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How to Spot and Authenticate Vintage Sterling Silver Jewelry

Updated: Apr 24

Sterling Silver Jewelry on Mannequin Display in Antique Store

Whether you collect sterling silver rings on every trip or exclusively wear hand-me-down family heirlooms, the jewelry we choose tells the story of us. Ideally, each beautiful piece in your jewelry box will be a lifelong accessory, but how do you know you’re buying pieces designed to last? The secret to creating a curated jewelry collection is shopping for vintage pieces—especially sterling silver. 


Before you step foot in an Illinois vendor mall to hunt down timeless sterling jewelry, it’s important to understand the rich history of sterling silver and a learn few tips and tricks for spotting authentic pieces in the wild!


What is Sterling Silver?


Sterling silver is an alloy blend, typically containing 92.5% silver and 7.5% of another metal, such as copper or zinc. Sterling silver was used to create a wide variety of antique favorites, from a striking pair of earrings to priceless antique spoons!


Why is Sterling Silver Used in Jewelry?


To the untrained mind, 100% pure silver may sound like a more expensive and obvious metal choice for jewelry, but it’s often too soft and delicate for daily wear. The 7.5% addition of another metal increases the hardness and strength of the metal, making it the preferred option for jewelry making. 


3 Reasons Why People Collect Vintage Sterling Silver Jewelry

Antique mall booth with sterling silver jewelry

With a wide variety of jewelry styles, eras, and designers out there, vintage jewelry, in general, is one of the most popular and accessible types of collections to get into. Let these three reasons inspire you to search for stylish sterling jewelry pieces at an antique mall location near you:


1. Sterling Silver is Made to Last


Jewelry collectors adore sterling silver because it’s designed to last a lifetime (or close to it!). Sterling silver is a durable, valuable metal that looks beautiful. This amazing material is difficult to scratch, chip, or break, meaning you can wear your favorite designs for years without worrying about damage. 


2. Sterling Jewelry is Valuable


Buying sterling silver jewelry is a smart financial investment! As silver is a precious metal, sterling has a good resale value. If you did decide to one day part ways with your current collection or have always been interested in turning your love of vintage sterling jewelry into a business, it can turn quite the profit.  

Is Tarnished Sterling Silver Valuable?

Display case of vintage jewelry

As you grow your collection, you’ll likely come across pieces of sterling jewelry that have been tarnished—but don’t pass them up! Tarnished sterling silver jewelry can still be quite valuable, especially if it’s vintage or antique. Before selling, you can leave it as is or polish the tarnish off—there will be buyers for both. 


3. Vintage Sterling Jewelry Makes for Unique, Sustainable Accessories


With so many gorgeous antique and vintage jewelry designs, you can practically guarantee your accessories will be unique. These aren’t designs that anyone can scoop up at the neighborhood big-box store! Shopping for your jewelry second-hand is also sustainable and eco-friendly, so you can have a clean conscience when you accessorize with your one-of-a-kind pieces each morning! 


Popular Types of Sterling Silver Jewelry


Sterling silver can be used for all kinds of jewelry and accessories, such as: 

  • Rings

  • Necklaces

  • Pendants

  • Earrings

  • Bracelets

  • Watches

  • Cufflinks


Where Can You Find Vintage Sterling Silver Jewelry?

Jewelry box with vintage pieces

Shopping directly from trustworthy vintage jewelry experts is the best way to buy vintage sterling jewelry. An antique mall near Orlando will house different qualified and passionate vendors excited to offer varied and beautiful collections. Stop by to explore the curated glass showcases for yourself. 


5 Ways to Authenticate Sterling Silver Jewelry


There’s nothing worse than being duped with cheap silver plating and watching your jewelry turn your skin green within a couple of wears! To avoid this, the next time you’re considering buying a sparkling piece of vintage sterling jewelry, you should have a few tricks up your sleeve to determine if it’s made from genuine sterling silver:


1. Check for a Sterling Label


All real sterling silver jewelry has a label or inscription certifying its authenticity, often using the number 925 or a shortened version of the word sterling. Check the inside, backings, and any dangling charms for this engraved mark when picking up a piece. Certain expert counterfeiters have learned to include this, so it shouldn’t be your only authentication method, but it’s a great first step!

7 Common Sterling Jewelry Markings:

Antique Mall display case with a variety of sterling silver and other jewelry

As you build your vintage jewelry collection, it’s important to understand sterling silver hallmarks from around the world:


1. Sterling (or shortened to “ster”)

2. 925

3. 92.5%

4. IS (International Silver)

5. Harp with a crown (made in Ireland)

6. Lion with one paw raised (made in England)

7. Thistle marks (made in Scotland)


2. Look at the Price Tag


While sterling silver is more affordable than 100% silver, it’s not cheap. If you come across a seller offering a suspiciously low price, it’s safe to assume the stock is not 925 sterling silver. 


3. Check for Odor


Just because jewelry is vintage doesn’t mean it should smell old! Luckily, sterling silver is famously odorless. When you suspect a piece in your grandmother’s vanity may be premium sterling, you can perform an odor test and give it a whiff. If you can smell a distinct metallic or sulfur scent, it’s likely silver-plated and not authentic sterling.


4. Perform the Magnet Test


Fun fact: sterling silvered jewelry is not magnetic. When you’re strolling the aisles of a vendor mall or eyeing a particular booth at the flea market, consider bringing a powerful magnet with you! If the magnet sticks to the jewelry, it’s a fraudulent piece. 


5. Take It to a Reputable Collector


If all else fails, you can always take your sterling silver jewelry to a collector or vendor who knows their stuff! With a trained eye, they can help authenticate and value your piece for you. Vintage events, mom-and-pop shops, and jewelers are the go-to sources for authentication. 


With countless vintage and antique designs, one thing is certain: sterling silver jewelry never goes out of style! Stop into one of our antique malls to discover the timeless sterling silver jewelry options our vendors have to offer. 

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