What is Sterling Silver, 925 Silver, and Mexican Silver?

If you’ve wondered, “What is sterling silver?” you’re not alone. Jewelers can use many different terms that can be confusing. Customers often ask us the following about our Mexican silver pieces:

1. Are your pieces pure silver?

2. Is your jewelry sterling silver, or is it plated?

3. What is Mexican silver?

4. What is the difference between Mexican silver and sterling silver?

The first two questions will be covered by answering “What is sterling silver?”

OK, So What Is Sterling Silver?

A piece of jewelry is defined as “sterling silver” when its metal content is at least 92.5% pure silver metal. Most people will recognize this as a hallmarked stamp that reads “.925” on their piece.

Not all sterling silver jewelry will bear such a hallmark (learn more about jewelry hallmarks in this blog post), so don’t fret if your cherished piece of jewelry doesn’t display the numerical hallmark.

sterling silver bird necklace

925 Silver: The Other 7.5%

If a piece of sterling silver jewelry is 92.5% pure silver metal, what about the other 7.5%?

The remaining metal content is usually a blend of mixed metals that primarily include nickel and copper. These metals are added to the silver to strengthen the structural integrity of a piece, because pure silver is a soft metal and not considered strong.

You will sometimes find pieces with a “950” or a “980” numerical hallmark instead of “925.” These pieces are still considered sterling silver, but they have a 95% and 98% pure silver content, respectively. The remaining 5% and 2% will again consist of mixed metals for additional structural integrity.

Plated vs. Covered Sterling Silver

Jewelry pieces will often be crafted from sterling silver and then covered with a protector or chemical to prevent tarnishing. Other techniques, such as gold washing, involve covering sterling silver with some kind of material to give the piece a distinct, unique look. These pieces are still considered sterling silver pieces.

“Plated” pieces are not defined as sterling silver, as the silver content is less than 92.5%. When you’re looking at Mexican silver jewelry and crafts, you will most commonly see plated silver trays, servers, vases, and pitchers. Silver jewelry can also be plated, of course.

silver jaguar necklace

What Is Mexican Silver? Is It Sterling Silver?

Both questions #3 and #4 can be answered with one simple explanation. Sterling silver is sterling silver, whether it is made in Mexico, Italy, China, or wherever. When discussing a “Mexican sterling silver bracelet,” for example, the word Mexico simply denotes the origin of the bracelet, not the origin of the metal. So if you’re shopping online, and you’re comparing a Mexican sterling silver bracelet with an Italian sterling silver bracelet, you are simply comparing two sterling silver bracelets: one made in Mexico and one made in Italy.

Silver Content of Mexican Silver Store Jewelry

All of the artisan jewelry that we offer at Mexican Silver Store is at least sterling silver in its metal content. None of our pieces are plated (with the exception of an occasional vintage plate/pitcher, which will always be noted) or coated with chemicals that prevent tarnishing. We do offer a few designs of filigree earrings that contain a “wash” to give them a shiny, almost gold look — but they are made first from sterling silver. Any piece that is tested will test positive as at least sterling silver, and that is a guarantee that we stand behind 100%.

Do you own any sterling silver? Do you know what percent it is?


  • Nancy Carter

    I have lots of stterling jewelry and they don’t really tarnish. they get a little dul but a sterling jewelry dip will shine it back up again. I also have mexican silver and I find that the metel looks kinda cheap like plated silver and if has permanently tarnished but after a a while. It turns like pink.

    • Hi Nancy – thanks so much for sharing your experiences. 🙂
      silver is silver across the boards — Mexican silver is no different then Italian silver. The “Mexican” and the “Italian” , for example, simply denote where a particular piece was made. It is not a reference to the silver. A piece of sterling silver is at least 92.5% pure silver or it is not, no matter where it is made. Perhaps the pieces that you’ve encountered that have a Mexican hallmark on them are plated, or alpaca, or not sterling. Usually anything that is hallmarked with a 925 included in the hallmark will indeed be a sterling silver piece, regardless of the origin of the piece.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to share!
      Sara and Andrew

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