Fine Silver vs Sterling Silver

Fine Silver vs Sterling Silver

When it comes to investing in silver, many want to know--exactly what is fine silver? Numbers like .900, .925, .999, .9999 show the purity. Yet, they don't define the differences between fine silver, sterling silver, and even Argentium sterling silver.  Let's discuss the questions of what is fine silver, what is sterling silver, and why they make a difference.


Many ask, why silver over other precious metals like gold? There are several reasons silver makes for an excellent investment. Silver is unreactive, durable, and malleable. Molding it into different wires and shapes is easy. Some additional reasons silver has value:

  • Large industrial demand for silver. Silver is useful in many things-from catalytic converters to jewelry to the dental industry.
  • High demand for silver with a lower supply ensures silver remains a valuable asset to own.
  • Silver is a much lower price than gold, making it ideal for any budget.
  • Silver bars stack well, are easy to handle and are portable.
  • Silver is expensive to extract, bringing up its value.


Silver is a metal found in nature that is never 100% pure. Hence, when extracted it is mixed in various ores, such as argentite and galena. Then, silver becomes the shape that we, as consumers or collectors, know it. This is a process where the ores undergo a series of refining that separates the silver from all other particles.

The complexity of the refining actions defines the pureness (and value) of the metal. So, the first four numbers show the amount of pure silver in a specific item. For example, .900 is 90% silver and 10% other metals. The maximum that the current technology can reach is .9999 purity or 99.99%. However, the most common highest purity is .999 or 99.9% or 0.999 - all three equals, just with different notation. The 99.9% purity is called fine silver, pure silver or actual silver. .9999 silver is famously known as ultrafine silver.

Accordingly, a silver that is less than 99.9% pure is called sterling silver. It is usually about 92.5% pure.


The simple answer is neither. Each has different purposes and qualities. Sterling silver is ideal for jewelry and flatware. It's more durable, and less susceptible to marring, bending or damage than fine silver. However, fine silver is perfect for investment and collectible purposes. It holds high value, is easy to resell, and often goes up in value (putting more money in your pocket).

What is Sterling Silver?

Silver in its original state is quite liquid and soft. A 99.9% silver is not “good” enough for jewelry. Even if one tries to make a ring out of it, the silver will not keep its shape. So, when used in preparing jewelry, the silver needs to be mixed with other metals. These metals are usually copper, nickel or zinc. This makes the silver pieces harder and more durable, but can also cause them to tarnish over time. Such mixtures are called alloys in this format. Essentially, sterling silver is a silver alloy made of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Silver jewelry can also be silver and nickel or zinc. In other countries, the limit might be lower. For example, 90% pure silver would be enough for marking it as a silver product in Russia.

Why does sterling silver tarnish?/How to prevent?

  • The copper in sterling silver reacts to the sulfur and moisture in the air, causing tarnishing.
  • Therefore, store your silver in a dark and cool place inside.
  • Keep silver out of your bathroom and away from chemicals.
  • Dry your silver pieces with a soft cloth after taking off.

Some jewelry merely is silver-plated. This means that the silver is a thin coat on top of other base metals. Silver-plated items tend to wear out quickly. Therefore, silver will fade away, and only the base metal will show in time. Buyers should be cautious when buying silver jewelry to make sure they are not overpaying for a silver-plated piece. However, silver-plated can be good if buyers are looking for cheaper "costume" jewelry.

What is Fine Silver?

To answer the question "what is fine silver?" we only have to look at its purity. Fine silver is simply pure silver. It is 99.9%, or .999 pure. It is ideal for investment and trading purposes. To be considered investment grade silver it must be fine silver. Many refer to it as the "three nines fine" rule.

Additionally, fine silver is quite soft and does not tarnish. It has a beautiful luster, but it not quite as shiny and bright as sterling. Instead, it has a slightly dull and gray appearance. However, it's easy to form and highly resistant to tarnish.

Fine silver is useful for making silver bullion ingots or bars, and bullion coins. Also, only .999 silver is tradable at trade markets, such as the metal and commodities exchanges. To trade silver with value, it must have a .999 purity stamp. Silver in both bullion bars and silver bullion coins have been favorite investments for years.

Fine silver is also IRA eligible-- since a 1977 law from Congress. This makes it ideal for retirement portfolios.

Silver Bullion Bars

Silver bullion bars usually come in 1 oz, 5 oz, 10 oz, and 100 oz sizes. They can mint anywhere in the world in any amount. Silver bullion bars have a minting technique that is much the same as the one to make rounds and coins. Essentially, a rolling mill creates metal strips. Then, strips cut out silver bars. The blank bars then get stamped with the mint's design. Bars are usually shiny and crisp in their appearance.

"Good Delivery" is now the standard for silver bullion bars across all central banks, international financial markets, the IMF, and foreign governments. London Bullion Market Association started good delivery when they issued specific requirements for silver bullion they would accept. Silver bullion bars must specify things like the marking, weight, size, and purity. They also must be at a .999 purity.


Silver Bullion Coins

Unlike silver bullion bars, .999 silver coins have even more value than merely the silver quantity they contain. The value comes from the complexity of minting them, and value as collectibles. Every large mint has its signature silver coin that mints in a specific quantity, while silver bars are standard and production has no premium.

The minting of a silver coin starts with an artist. The artist designs a large model made from plaster that will go on the coin. The model is then used to create a particular die that can stamp the metal blanks into coins. Most mints have their detailed designs which make it hard to forge.

The US Mint emits the American Silver Eagle. Then, the Royal Mint in London issues silver Britannia. Additionally, the Royal Canadian Mint has the Silver Maple Leaf. The Silver Maple Leaf contains the famous ultra-fine, 99.99 pure silver, which most mints do not use. Another is the Perth Mint which issues the famous silver Kangaroo.

General CIrculation Silver Coins

Silver coins that are for general circulation are not considered fine silver for investment purposes. However, some do hold collectible value. They have a purity between 80 and 90%.

Silver Bullion Rounds

Silver Bullion Rounds are similar to coins but issued by non-government mints. Some examples include the Sunshine Minting Company, Northwest Territory Mint, and Highland Mint. The minting of silver bullion rounds are the same as silver bullion coins.



1. Fine .999 silver- used in some earrings and necklaces. It is highly resistant to tarnish but can scratch and dent easily.

2. Sterling .925 Silver- shiny and bright but can tarnish

3. Argentium/Non-tarnish alloys- 92.5% silver with copper and germanium. More resistant to tarnish and harder. Much less maintenance than sterling but is less available and more expensive.

4. Coin Silver- Mostly found in antique jewelry. Was used from scrap silver coins. Made of .900 silver and .10 copper. Can be pretty rare.

5. Silver- Should be labeled as a specific quality. If not marked, might be high-quality.

6. Silver-filled. A relatively new way to make jewelry. Has sterling silver on the surface. It contains about 5-10% silver. It will likely tarnish and is not standardized in the U.S.

7. Silver-plated- A very thin layer of silver plating. The silver in this jewelry is a small fraction of a percent. It is inherently cheap costume jewelry.

8. Nickel Silver- This is not silver but a base metal alloy. It is made of copper with smaller amounts of zinc and/or nickel. It is quite inexpensive and soft but looks like sterling silver. However, it's best as a practice silver or costume jewelry.

9. Tribal or Tibetan Silver- Many contain no silver and are instead a base metal alloy. They are usually only silver in appearance. Furthermore, some can contain dangerous metals like lead. However, these pieces can be quite valuable for their beautiful designs.

10. Bali, Mexican or Thai Silver- Silver coming from these areas can be high-quality. Buyers should look for a stamp marking or authenticity disclosure.


You might ask yourself how you can be sure of the purity of your silver. Although, what if sterling silver has the usual mark 925, and fine silver the mark 999?

If there's a 925 mark, then the copper, nickel or zinc will interact with an oxygen or other elements in the air, making it change its color.

Silver Testing

 1. “Home remedy” Acid Test: If when put in acid, the acid’s color changes, then the item has a purity below 92.5%. You merely need a testing kit. However, some professionals can do it for you.

2. X-ray Testing: Non-destructive technique but requires silver sent to a lab. It is usually expensive. This testing is reasonably accurate, but the other layered metals can skew results.

3. Assay Testing: Best type of testing and extremely reliable. However, it is a destructive test. A professional in a reputable lab must conduct this test. The silver is melted down (.5 grams of metal or more). This is so the alloying elements can be determined.

None of these tests are especially useful for the average consumer. The best thing to do is to buy your silver from a reputable dealer or source.


Many consider silver more optimal than gold. This is because of limited resources, increasing demand, and lower price compared to gold. Get more information in our Guide for Investing in Silver. Or if you are a curious and keen for online transactions, check Bullion Exchanges Silver Spot Prices Chart. Visit our page for the best quote for your silver items.

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Here at Bullion Exchanges, we are happy to answer your questions like what is fine silver, or what is sterling silver? Please feel free to reach out to us anytime. We are available by email at [email protected]

Additionally, our friendly customer service associates are available to chat on our live chat feature. Our number is 800-852-6884. We also have a store in the heart of NYC's diamond district. You can find us at 30 West 47th Street, Store 1 New York, NY, 10036, USA. We are open Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm. Thank you for trusting us with your precious metals purchases.