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Silver Types Explained & How to Clean

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Silver Types Explained & How to Clean

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silver
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Frequently Asked Questions About Silver

  • What is Sterling Silver?
  • What is Sterling Silver Overlay?
  • What is Silver Plate?
  • What is Pure Silver?
  • How do I know if my silver trim is sterling, sterling overlay, or silver plate?
  • How do I clean sterling or sterling overlay?
  • How do I clean silver plate?
  • Why is silver plate so much cheaper than sterling or overlay?

See Below for answers!

What is sterling silver?

Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver blended with other metals to make it firmer and to help it hold it's shape. Still, it is the softest of the three types of trim. With exposure to air sterling will tarnish.

What is sterling silver overlay?

It is a thick layer of sterling silver laid on top of a firmer metal during the manufacturing process. This makes the finished piece firmer and less prone to bending. The silver layer is thick enough that it is engraved just like solid sterling and will also tarnish with exposure to air.

What is silver plate?

Plate is a very thin layer of silver electroplated on to a thick piece of base metal. It cannot be engraved. The engraving you see on silver plate trim is actually done on the metal underneath. The plate is so thin that you can still see the engraving. 

What is pure silver?

Pure silver is just what the name suggests-- pure silver. However, in the pure form, silver is too soft to use in trim applications or even in jewelry. The only place you see it on horse gear is in inlaid bits and spurs. It is used for inlays because it can be hammered into the cuts and then engraved.

How do I know if my silver trim is sterling, sterling overlay, or silver plate?

Each type of silver must be clearly marked, but it can be marked in several ways. Sterling is typically marked "solid sterling", "sterling silver", "sterling", or "92.5." This last mark is a reference to the 92.5% pure silver in sterling. Sterling overlay can be marked "overlay", "silver overlay", "sterling silver overlay" or even "92.5 overlay." Plate is marked "plate" or "silver plate." It is against the law to incorrectly mark silver content.

How do I clean sterling or sterling overlay?

If cleaned regularly an abrasive polish is not necessary.  3 Gems suggests Hagerty's Silversmith's Spray If a non-abrasive product combined with plenty of vigorous rubbing does not work, then it's ok to resort to silver polish that has mild abrasives in it to remove the tarnish that develops over time.

How do I clean silver plate?

Silver plate must never be cleaned with silver polish containing abrasives. It is always treated with a lacquer to resist tarnish. Because the layer of silver is so thin, the abrasives in silver polish will wear through the lacquer and even through the electroplated silver. The protective layer of lacquer can eventually turn into a yellow haze.  The only way to get it to shine again is to basically remove that lacquer layer.  If warm soapy water, a soft cloth and repeated vigorous rubbing does not work, 3 Gems suggests "Hagerty's Silversmith's Spray".  Spay on, wipe off vigorously with soft cloth.  Repeat many many times over until the lacquer finish dissolves and the silver starts to shine.    

Why is silver plate so much cheaper than sterling or overlay?

The amount of silver used to make silver plate trim is so small that it can be sold much more cheaply than either sterling silver or sterling overlay.

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