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Knowing What You are Getting When you Buy Silver

October 1, 2022

jewelry from legacies in Cincinnati

Silver is malleable, ductile and harder than gold. At Legacies Upscale Resale, we sell utensils, tableware and jewelry made of pure silver and silver alloys.

Three common types of silver customers ask for in a vintage jewelry store are Italian Silver, Mexican Silver, and Regular Silver.

Italian Silver

“Italian silver” or “Italian sterling silver” is not a type of silver; the term refers to its craftsmanship. Italy has a long jewelry-making tradition, and its jewelry is highly valued around the world.
In 1870, the government developed a system to help identify the maker of each piece of silver jewelry. Each stamp included a number to indicated the purity of the silver and a symbol, initial or a full name identifying the maker of the piece.

The system was changed with the arrival of the Fascist party. The new government 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.

The system was updated again in 1968 when the 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.

Mexican Silver

Mexico is one of the world’s leading producers of silver. Taxco is Mexico’s city most linked to fine silver jewelry and objects. In the 1700s, rich silver deposits were discovered here. Today, travelers from around the world visit Taxco for silver purchases.

Although standards vary, most Mexican silver is .925 (92.5 percent) pure. Purity ranges from .925 to .999 and is often stamped as such. It may say, “silver made in Mexico” or “Mexico silver.” Some Mexican silver features an eagle stamped into it with a number designating where in the country it originated.

Regular or “Pure” Silver

Silver, known also as pure, regular or fine silver, has a silver content of 99.9%. Because of its high purity, fine silver is too soft to be used in jewelry and other items, so it is often mixed with other metals to make it harder.

Sterling silver is an alloy created when copper is added to pure silver. Usually, sterling silver has a purity of 92.5. It is used to make body jewelry, belt buckles, cuff links, bracelets, necklaces and rings. Other silver alloys used in jewelry include vermeil and Britannica silver. Vermeil is an alloy of gold, sterling silver and other metals. Britannica silver alloys are 95.84 percent silver with 4.16 percent copper.

Sterling silver was developed in Europe as early as the 12th century. It was used in the United Kingdom in coinage and trading before spreading to the US, Canada, Australia and other British Empire countries from the 19th century to the mid-20th century.

The silver content of silver pieces from various countries:

  • French 1st standard silver has a millesimal fineness of 950. The French 1st alloy is 95% silver and 5% copper or other metals.
  • Scandinavian silver alloy contains 83% pure silver and 17% copper or other metals.
  • German silver will be marked with a millesimal fineness of 800 or 835. Generally, items simply marked “German silver,” “nickel silver” or “Alpaca” have no silver at all, but are alloys.

Our Volunteers Can Help You Find What You Want in Silver

Legacies sales clerks may not always know exactly where a silver piece came from, but we can help you discern pure silver from sterling.