Stainless or sterling silver jewelry? Which one should you choose? This question has been bugging most people, for you would hear feedback from some people loving or hating each material. Both do look similar in looks and luster, but they are totally unique from one another. From the composition to the price tag. Find out which one is better for you in different forms of jewelry, rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
Stainless Steel is a compound made up of a group of metals in different concentrations to increase strength and resistance to corrosion. There are almost 100 grades available in the market used for various purposes; from your kitchen countertop to the but the most commonly used for jewelry is the 304 and 306 variety. These belong to the austenitic grade.
Invented in 1913 in the UK, it was then called rustless steel and was the first to be considered as the true stainless steel. As the years progressed, the exceptional properties of stainless steel were realized, thus was being used in various industries. Continuous improvements were made, resulting in different grades of steels to accommodate each industrial needs. As of today, China has been the leading producer of stainless steel in the world. Furthermore, stainless steel is said to be 100 percent recyclable, thus being a sustainable material.
Stainless Steel 316
These are what we call medical grade stainless steel, which has more resistance to corrosion. The molybdenum makes it harder, but as alloys get stronger, the weldability or molding tends to be more difficult. It has a chemical composition of Chromium 17 to 19.5%, Nickel – 8 to 10.5%, Manganese – 2%, Silicon – 1%, Carbon – 0.07% Molybdenum – 2 to 3%.
Stainless Steel 304
These are the most common grade of austenitic stainless steel. These can endure a corrosive setting. This is cheaper than the medical-grade has enough strength to endure the regular wear and tear of one’s daily activities. It has a chemical composition of Chromium -17 to 19.5%, Nickel – 8 to 10.5%, Manganese – 2%, silicon – 1%, Carbon – 0.07%, and the remaining percent is composed of iron.
Elongation – 35-45 % at 20C
Hardness – 6 MOH scale
Tensile strength – 500-700MPa at 20C
Yield strength – 190 MPa 20C
Melting Point – 1375 to 1450C
Conductivity – 11 to 21 W at 20C
Weight – 8030 kg/ m3
Silver, in its unalloyed form, is too soft to be made into a piece of jewelry, thus needs alloying with other metals to increase its toughness and strength. These metals are silicon, zinc, platinum, and the most common would be copper. It has a chemical composition of 92.5% of silver and 7.5% of copper.
Sterling silver dates back from the 12th century in Northern Germany. It was a standard material used on a currency that was legally standardized in the year 1275. As a form of currency, a pound of sterling silver was converted to 240 pennies. This ratio was reduced to 500 parts/ 1000. In 1946, a copper and nickel alloy replaced sterling silver pennies.
Elongation – 76Gps 20ºC
Hardness– 2.5 MOH scale
Tensile strength –140 MPa at 20ºC
Melting Point – 962ºC
Conductivity – 419W at 20ºC
Weight – 10,490 kg/m3
Sterling Silver and Stainless Steel Comparison
Now let us compare the two based on their durability, color, stability, price, maintenance, and corrosion, tarnish, and scratch resistance.
Durability and Scratch resistance
The durability and the resistance to scratching property of a material depend on its hardness and tensile strength. Hardness is the measure of the capability of an object to resist deformation. As we have seen earlier, stainless steel has a result of six according to the MOH scale, while silver place at two point five, which is more than half when it comes to hardness. Now tensile strength is the ability of an object to resist breaking. Again Stainless steel trumps Sterling silver with a 500-700MPa at 20C compared to sterling silver’s 140 MPa at 20ºC. So to answer which material is more durable? It is stainless steel.
Corrosion and Tarnish
One aspect of stainless steel is its ability to heal itself. You see, instead of producing rust than other alloys produce when they undergo oxidation, stainless steel produces chromium oxide that protects rather than destroy the material. It is thanks to the chromium content, which prevents the iron from leaking on to the surface, reacting to the air, which then results in rust.
