Stainless steel and sterling silver are 2 popular metals that are used for making jewelry, both of them are shiny and have that alluring silver look. They look similar when polished and you may fail to distinguish them.
Unless you take your time to study both stainless steel and sterling silver, the chances of buying a wrong piece of jewelry will be pretty high.
After reading this article, hope you can find the answer about wheather stainless steel or sterling silver is better for jewelry, or better for you to wear.
1. What's Sterling Silver Jewelry?
Sterling silver is a common name in the jewelry industry. It ranks among the most valuable metals for making jewelry.
In our daily life, silver always refers to pure silver or fine silver, which means the jewelry is made of 99.99% silver. The marks stamped on these pure silver jewelry are usually S999.
However, the soft nature of pure silver makes it difficult to be used in making different shapes of jewelry, so a lot of jewelry on the market is made of 92.5% pure silver and the remaining 7.5% is for other metals such as copper or nickel among others. These jewelry usually are named sterling silver jewelry.
The alloy form is strong part and durable, which can increase the hardness of the jewelry and create a variety of jewelry shapes. Sterling silver jewelry is usually engraved with identification marks such as 925, S925, 92.5% or sterling silver.
You may like to check our S925 Sterling Silver Jewerly Series. And you might like to check more marks stamped on the jewelry in this post: The Secret Behind Those Symbols Stamped On Jewelry
2. Which Stainless Steel is Best for Jewelry Making?
Sainless steel is a popular metal that is used for heavy duty applications thanks to its physical strengths. Some of these applications include construction, automotive, biomedical, kitchenware and jewelry.
You may like to check our stainless steel jewelry series.
The monochromatic finish in the never-ending beauty are some of the reasons why stainless steel is used for making jewelry.
Stainless steel is a type of steel alloy that contains iron chromium and nickel, other metals are added to enhance the strength of the material, but in jewelry industry, we normally use stainless steel which contains chromium.
There are mainly 2 common types of stainless steel used in jewelry. They’re grade 304 and grade 316, we always mark them as SS304 or 304L and SS316 or 316L.
Is 304 or 316 Stainless Steel Better for Jewelry? 316L stainless is probably the best general purpose corrosion resistant or “stainless” steel within the several austenitic types. It has somewhat higher nickel content which is the basis of it’s superior corrosion resistance.
Due to the addition of Mo (molybdenum), there is further improvement in corrosion-resistant properties. The quality of 316L stainless is attained as compared to 304 SS. 316L stainless steel will retain a lustre longer after polishing and interaction with your body chemistry.
Consequently, 316L stainelss steel is better choice for jewelry. And the price of SS 316 is generally higher than SS 304.
3. How to Tell the Difference Between Sterling Silver and Stainless Steel Jewelry?
Regarding the differences between stainless steel and sterling silver, we will be comparing some aspects of them, such as durability, scratch resistance, tarnishing, laster weight, cost, etc.
3.1 What is More Durable: Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver
A piece of stainless steel jewelry will rarely bend, dent or even braid, it is hard enough to resist any amount of external force.
As we know that pure silver is soft, it is not a very durable metal. So in sterling silver jewelry, we usually add some copper to ensure that the jewelry is lasts longer. Thus stainless steel is more durable than sterling silver.
However, don't assume that sterling silver is not durable enough, it is just less durable in comparison to stainless steel.
Because of its durability, stainless steel is more scratch resistant. But it doesn't mean that the sterling silver is not scratch resistant, it is just less scratch resistant than stainless steel.
Here you should be noticed that it is difficult to resize jewelry that made of stainless steel, for example, rings are difficult to change their size, you have to take into consideration many issues, such as embedded crystals and engravings before you change the size of the jewelry.
3.2 Which is More Lustrous: Sterling Silver or Stainless Steel?
How about the luster? Stainless steel is less lustrous than sterling silver. The appearance of these two metals is dramatically different even if at first glance. They may look the similar, but they are not.
If you are a jewelry expert or a jeweler, you will definitely know when somebody is wearing a silver jewelry or somebody is wearing a stainless steel jewelry. But again, that doesn't mean stainless steel is a bad metal, it is just all about your personal preferences.
3.3 What Tarnishes More: Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver
Tarnishing is a phenomenon where a piece of metal loses its original luster due to exposure to moisture and air. You may wonder that: does sterling silver or stainless steel tarnish?
Yes, both of these two metals will tarnish with time, whether it's sterling silver or stainless steel. They still will tarnish, it's a matter of time, but in comparison, sterling silver will tarnishes more than stainless steel. Stainless steel jewelry will retain its original luster for a longer time than sterling silver.
Since the metal jewelry will tarnish with time, it's obviously the matter of how you will look after your jewelry. And you can also easily get rid of it at home after you find them tarnish, and it will almost look like new.
3.4 Can You Shower with Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver Jewelry?
Stainless steel is durable and resists corrosion and oxidation, so generally it is okay to shower with your stainless steel jewelry. You're safe to shower with it, but taking a regular shower or getting some tap water and soap on your jewelry is fine.
However, sterling silver can tarnish if exposed to certain elements, such as water, air or chemicals. Thus, it is best to avoid wearing your sterling silver jewelry in the pool, in the shower, even if it's a saltwater pool, regular pool, a hot tub, in the ocean...
As we know, metal will erode over time whether that's sterling silver or gold filled or even solid gold. Most people do wear precious metal jewelry in the shower, they also might wear this jewelry when they go swimming.
There's a lot of chemicals that are added to our regular water supply, and there's also obviously chemicals added to chlorine and salt pools, which will erode your metal over time.
The other reason of why not wear your jewelry in a shower is that, the earrings, especially earrings with a post will tend to loosen over time, and the possibility of falling down a drain is there.
It's an easy way to lose earrings or get earrings tangled in your hair, especially if you have longer hair or while you're showering and and scrubbing your skin. It is a possibility to accidentally slip your earring off and it might slip down a drain.
3.5 What is More Expensive: Sterling Silver or Stainless Steel?
Sterling silver is a much lighter metal than stainless steel, and I personally think it is a big advantage of silver, because you wouldn't want to wear heavy earrings or you wouldn't want to wear a heavy chain on your neck.
Jewelry made of sterling silver is much more expensive in comparison to stainless steel. High value sterling silver is a precious metal that has a high monetary value, it can be a form of investment if you choose to resell it, as it will still fetch a good profit margin.
Stainless steel pieces of jewelry are among the cheapest in the market despite the low cost. They come with tons of desirable features such as strad and high aesthetic value.
However, polished stainless steel jewelry look good just as sterling silver jewelry, the silvery finish of the stainless steel metal gives it a high aesthetic value that you desire to get from any jewelry.
3.6 Is Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver Better for Sensitive Skin?
What to choose for sensitive skin: sterling silver or stainless steel? It depends what you are allergic to.
Technically the allergic reaction is metal-induced allergic contact dermatitis. This can be caused by aluminium, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, copper, gold, iridium, mercury, nickel, palladium, platinum, rhodium and titanium.
The most common metal to be “allergic” to is copper. Sterling silver contains some copper typically about 5 to 7.5% copper but strictly speaking the specification of sterling silver is 92.5% silver and the remainder can be almost anything, but typically copper.
Often people who react to jewelry can wear sterling silver without issue because the copper content is low enough.
If you are allergic to nickel, then you should not choose stainless steel earrings. Because some types of stainless steel such as 304 stainless steel have nickel content. It is suggested to test this with a bracelet before getting a stainless or silver piercing.