium Sterling Silver
Silver colored jewelry can come in many forms. Take note, ask questions, and be a wise consumer. 

Sterling Silver
Sterling Silver is beautiful and used by excellent jewelers everywhere. Unfortunately it harbors a few secrets. 925 Sterling Silver is so-called because it is made of 92.5% pure silver. The remaining 7.5% is mostly copper and also includes trace amounts of some other metal. This additional metal is needed to act as a hardener, because pure silver and copper are too soft to be useful in jewelry on their own. This trace metal may be indium, lithium, boron, tin, zinc, platinum, or it may be nickel. 

Argentium Silver
Like the Sterling Silver we have used for years, Argentium Silver contains 72.5% pure silver.  It also contains copper, but some of the copper has been replaced by Germanium. The Germanium acts as a hardener, so there is no need to used other unidentified metals. This metal also has the effect of making the silver relatively tarnish-proof. It is considered safe for nickel allergy sufferers.

Palladium, Fine Silver, Platinum
These beautiful metals are also safe for nickel allergy sufferers, though be careful that they are not plated with something that may contain nickel. They can be quite expensive, but if you can afford them, go for it.

White Gold
Gold, like Silver, is always an alloy when made into jewelry because pure gold is too soft to keep its shape. I will discuss gold in general at a later time, but because of its silver color, White Gold gets a special mention. Whether gold is yellow, pink, green, or red, it gets its color from a combination of the pure gold and the metal it is alloyed with. White Gold gets its color from Palladium (which is fine), or from Nickel. If it is alloyed with nickel, even your very expensive wedding band can begin to give you a rash. In addition, White Gold is sometimes plated with Nickel to give it that nice “shine.” For these reasons, nickel allergy sufferers are generally advised to pick another metal.

German Silver
German Silver, also called Nickel Silver, contains no silver at all. Its silver color comes from a combination of  nickel, zinc, tin, and lead. Please take note that it is contains not only NICKEL, but also LEAD. It is not safe to put on your skin if you are a human being.

So what’s all the fuss about nickel? For many years nickel has been used as a standard hardener to alloy with softer metals, or used as an inexpensive plating to give silver that extra shine.  Even though it is now known as a common allergen, completely rooting out of the jewelry industry is not such a simple thing. At least until our consumer laws defend us better, it is up to the buyer to be educated and wary. 


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