The 304 stainless steel can resist corrosion up to a certain extent; it is the 316 type that is guaranteed not to get affected even when soaked in saltwater. This is the reason why some propellers are made of stainless steel, high chromium content up to 24 percent and, molybdenum content is about 3.5 percent. Molybdenum also contributes to the hardness of the stainless alloy.
Chemically speaking, silver does not readily form a silver oxide film with water and oxygen, meaning that it does not form a silver oxide layer in normal temperature. This makes it prone to oxidation as the silver reacts with the sulfur content in the air resulting in a silver sulfide, which is a black tarnish that you commonly see in jewelry and other products made from sterling silver. The purity of silver then decreases, making it vulnerable corrosion and tarnishing for as the copper content reacts with oxygen.
In conclusion, to the question of which material is more resistant to corrosion and tarnishing? It is Stainless Steel.
Sterling silver is stable in water but reacts with the sulfide in the air, sweat, cosmetics, saltwater, and detergents. Stainless steel, on the other hand, has a positive reaction with air and water, resistant to sweat, but may affect the color, in the long run. You may need to clean it once in a while, particularly when you sweat a lot and regularly wear cosmetics. Which one is the victor when it comes to stability? Stainless steel.
Color and Luster
Sterling silver exhibits the white and bright metallic luster of pure silver, making it more lustrous than stainless steel. It has an extraordinary appeal that a stainless alloy does not have. Stainless steel, on the other hand, exhibits a light gray color due to its chromium content. Chromium has a steel gray and lustrous metallic color. The jewelry may shine and look like silver, especially with regular cleaning and treatment, but at times go by; the gray color naturally comes out. The finest polish a stainless alloy may achieve would be the mirror-like finish versus the distinct white silver gloss of the sterling silver. To answer the question, which one is more lustrous and beautiful to look at? Sterling silver it is!
Price and Market Value
The price of silver seems to flow with the price value of gold. Through the years, the price has been going up and down this year. The price was estimated to be 20.60 to 22.69 USD per ounce of silver. In addition, as the years go by, it is expected to rise due to the growing industrial demand and the reduced volume of silver being mined yearly like what happened in the year 2018, where there was a decrease in supply by 3 percent. Since sterling silver is still classed as a precious alloy, albeit it sits on the lower part of the ladder, its market value continues to rise and fall depending on inflation, demand, and other factors that affect the price of silver. This is the reason why pieces of sterling silver jewelry can be pawned.
The price of Stainless steel this January 2020 is worth around 10.56 USD per ounce, and it is continuously rising, although this may bet the case, stainless steel jewelry cost nothing when resold or even pawned. Why do most pawnshops do not accept stainless steel jewelry? Because it is everywhere. Therefore, you cannot really consider it unique, and most are manufactured from China, which is understandable for they are the top manufacturer of the said material.
I, therefore, conclude based on the market price of both materials that sterling silver costs higher than stainless steel and, hence, a great form of investment, much like a piece of jewelry made of gold material.
The question on which material requires more maintenance roots from their ability to tarnish and resist corrosion. Since stainless steel is basically dubbed as the superman of alloys, then it is only practical to conclude that it needs less to no maintenance at all. With that said, even exposure to polluted air, on the other hand, does affect sterling silver, and therefore needs more caring and cleaning to keep its astounding luster and prevent further damage. For stainless steel, soaking your jewelry in a solution of baking soda and liquid soap is enough to revive its once bright luster, for you only need to wash away some dirt. Still, a piece of sterling silver jewelry would need a cleaning solution to revert the oxidized silver sulfide to silver and sulfide. This can be realized with the use of commercially available silver cleaning solution. The solution chemically releases the sulfide content, thus manage to save the silver and prevent silver loss and extend its life.
To answer the question on which material needs low to no upkeep, it is the stainless steel.
