A guide to sterling silver: Composition, origin, and style

A great piece of Sterling Silver jewelry is an essential part of any woman’s wardrobe. Silver is distinguished as one of the three noble metals, along with gold and platinum, because it is exceptionally resistant to erosion and oxidation—even under high temperatures. While many gravitate to this cool-toned metal for its durability, it’s the cool, goes-with-everything hue of silver that keeps us coming back for more. 

In every era and style, Sterling Silver has been there, from charm bracelets in the early aughts to the Art Deco-inspired brooches worn by the flappers. It’s hard to imagine a more enduring accessory in fashion and style quite like Sterling Silver, and that’s where its appeal lies. Sterling Silver jewelry is a classic metal that’s been a major part of fashion trends for decades—and it's showing no signs of slowing down. 

Whilst the majority of Lightbox's lab-grown diamond jewelry is set in gold, we have a few styles that use sterling silver, like our adorable minis collection, with sterling silver’s understated richness pairing perfectly with the brilliant sparkle of our lab-grown diamonds. Style it with everything from a simple white tee and distressed denim to more glam going-out top. Our jewelry adapts to the many facets of your style.

Understanding sterling silver vs silver

Sterling Silver is an alloy of pure silver containing 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent a mix of other metals, usually mostly copper. Pure silver, also known as three nines silver, is 99.9 percent silver, with the 0.1 percent remaining coming from trace impurities.

Silver was first mined in Turkey around 3000 BCE, and it’s been an iconic design element in jewelry ever since. Today, a majority of the world’s silver comes from Mexico, China, and Peru—but its popularity spans the globe. In its pure form, silver is inherently a soft metal that is scratch-prone but affordable, especially when compared to white gold or platinum. 

In most countries, in order for silver to be called “silver”, alloys must contain at least 92.5 percent pure silver. Silver, in its pure form, is unsustainable in jewelry as it is soft and pliable, which can lead to nicks, scratches, and dents—and who has time in their busy life to worry about damaging their jewelry? 

The Sterling Silver metal alloy makes the material easier for jewelers and craftsmen to work with, which is why it’s used frequently in home decor items like platters, picture frames, and silverware. Sterling Silver is a popular metal for everyday jewelry due to its endurance and brightness that can withstand daily wear and tear. Put simply, it makes diamonds pop and when set against our vibrant blue and pink colored lab-grown diamonds, it adds just the right amount of sparkle.

What is a sterling silver stamp?

If you’ve ever noticed the number 925 stamped or hallmarked on the inside of a ring or bracelet, it represents the percentage of pure silver, and it’s a mark that the piece is Sterling Silver. Sterling Silver must be 92.5 percent pure silver and a maximum of 7.5 percent other metals. This is especially helpful to know if you’re shopping for used or vintage jewelry.

Pure silver is stamped 999. Older non-jewelry items like cutlery and coins might be stamped with the number 800, indicating that it is 80 percent pure silver.

Does sterling silver tarnish?

Yes, over time Sterling Silver can tarnish. But overall, and with regular care, this low-maintenance metal will stay shiny and bright for generations to come. 

There’s a common misconception that more wear equals more tarnish when it comes to sterling silver, but our quality control experts agree that you can don your beloved Sterling Silver pieces without fear of tarnishing. Keep in mind that exposure to elements like salty air, sulfur, and chlorine creates tarnish more than daily activities. 

Our jewelry care advice is to leave your Sterling Silver at home or safely stowed away if you go to the beach, hot springs, or for a dip in the pool. It’s best to find a cool, dry spot that’s air-tight to store your baubles when you’re not accessorizing. If you’re traveling, consider a moisture-free Ziploc bag for your Sterling Silver if you don’t have a dedicated jewelry pouch.

Rhodium plating and sterling silver

While it’s most common with white gold jewelry, rhodium plating is often used in Sterling Silver, too. Think of rhodium plating like a top coat of nail polish on a fresh mani: It prevents chips, keeps it looking shiny, and guards against scratches. Rhodium is a durable precious metal—more precious than gold, in fact—and part of the platinum family. It’s a hypoallergenic metal that is tarnish-resistant and hard-wearing. Rhodium is what gives a band or a bracelet its shine, thanks to its bright white color. All Lightbox silver jewelry is rhodium plated.

Our quality experts love rhodium plating because it increases luster, shine, and prolongs the life of the jewelry. Every Lightbox lab-grown diamond that is set in sterling silver is hand-checked to ensure it has a high shine, even surface coating, and a perfect polish. Jewelers can re-rhodium pieces if the plating wears thin or chips, which is something that can happen gradually.

How to clean sterling silver

Ready to reclaim that out-of-the-box shine? Here’s how to clean Sterling Silver jewelry at home. Day-to-day care is relatively minimal and mostly consists of preventative tips rather than regular maintenance. Should you find your Sterling Silver tarnishing, use a polishing cloth (bonus if it’s microfiber) and firmly rub the jewelry until the shine returns. 

After you’re satisfied with the cleaning, don’t forget to follow up with the correct storage techniques to help keep tarnish at bay. Repeat with all of your stunning Lightbox sterling silver and enjoy! 

As you can see, sterling silver is an essential element in nearly every Lightbox lab-grown diamond piece of jewelry. While our lab-grown diamonds always shine bright, we want their settings to sparkle, too. Want to learn about our other metal types? Here are factual-yet-fun guides to rose goldwhite gold, and white gold vs yellow gold.

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