How to tell if Antique Silver is Real

Have you discovered an antique piece of silver, but need to authenticate it?


Silver, like gold and platinum, is a well-known and valuable metal. It is a plentiful soft metal, and is used to manufacture cutlery and jewellery, along with other long-lasting antiques. If properly cared for, a set of sterling silver earrings or a silver ring will last a lifetime and retain its beauty.


However, before buying or selling antique silver, you must first ensure your silverware is genuine! Dawsons has created this guide to help you ensure just that – so continue reading to discover some of the best ways to make sure a piece of silver is genuine.


An Irish George III silver epergne

An Irish George III silver epergne. Sold at Dawsons for £11,500. 


How to Check Whether Silver is Real or Not

Here are some basic things you can do to test if the silver jewellery, coins, or utensils you own consist of genuine silver.


Check the Label First 

It sounds obvious, but checking the label on the jewellery is one of the best and easiest ways to determine if silver jewellery is authentic or not. If it bears a little inscription of 'ster' or 'sterling,' it signifies that the silver content is 92.5%, or near-pure silver. Another mark to check for is 'IS,' which denotes ‘international silver’ or silver plating.

When silver objects sell abroad or locally, a hallmark trade stamp should verify the metal's authenticity. Always seek a standard stamp of 'sterling' before purchasing a silver item from a store. International vendors tend to use symbols that indicate the exact amount of silver ‘parts’ per 1000, such as 800, 900, or 925, meaning 80%, 90% or 92.5% pure.


Ice Cube Test 

Using ice cubes is a simple way to test if the silver is pure or not. This approach is appropriate for evaluating silver coins and other flat-surfaced silver products. 

How to do it:

Put an ice cube on a silver coin or piece of flatware. If the ice cube melts rapidly then it is likely that the piece you have is genuine. This is because silver has very high heat conductivity, so an ice cube will melt faster if it is in contact with silver than not. It is a good idea to have another ice cube not in contact with the silver so you can have something to test the melting speed against.


Bleach Test 

Bleach can also be used to verify if your silver is genuine.

How to do it: 

Simply apply a drop of bleach to the silver object. Genuine silver will tarnish after being exposed to oxidising substances such as bleach, becoming black. If your silver has no reaction to the bleach then it is not genuine.

Take care using the bleach test though, as although it can help verify whether or not your silver is genuine, it has been known to dull the surface of silver and can ruin the surface. The other tests listed here are perhaps better for the wellbeing of your silver.

A large Russian silver Norse inspired kovsh

 A large Russian silver Norse inspired kovsh, 20th century. Sold at Dawsons for £4,500.


Weight Test 

Silver has a higher density than other metals, so it should be heavy for its size. Although you may have genuine silver, if it weighs lower than similarly-sized silver pieces, it may be because it is comprised of silver alloys rather than sterling silver. Meanwhile, if it weighs more than expected, it could be an item made of lead and plated with silver.

A good way to tell if your item is pure silver or silver plated is how shiny it is. Pure silver is generally cooler and shinier than silver-plate counterparts.


What Does 935 Mean on a Silver Ring? 

If a piece of silver jewellery, such as a ring, has the 935 mark, that means it is 93.5% pure silver. The rest of the item is normally made up of a metal such as copper, which is less malleable and harder ro break. This means that the ring is more stable as a result.


What Does 835 Mean on Silver? 

Much like an 935 silver mark, an 835 mark means that 835 parts out of 1000 are sterling silver, or the item is 83.5% pure sterling silver. Whilst this is still a good sign that you have real, antique silver, 835 silver is lower-grade than 925 and 935 silver, meaning it is less pure. This means that if there are two near-identical items but one is 835 silver and the other is 925, the higher-grade silver will tend to be worth more money.


Once you learn the fundamentals, determining whether silver is real or not can be done directly in your own home. We recommend you always confirm the authenticity label says 'sterling' silver before purchasing. If you want to add silver to your jewellery collection, then it is worth ensuring that it is of high-enough quality to last for a long time, as that way it retains its worth and can also function as an investment as well as being a beautiful antique.


If you’ve made it this far then you clearly have an interest in silver, so why not browse some of the previous silver lots that have gone through the Dawsons auction house? Enjoy looking through the many lots that are bursting with history and enchanting stories to share.


Read more... 

Where to sell antique silver 

How do I identify antique silver? 

Is antique silver a good investment?


The expert team of Valuers at Dawsons would be happy to help you identify your antique silver. Please do get in touch should you have any queries, or maybe you have a piece of silver you would like to have valued.

We would love to hear from you.

Call us: 0207 431 9445 or get in touch via email: