On the hunt for a beautiful new addition to your silver collection? We asked Rhett Outten, co-owner of the beloved Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, to help us in our quest for determining the authenticity of silver jewelry, as well as vintage and antique serving ware to ensure we invest in the right items—or at least know when we are purchasing something silver plated.
Sterling Silver vs. Silver Plated
While sterling silver jewelry is made from 92.5% silver, the remaining percentage coming from other more durable metals, silver-plated jewelry doesn’t have as strict of regulations. It’s made from another base metal, like copper, nickel, or pewter, and has a thin outer coating of silver, which is why silver-plated pieces are offered at lower price points. It’s also likely to reveal the underlying metal, as the silver coating can wear over time.
Unlike sterling silver, Outten says that plated silver can’t be returned to its natural state by polishing. Instead, it would have to be re-plated, which she says can be problematic. Especially if you’re looking for an investment piece of silver jewelry, it’s worth seeking out sterling silver with the 925 marking to ensure it remains valuable and ages well with you over time.
“Although sterling will tarnish, it is easily polished, and often, it is rhodium-plated to preserve a high-polish finish,” says Outten.
Outten says that Croghan’s Jewel Box focuses on sourcing sterling silver jewelry pieces for its longevity and wearability, be they antique or modern. She says that true sterling silver jewelry is marked with a 925 stamp, showing that the piece is made with 92.5% pure sterling—”about as close as you can get to a pure metal as possible,” she says. The piece may also be stamped with the word “sterling” to show its value.
If you’re on the hunt for antique or vintage silver jewelry, Outten says that different countries have various methods of proving quality and authenticity. For example, she says that antique English pieces of sterling silver jewelry, you’ll find a walking lion facing left stamped on the item, while antique Scottish pieces will have a thistle stamp and Irish pieces will have a crown heart. It’s best to do your research beforehand or connect with an expert if you’re shopping for antique or vintage pieces of silver jewelry.
“If it is not stamped, my advice is to stay away from the piece,” Outten says.
Vintage & Antique Servingware
While we love to follow Instagram accounts of amateur collectors in our area selling fun vintage and antique finds, it can be more difficult to tell a piece of sterling silver from a well-made piece of silverplate, according to Outten. She says that estate silverplate is often triple-plated over copper, making for an expensive process that was reserved for more valuable pieces back in the day, but it is rarely seen in modern finds. She also notes that plated pieces will most often feel heavier than a piece made from sterling silver.
While it may be worth hunting down a local expert to conduct a test to ensure if a vintage or antique piece is in fact made from sterling silver, Outten says that the piece’s stamps or engravings may also provide insight into its value. She recommends starting by browsing through Silver Collection’s “dictionary” of American figuremarks for U.S. made pieces or the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Makers’ Marks for pieces made in other parts of the world.
It’s important to note that it is possible to refurbish most silverplate items in the home category, though it will likely be expensive. Outten notes it’s worth considering that sterling silver serving ware can dent easily because it is softer than silverplate, highlighting that both types have their strengths and weaknesses.
“It is nice to collect smaller pieces like flatware, napkin rings, and bud vases in sterling as these are more affordable and abundant,” says Outten. “Pieces such as large trays and candelabras are often collectible even though they are silverplate just because of their size. We advise customers to buy what they love because if they love it, they will use it.”