Monday, July 23, 2012

Argentium, sterling & fine silver...what is the difference?

As promised...this post is to inform my customers and viewers what the difference is between argentium, sterling and fine silver...there really is a difference!

As most people know "Sterling Silver" does tarnish after time!  How fast silver tarnishes depend on the makeup, how it is stored, how often it is worn and where you live, as with all silvers.   Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% another metal, usually copper; it is copper that contributes to sterling silver tarnishing faster than fine silver.  This is due to the exposure to the sulpher in the air, which is caused by pollution, and other sources of sulfides. During the tarnishing process it starts out as a yellowing effect, eventually going dark.   I've used sterling silver since 2007 and my experience has been some silver products tarnish much faster than others...which is why I consider the possibility that the makeup of some silver has more copper… my silver items are stored in the same place in the same manner!   I've made a point to purchase my sterling silver from one supplier whose product I’ve never been disappointed with.  

For the most part, since I began working with argentium and fine silver, I use sterling silver for ear wires and wire wrapping…last year when the silver prices were so high I chose to use silver sheet until we saw a bit of a decrease in price, then went back to argentium silver.

"Fine Silver" is 99.9% pure silver, with generally either copper or titanium to give it what strength it has but I find it too soft for large pieces.   It is brighter and shinier than sterling silver and a dream to fuse.  It will tarnish but slower than sterling silver and it will generally be a discoloration rather than a dark tarnish as in the sterling silver, unless it is in an area where there are high pollution and sulpher levels, then it is more likely to be darker.   Thankfully it is usually easier to clean fine silver than sterling silver.  It is a favorite of mine to work with which is why I've been using fine silver since 2009.   When I first began working with fine silver I tried a few solid sheet pendants but unfortunately from my experience, fine silver is truly too soft to use in this manner.   Now I use fine silver all the time to make hammered rings, earrings and circle/irregular pendants...generally I use 16 gauge wire and smaller for these items, once hammered they are nice and hard.  I will often combine it with argentium silver in my pieces.

There are other metals which can be added to silver instead of the copper, such as germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as additives such as boron and silicon.

The germanium is the additive in Argentium Sterling Silver ...this is sterling silver that has some of the copper replaced with a metalloid Germanium. It is the copper in sterling silver that contributes to the tarnish with exposure to air.   Argentium sterling silver is highly tarnish resistant, purer, brighter, and eliminates fire scale when using a torch...a dream come true as most of us dislike the tarnishing aspect of sterling silver!  
 If you would like more information regarding the wonderful Argentium sterling silver check out the website here...

Argentium silver and fine silver are more expensive than sterling silver but I prefer to use these products.  Having said that… I enjoy working with all three silver products and while I prefer one over the other for particular reasons I will always work with all three…now added to the line up is the new silver filled wire that I began using this spring. 

Feel free to ask a question, leave a comment or pass along topics you would like to see discussed regarding jewelry, stones, silver etc.   If I don't have the answer I will do the research and present my findings in a post. 
Watch for a new post every Monday...
NOTE:  this is a remake of a post I did in 2009.


  1. Thank you for this very useful information, especially about Argentium. I have not worked with it, and I will check out the link you have provided.

  2. Great information Heather and I love all your pieces, I'm drooling over the bracelet.

  3. I always wondered what made silver tarnish! Such an interesting post today, thank you! (thanks too for the advise about Etsy!)


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