Sterling silver, in one form or another, has a place in just about every home in the United States. This precious metal alloy accents our dinner tables and adds shine to our everyday jewelry. Our guide details the finer points of identifying quality sterling silver and what you can expect when buying and selling the metal on a commodities exchange.
Sterling silver is an alloy metal containing 92.5 percent silver and a 7.5 percent amalgam of other metals. Many countries producing commercial products made with sterling silver include hallmarks and other stamps to name the metal’s nation of origin and the metal’s purity.
Hallmarks, also known as Assayer’s marks, typically take the form of animals or other figures that bear significance for a particular nation. Silver made in Ireland usually carries the name “Hibernia,” which is the island’s ancient name in Latin. French silver bears an image of the goddess Minerva.
The Assayer’s mark indicating the silver’s purity usually appears near the date mark of manufacture and the maker’s mark, signaling the smith who crafted the item. Understanding these traditions of creating sterling silver objects can help you assess where items come from, and how to spot a fake should someone try to pass off counterfeit goods as the real thing.
The worth of sterling silver at any one point is relative to the silver spot price. This figure is the amount per ounce or per gram that buyers can pay for a given security — in this case, sterling silver — at a specific time and place. Spot price changes over time, meaning the worth of sterling silver in one particular month isn’t usually the same as its worth just 30 days earlier. Bulk trading that takes place at a COMEX (commodities exchange) has a significant influence on the spot rates of precious and semi-precious metals, including silver.
The spot price is only a benchmark for the worth of sterling silver. Often, buyers and sellers use this number as a baseline to gauge what they’re actually willing to pay for the commodity. As you’ll find out soon, the sticker price is hardly ever the final sale price.
Traders and investors usually attempt to buy sterling silver for a price that’s under its given spot (in the 92.5 percent range). In essence, the buyer only wants to pay based on the value of the amount of pure silver contained in the item and not the other components, which have much less value. As a general rule, you can expect to earn slightly below spot price when selling sterling silver.
Multiple factors influence the demand and price for commodities such as silver, including economic health of a region and current political climates. For example, diminished currency value generally causes commodity prices to trend higher where a strong currency value drives down the cost of commodities.
Sterling silver isn’t an “investment grade” metal because of its lower purity and overall value when compared to fine silver, which has a purity level of 99.9 percent. Despite having little appeal for precious metal portfolios and retirement accounts, sterling silver has many commercial applications. Civilizations have used the metal to craft a variety of household items, and even surgical equipment, dating as far back as 30 BC. Below is a list with some of the most common household items made with sterling silver:
Because silver is too soft on its own to support everyday use, smiths regularly add other metals (usually copper) to lend it strength. Adding these other metals leads to an increased chance of corrosion as items remain exposed to open air. That’s why old silverware made with sterling silver tends to tarnish as it ages. Salt shakers made with sterling silver typically show their corrosion faster than other items because their sodium chloride contents tarnishes copper quickly.
When you choose to buy sterling silver in large quantities, it’s important that you discuss the matter with an experienced financial professional. Only an individual licensed to give investment advice related to commodities, including precious metals, can give you the correct information that you need to make a well-reasoned decision.