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Author Topic: How can I test if something is silver plated and not solid sterling?  (Read 33407 times)
stonehill1
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« on: November 13, 2009, 11:16:19 am »

Hi! I have recently purchased some chain and charms that were marked .925 for sterling. Upon working with them, I found that they were plated. I have heard from some other friends who "play" with silver that lately they have had the same problem. Of course, we are buying from sources that have previously been very good, but now realize that the sellers are basing their purchases on the honestly of the supplier, just like we are. So, I know about testing with acid, and have heard about using Mustard or matches to test (for the sulphur in them) - all of which work on solid objects. I also use a magnet to weed out certain base metals easily. But, my question is do these methods work when the plating is fairly thick? it would seem that if the base metal was far enough under the plating, that the acid/sulphur tests would not be able to tell that the entire item is not solid sterling. And, if the base metal is not attractive to a magnet, my old standby test would not work either. Short of cutting or scratching down into the piece in question, is there any simple foolproof way to determine if what you have in hand is solid sterling or fine silver since it appears that more and more often, the .925 stamp is sadly not proof positive anymore? I believe that most of the pieces we have had trouble with have been from overseas and so I'm not sure how regulated those markets are for things like hallmarking, etc.
Any ideas you may have would be GRATEFULLY listened to!
Thanks!
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Russ Nobbs
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2009, 11:40:41 pm »

Sadly, there are problems with .925 markings as silver price goes higher and higher.
For years there have been reports of Nickel Silver goods and low silver content castings stamped .925 coming out of Mexico.

But you asked about testing....

A magnet will eliminate iron and steel. If the item is nickel plated the magnet will be slightly attracted but not as strongly as if the base is iron or steel. Nickel is often plated before plating with silver, gold or rhodium.

The best test for silver is to file or scratch the item in an inconspicuous spot and put a drop of nitric acid on it. Filing gets through any plating. Silver-plated brass, nickel silver or low quality silver alloys will turn green when a drop of nitric acid is applied because of the high copper content. Sterling will turn a creamy color. When the plating is fairly thick, filing through the plating is the only way to test with nitric acid.

I'm not sure about sulfur or sulfur compounds. That sort of thing will tarnish or darken silver or silver plate but it can also darken brass. I would not consider that a good test for silver.

For what it is worth, Rings & Things destructively tests our products any time we suspect there may be an issue.  I'd think many other large suppliers do the same. Even small suppliers, if they have the knowledge and supplies, are probably testing anything doubtful.

Is there a reason you don't or won't ask your suppliers or return questionable goods to them? If they are getting bad stock, your telling them may be the only way for them to learn the stuff is bad.
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Russ Nobbs
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stonehill1
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 10:31:35 am »

Thanks, Russ! That is JUST what I needed to know! :-) And yes, we have discussed this with our suppliers. Some seem concerned and are getting testing kits of their own to "make sure" that what they are receiving is what they are paying for. It's just sad that it has come to this. One woman I know was told by a foreign manufacturer that the 925 on his items was just a "decoration"! She sent him a copy of the law on file in the US regarding such marks but he said it wasn't that way in his country (which I believe she said was China). She is going to test her shipments from now on!
Thanks again for all the great info. I feel like I can "protect" myself a bit better now!
Anita
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Russ Nobbs
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2009, 12:12:07 am »

Glad I helped, Anita.

I think the markings have some  legal meaning in China very similar to what they mean here. And even if they meant something different, it would not be legal to import them into the US if the markings are not up to US standards. The FTC guidelines are the right place to start to  understand exactly what they mean in the us.

Let me tell you a sad story.  UK and Europe and fussier that we are in the US. We allow a little slop in the quality to allow for solder which has less precious metal to allow it to flow at a lower temperature. Some friends manufacture sterling and turquoise jewelry in Albuquerque. They use sterling and real stones. They shipped to a customer in France a package of goods marked .925. French customs decided to test some. They pull the stone and melt the piece and assay the ingot. It tested less than .925. That made it illegal to import into France. French customs ran all the jewelry through a crusher and returned it to my friends. Totally ruined!!! An expensive lesson.  Now anything they ship to Europe is stamped .800 because they know it will assay at least 80% silver.

Tell  your supplier who said that they were told the markings were decorative to threaten to report the importer to US customs based on the  FTC rules.
The FTC guidelines are on line. See http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/jewel-gd.htm
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Russ Nobbs
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