Every now and then we get an email from a customer claiming an item they purchased from Peora that is listed as Sterling Silver is not actually Sterling Silver. We just wanted to take a few minutes to explain why some customers may think this and to ensure you that we can promise all of our items listed as 925 Sterling Silver are true.
We regularly pick random items to have professional labs test our Sterling Silver with what is called a “Fire Assay.” Fire assay is the most accurate way to test the elemental contents of an alloy. The lab melts the item into a small bar then chemically reduces each element in the alloy one by one to measure the percentage of each by weight. One of the other common assay methods used is called X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), which is a type of X-ray analysis of the alloy contents. The XRF method is much faster and generally does not destroy the piece being tested. It can be quite accurate on non-plated, larger, thicker pieces. Even so, it is most accurate if a piece of the metal is cut and flattened to place over the X-ray sensor. It is not recommended for any alloy that is electroplated. No matter how much diligence is paid to the XRF process, Fire Assay is still the most accurate method of testing.
Sterling Silver should be 92.5% Silver (Ag) or more. Usually the other 7.5% is a combination of Copper(Cu), Zinc(Zn) or Nickel(Ni) with Copper generally being the second most part of the alloy, if not the only other part of the alloy. All of our Sterling Silver items that have been tested have returned an Assay result of more than 92.5% Silver with some as high as 95% Silver.
So you ask, “If your Sterling Silver items are accurate, why would someone think otherwise?”
We choose to electroplate Rhodium over most of our Sterling Silver items to help protect the silver both in scratch resistance and from tarnishing. Rhodium is harder than Sterling Silver, will not tarnish and is hypoallergenic. The Rhodium plating also makes Sterling Silver items look just like white gold because a lot of white gold items are also Rhodium plated.
So now we get to the reason… Over time Rhodium will wear off; its just the nature of the beast. It is a plating not the whole item, kind of like the paint on a car. It is hard and covers the entire surface to protect it and look nice, but it eventually comes off and needs re-done. To plate Sterling Silver with Rhodium, the Sterling Silver must have a thin coating of Nickel first to protect the silver/copper alloy from the chemical process of applying the Rhodium. So when the Rhodium starts to wear off, the dull gray Nickel surface is revealed. This is what causes some people to think “Hey, silver is not a dull gray color, how could this be Sterling Silver?” or “My skin is now irritated and I’m only allergic to Nickel, how could this be Sterling Silver?” or “Why does this Sterling Silver attract a magnet?” (the magnet is from the Nickel layer near the surface)
Now you ask, “What can I do if the Rhodium starts to wear off?” There are two options: You can have the piece re-plated with Rhodium, or you can use it as an excuse to shop for another piece (at least if it was sterling silver). If the piece is white gold, you will probably elect to re-plate since the initial cost of the piece is much higher. With sterling silver, the re-plating is probably in the $25 ballpark for a simple fairly small pendant or ring so it might be more appealing just to shop for a new piece to replace it depending on your sentimental attachment and/or the selection of jewelers in your area. One thing to keep in mind if the item has any gemstones in it, if the gemstones are soft or reactive to chemicals like Peridot, special care may need to be taken by the jeweler performing the plating to ensure the stone is not damaged.
Your next question is likely to be, “How do I prolong the life of the Rhodium plating?” There are a few very simple things you can do that will really help out if you get in the habit. The first is pretty straight forward, keep the item away from any chemicals like cleaning agents/detergents, gasoline, etc. It is a good idea to try to avoid soaps and lotions as well, but it’s a little less simple to avoid those. Second, keep the item dry and don’t let sit in water or other liquids. Always take off your jewelry and set aside when you shower, bathe, swim, workout and do dishes. And thirdly, keep your jewelry clean. You don’t want to use any chemical cleaners on Rhodium plated jewelry, but use a dry soft cloth every now and then to wipe down anything that might be on the surface like lotions or just oils and salts from your skin. Rings tend to wear down faster than other items simply because they come into contact with more surfaces and we use our hands all day. When a pendant or earrings just hang there out of the way.