Molding and Malleability
Concerning molding or constructing, this can be measured by hardness, Melting point, and the elongation property of each material. We have established that stainless steel is harder than silver. Elongation is the ability of an object to extend without breaking. Stainless steel exhibits a lower elongation property measuring up to 35 to 45 percent at 20 degrees centigrade, while sterling silver measures up to 76Gps 20 degrees centigrade. Stainless steel also needs higher temperatures before it melts that ranges from 1375 to 1450 degrees centigrade compared to sterling silver’s 962 degrees centigrade. In conclusion, Sterling silver is easier to manufacture and manipulated, for it is softer, pliable that needs a lower temperature to melt compared to stainless steel. Which one is easier to create? Sterling silver.
Plated pieces of jewelry have been overtaking the jewelry industry because the younger generation has been looking for something new and are willing to try new things. This gives an edge towards stainless steel jewelry, imagine having the Properties of stainless steel plus the aesthetics of the coat, perfect right? Now why is it not advisable to purchase plated sterling silver? Because it already has the beauty and putting a layer over it is just wasting its natural exquisiteness.
In conclusion, Stainless steel has the edge over sterling silver when it comes to or playing with different styles and appearances.
Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry
Okay, as we have already learned about the characteristics of both sterling silver and stainless steel earlier, it is time to compare them with actual forms of jewelry.
Chains are composed of small pieces linked together. With this in mind, we must consider the maintenance and durability of the chain. Necklaces directly come in contact with our skin. Therefore, we must reflect on how sweat and dirt can affect our necklaces.
This is best for short, thin, and dainty chain necklaces for women. In essence, a necklace chain made from sterling silver is lightweight, flexible, and luxurious to look at that stainless steel does not exhibit. The only weakness would be the difficulty to clean and maintain, but that is why silver cleaner was invented as a solution to the one and only downside of sterling silver jewelry.
The larger necklace chain needs the hardness and durability of stainless steel. Necklaces have a tendency to snag on to your clothes or even your hand as it dangles, especially for long-chain ones. The robust and rigid property of stainless steel provides protection, as well as peace of mind for it, would not readily snap.
In conclusion, sterling silver would be the best candidate for chain necklaces for women, while stainless steel is the more suitable material for chain necklaces for men.
Have you ever heard of oxidized silver in jewelry? Technically, it is the sulfur content in the air that reacts with silver, so shall we say sulfurized? Nevertheless, it is that black accent that we see, especially with textured or with a three-dimensional accent. Oxidized silver is very easy to achieve with the use of a silver black solution. Oxidized silver gives a high impact and unique look, particularly against the bright luster of silver.
Stainless steel does not usually achieve the black accent that a silver creates when oxidized. Oxidized stainless steel yields light to dark gray color, so instead, it is usually plated or coated with a black layer.
The difficulty of resizing stainless ring roost from its hardness. It is possible to resize stainless rings, but one would need the proper tools, for it is said that these cannot be resized by hand. Unlike sterling silver, which is softer and pliable, making it easier to manipulated and cut but your neighborhood jeweler.
There is no competition when it comes to which material is stronger. Stainless steel is twice harder than sterling silver, making it resistant to scratching and thus last for a long time, But, Sterling silver, when taken care of, can also last a lifetime. This is proven by pieces of sterling silver jewelry that dates back from the ancient Egyptian era. However, when subjected to both pressure and stressful environment, Stainless steel would take the crown when it comes to enduring the regular wear and tear of your daily activities.
In conclusion, sterling silver rings beat stainless steel ones when it comes to ring aesthetics, oxidized or not, easier to resize due to its softer property. Still, it comes second with regards to the durability and strength of stainless steel rings.
Thin chain for women
Much like the chain necklace, Sterling silver is suited for thin chain bracelets. It is because of the gloss that comes with a silver base. It gives a delicate and classy appeal that is suitable for women. In addition, since it a chain type of bracelet, any scratches gained are not going to be noticeable. Women also tend to be more careful with their jewelry, and sterling silver does need that care. Keep in mind to regularly clean your sterling silver chain bracelets to prevent deep-seated oxidized sulfide that usually seen in between tightly coiled chains.
