Sterling, Fine or argentium?
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Visually there's very little difference, however the properties and content of silver to other metals differs. Fine silver (also known as pure silver) is made up of 99.9% silver, making it very soft to work with and too soft to be wearable. it's generally used by jewellers for bezels (the collar around a stone) as it's easier to push over the stone. It wouldn't however be used to make earring posts as they would bend with a light touch.
Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. The copper content gives the silver strength, making it more durable, however it has its downsides. Copper reacts with lots of things. The air around it causes tarnish, as does contact with chemicals. That can be as simple as using a spray bleach which will leave unsightly black spots on your silver or forgetting to remove your jewellery when swimming. It's not an exact science, and to be honest I have never removed my silver jewellery before swimming, however this year is the first time a pool has turned my necklace black. I guess it depends on the amount of chlorine used but to be on the safe side I would always recommend removing it.
Argentium is a relatively new alloy of silver, discovered in the 1990's. Instead of mixing 92.5% silver to copper, argentium is 93.5% (or 96%) mixed with metalloid germanium, giving it a brighter whiter look to it, much like rhodium plating. Argentium is rapidly growing in popularity amongst jewellers but is still relatively unheard of at consumer level. This is despite the company working hard to educate the public. From a makers point of view the positive properties of this new alloy are huge, Firstly it doesn't tarnish. Omission of copper means no risk of green fingers and no tarnishing, even if left unworn in a box for years. A curse of all silversmiths is the dreaded fire stain. This is where overheating the metal brings the copper content to the surface leaving an unsightly grey mark, much like a shadow on the silver. This is most noticeable when the piece has a high polish and the only way to get rid of it is to either give the entire piece a silver plating or literally file and sand it away. This is not only time consuming but depending on the depth of the fire stain this can distort the piece. As argentium has no copper content there's no fire stain to contend with, saving hours of laborious sanding!
Another great use for argentium is on items not designed to be worn. My range of Christmas decorations have been made with argentium, with the knowledge that they will only be used once a year. Who wants to go to their Christmas box and find their lovely keepsake ornament has turned black!
Rest assured in terms of hallmarking your argentium piece will bare the standard sterling silver hallmark. the silver content is higher than sterling, therefore it already exceeds the standard requirement.
Argentium is currently 10% more expensive than standard sterling silver, but with the promising properties it holds, it's more than worth its weight in ….silver.