Silver jewelry has many different terms to describe it, so remembering what they refer to is not always easy. What is the difference between fine silver and coin silver? Is sterling silver more refined than argentium silver? Does Britannia silver and Italian silver refer to the place where the silver or the jewelry is made?
Types of Silver
First, it is important to understand that the silver used in jewelry is not pure silver but an alloy of silver with other metallic elements. Many of the familiar terms refer to the percentage of silver in the alloy.
For instance, fine silver is the closest to pure silver, containing 99.9 percent silver. It is actually not common in jewelry because it is too soft and scratches easily.
Sterling silver, also called sterling .925 silver, is an alloy of 92.5 percent silver. Sterling silver is the recognizable bright, shiny silver and is the type that is most commonly used in jewelry.
Argentium silver is a brand of non-tarnish silver alloy that like sterling is usually 92.5 percent silver. The difference between argentium and sterling silver is that thanks to the other metallic elements added to it, argentium is more resistant to tarnish than sterling silver. Argentium is also typically more expensive than sterling silver.
Britannia silver is a type of silver that was developed in Britain and is a 95.8 percent alloy.
Italian Silver Is Not a Type of Silver
The term “Italian silver” or “Italian sterling silver” does not refer to a type of silver. Instead, it refers to its craftsmanship. Italy has a long jewelry making tradition, and its jewelry is highly valued around the world.
After the unification of Italy in 1870, the government developed a unique system to help identify the maker of each piece of silver jewelry. Each stamp typically included a number to indicated the purity of silver (e.g. .800) and a symbol, initial or a full name identifying the maker of the piece.
The system was changed at the beginning of the 20th century with the arrival of the Fascist party. In 1933, the new government regulations required the number indicating the purity to be stamped within an oval. Each silversmith was assigned a number, and the maker’s mark now looked like a lozenge with cut sides. In addition, the governing party now required them to include the symbol for ‘Fasces,’ an axe bundled with Birch sticks, in the identification system. This symbol was removed from the system after the fall of the party in 1944.
The system was updated again in 1968 when the original lozenge-shaped mark of the maker was modified to look like a rectangle with pointed sides that included a five point star to its left. The mark of purity still appeared within an oval.