Sterling silver is the pretty much the standard used in silver jewelry today. It is a beautiful, durable material that is high prized by its owners. The word sterling is said to come from Easter ling in Germany which was said to be the source of sterling silver centuries ago. It’s composition is also said to have been formalized in England.
Contrary to popular belief, sterling silver is not pure silver. Pure silver is usually referred to as fine silver. Pure silver is relatively soft. To give silver more durability when used in jewelry, it is combined with an alloy to change its physical characteristics. The most common metal with which silver is combined is copper. The composition of sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
The care of sterling silver jewelry is quite easy. It can tarnish to a dark gray appearance after being worn or stored for a while after exposure to oils and salts in the skin as well as contaminants in the air (primarily sulfur). The speed with which it will tarnish varies. Sometimes it occurs within a few days and sometimes a longer period will elapse. Tarnish can be cleaned off with a polishing cloth. There are also a variety of silver cleaners (liquids or pastes) that can be purchased even in local grocery stores.
In some cases, a green color may appear where the sterling silver ring is worn in the same way that a gray color may appear from tarnish. This is a result of the presence of copper in the sterling silver alloy. This color may occur less frequently as the copper near the surface of the ring is depleted.
Silver is a wonderful metal. It’s luster and malleability make it perfect for jewelry. Silver has only one problem, tarnish. Anyone who has had to clean a silver item where tarnish is in the advanced stages knows what a problem it can be. Tarnish starts as a yellow tone, and can advance to a blackish purple coating that proves very hard to remove.