Thick chain for men
Stainless steel is absolutely the better choice when it comes to thick chain bracelets for men. It has this pleasant weight on your arm combined with the raw and highly masculine stainless steel appeal. It is also hard-wearing and tough, so you do not need to worry when it is exposed to your desk to sudden impact and textured surfaces. It is scratch-resistant and, finally, hypoallergenic.
Bangles are the inflexible type of bracelet, and therefore, stainless steel would be the best choice for this type of arm jewelry. The sturdiness of the alloy would keep the shape of the bangle. As this would usually have a plate or a flat surface, the scratch resistance property of stainless steel would come in handy in keeping the bangle look pristine and new for a long time.
Both are suitable for this type of bracelet, but each brings their aces on the table. Stainless steel can provide the durability and hardness for the cuff to retain its perfect circular shape. Still, it is not that aesthetically appealing unless coated with a layer of gold or silver. Sterling silver, on the other hand, would give the coveted beauty and shine, but the wearer must make sure that it would not be exposed to hard surfaces.
In conclusion, sterling silver would provide the aesthetic needed by a cuff bracelet.
Our ears are exceptionally delicate, and we must consider the weight of our earrings. Stainless steel is said to be heavier than sterling silver. Therefore, sterling silver is a better choice for the thick and more decorated type of jewelry, while thin and straightforward earrings are best for stainless steel.
- Hypoallergenic property
What causes skin allergy when it comes to jewelry? The nickel content of the jewelry is the most common cause of skin irritation. Sterling silver is usually alloyed with copper, but there are times that it can be replaced with nickel. Generally, sterling silver is considered hypoallergenic unless you are sensitive to copper. Stainless steel is also hypoallergenic, although it contains nickel; the chromium oxide layer locks the nickel component inside. In effect, the nickel content does not come on contact on the skin.
In conclusion, both stainless steel and sterling silver are considered hypoallergenic.
May it be stud, hoop, or drop; both sterling silver and stainless steel have their own charm. Simple or studded, laser engraved, or three-dimensional; both can accommodate any style you may like. The only difference would be the final aesthetic.
Colored or plated pieces of jewelry are the in thing nowadays, especially deep black. Stainless steel is a better candidate when it comes to plating for its surface provides an even and smooth base for the coat to adhere to. In addition, whether its hoop or stud, you are guaranteed with a secure pin and clasp for its rigid and sturdy feature, unlike with a sterling silver that may bend and get out of shape.
For paved earrings, sterling silver is a better choice. The reason is the prong that holds the crystal is pushed over the glass, having a custom fit unlike in stainless steel where jewels are fastened using a glue that wears out and deteriorates in the end. Sterling silver also creates a chic and stylish flair for its brilliant and lustrous silver color. The silver and crystal embed perfectly complement one another, creating a highly luxurious pair of earrings.
For laser-etched and everyday molded earrings, Stainless steel would be the better choice for it conveys this understated casual appeal for punk and off-the-cuff daily looks.
In conclusion, sterling silver is best for semi-formal to formal wear, while stainless steel earrings are more for regular and casual wear.
We finally arrived at the conclusion part of this article, and it is time to answer which is better? Stainless steel or Sterling silver? The answer is it depends on you. Yes, it really depends on the wearer, you see, if I were to choose a daily accessory with minimal maintenance, I would undoubtedly go with stainless steel. It is affordable, easy to maintain, and hypoallergenic. I would not need to worry about ruining my jewelry when I go from my boring deskbound routine to a sudden kicking and highly dynamic workout. Now ask me again when I need to attend a formal gathering or going on a date. I would immediately choose sterling silver over stainless steel. Why? Because my goal is to look glamorous and elegant, that a piece of jewelry made from stainless steel does not exude. So frankly, you and only you can answer which one is better. This is the reason why the argument on which one is better is never-ending. It is because we all have our own purpose in wearing our jewelry, and this affects our personal opinion on the matter.