What is the Difference Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver

The main difference between silver plated and sterling silver is that silver-plated items consist of a thin layer of silver over a less valuable base metal, while sterling silver is a valuable precious metal alloy with a high silver content.

Silver plated and sterling silver are two distinct materials that incorporate silver into various items. While they share the allure of silver, they differ significantly in composition, value, and durability.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Silver Plated  
      – Definition, Steps in Silver Plating, Uses
2. What is Sterling Silver
      – Definition, Steps in Manufacture, Uses
3. Similarities Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Silver Plated and Sterling Silver
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Silver Plated, Sterling SilverDifference Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver - Comparison Summary

What is Silver Plated

Silver plating is a process that involves depositing a thin layer of silver onto a base metal. The base metal, often copper, brass, or nickel, provides structure and durability, while the silver layer lends the desired aesthetic and visual appeal. Silver plating can be done through multiple methods. Silver plating is typically achieved through electroplating, a controlled and efficient method. 

Steps in Silver Plating

  1. The base metal object is meticulously cleaned to eliminate any contaminants, such as dirt, grease, or oxides, which could hinder the bonding of the silver layer.
  2. The cleaned object is immersed in an electrolyte bath that contains a solution of silver salts (e.g., silver nitrate) and other necessary chemicals. The object is connected to the negative electrode (cathode) of a power supply.
  3. A silver electrode, usually in the form of a wire or plate, is connected to the positive electrode (anode) of the power supply.
  4. When an electric current is applied, silver ions in the electrolyte are reduced at the cathode (the object), and they bond to the surface, forming a uniform layer of silver. The thickness of the silver layer depends on factors like the duration of the electroplating process and the concentration of silver ions in the electrolyte.
  5. After the electroplating process, the object undergoes thorough rinsing to remove any remaining electrolyte solution. It may then be polished to achieve a smooth, gleaming finish.

Compare Silver Plated and Sterling Silver

Silver-plated items offer versatility and find applications in various domains. Common uses include tableware and serveware, where silver-plated flatware and cutlery add elegance to formal dining settings. Furthermore, silver-plated jewelry provides a cost-effective yet stylish alternative to solid silver pieces, with necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings being popular choices. Home decor items like candle holders and picture frames often undergo silver plating to enhance their visual appeal. Silver-plated trophies and awards commemorate achievements and enhance the sense of prestige. Vintage silver-plated items, such as tea sets and candelabras, are very popular. Even some musical instruments, like trumpets and saxophones, may feature silver plating to improve their appearance and durability.

What is Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is an alloy composed of 92.5% pure silver (Ag) and 7.5% other metals, typically copper (Cu). This combination of silver and copper enhances the alloy’s strength and durability while retaining the remarkable luster and elegance of pure silver. Sterling silver is often marked with a “925” or “sterling” hallmark, signifying its high silver content. Sterling silver is produced through an alloying process in which pure silver is combined with copper or other suitable metals to form a balanced and durable alloy. 

Steps in the Manufacture of Sterling Silver

  1. Melting and Alloying: Pure silver and copper are melted at high temperatures to create a homogeneous mixture. There is careful control of the exact ratio of silver to copper to achieve the desired 92.5% silver content.
  2. Casting or Forging: The molten alloy can be cast into various forms or forged into sheets or other shapes depending on the intended use.
  3. Annealing: To relieve stress and enhance workability, the alloy undergoes heating and then slowly cooling in a process known as annealing.
  4. Shaping and Design: The alloy is shaped, formed, and crafted into the desired product, whether it be jewelry, tableware, or decorative objects.
  5. Finishing and Polishing: Polishing the end product to a high sheen to bring out the characteristic brilliance and luster of sterling silver.

Silver Plated vs Sterling Silver

Sterling silver has wide-ranging applications. It is very useful in crafting elegant jewelry, including rings, necklaces, and bracelets, suitable for both everyday wear and special occasions. In addition, it enhances the sophistication of formal dining settings through exquisite flatware, cutlery, and tea sets. Sterling silver extends its elegance to interior spaces, where it adorns picture frames, candle holders, and figurines, lending a touch of luxury to home decor. Moreover, with a historical role in coinage, including the British pound sterling, collectors and investors highly value silver coins for their silver content and historical significance. Furthermore, sterling silver trophies and awards serve as prestigious symbols of recognition for achievements and excellence.

Similarities Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver

  • Silver-plated and sterling silver items have a lustrous, silvery appearance.
  • Moreover, both types of items can be polished to restore or enhance their shine.

Difference Between Silver Plated and Sterling Silver


Silver-plated items are made of a base metal, such as copper, brass, or nickel, with a thin layer of silver applied to the surface through a process like electroplating, while sterling silver is a precious metal alloy composed of at least 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal, typically copper. 


Silver-plated items are less valuable than sterling silver.


Moreover, silver plated items are less durable as the thin silver layer can wear off with time and use, revealing the base metal underneath. In contrast, sterling silver is more durable and can withstand everyday wear.


Silver-plated items are more prone to tarnishing because the base metal can react with moisture and air. However, sterling silver is less susceptible to tarnishing.

Common Uses

Silver-plated items are often used for costume jewelry, decorative pieces, and less expensive tableware, while sterling silver is commonly used for high-quality jewelry, fine flatware, and other valuable items.

FAQ: Silver Plated and Sterling Silver

What is more expensive, sterling silver or silver plated?

  • Sterling silver is more expensive than silver plated items mainly because it contains a higher percentage of pure silver (at least 92.5%), making it a precious metal with intrinsic value.

How long can sterling silver last?

  • When properly maintained, sterling silver can last for 20 to 30 years. Ensure its care by routinely cleaning it with a gentle silver polish and a soft cloth to ward off tarnish. When not in use, safeguard it in an airtight container or a tarnish-resistant fabric. Shield it from harsh chemicals, moisture, and direct sunlight, and remember to remove it when engaging in activities that could result in damage.

Does sterling silver fade?

  • Sterling silver can tarnish or develop a dark patina over time due to exposure to air and moisture. Proper care and cleaning can help maintain its shine.


The main difference between silver plated and sterling silver is that silver plated items consist of a thin layer of silver over a less valuable base metal, while sterling silver is a valuable precious metal alloy with high silver content.


1. “Silver Plating – Overview.” Science Direct.
2. “Sterling Silver.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Silver plated spouted vessel with a lid (Kendiya) and a tray” By (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED) via Flickr
2. “Sterling Silver Necklace(CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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