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Sterling


#1

G’day all

Either I’m in the process of making a monumental fool of myself or
many of the people who have responded to my assertions as to what
legally may be called Sterling silver are correct when they say "
the only stipulation is that the alloy contain a minimum of 92.5%
silver " - a situation which, if true, is ludicrous.

What we need now is some hard evidence one way or the other so I’d
appreciate it if anyone out there can tell me which legislation
covers the matter of precious metal Standards in:

1/ the U.K.
2/ the European Community
3/ the U.S.A.

and where I might access it if it’s available on the WWW.

Thanks Al Heywood


#2
  Al, your wrong about the copper.  The sterling standard says
92.5 percent silver.  It does NOT specify what the remaining 7.5
should be. 

Aaaaaah Peter ! I assume you are in the USA ? Mate, here’s the crux
of the matter - what constitutes Sterling silver is a matter of
legal and metallurgical definition in the great outside world - not
opinion, surmise or marketing terminology . Below is the gist of an
offline reply I gave this morning to another doubter.

" The composition of the binary silver-copper alloy that’s been
known as Sterling silver for around 700 years was first quantified and
specified by law in England in the Twelfth Century during the reign
of Henry II. Henry imported refiners from “an area in Germany known
as ESTERLING. The product they made was of consistent quality and
came into usage as currency by 1300 when it was known as Esterling
Silver.”

Most of the world outside the continental US, and any manufacturer
IN the continental US who wishes to legally supply Sterling silver
goods to the world market must use this particular binary
silver-copper alloy - no other.

I’m going to put together an article with a brief description of and
introduction to phase diagrams as they are used by metallurgists and
post it on my site as soon as I get some time.

It is irrelevant what marketing description or terminology a
particular supplier of alloys might choose to use in the US - the
fact that it’s not illegal in the US as it is in the European
Community, Australia, et al doesn’t make it correct."

cheers
Al Heywood


#3
  Aaaaaah Peter ! I assume you are in the USA ? Mate, here's the
crux of the matter - what constitutes Sterling silver is a matter
of legal and metallurgical definition in the great outside world 

True enough, Al, though sometimes Seattle is accused of being it’s
own unique country… (grin). And you’re right, of course, that
other countries might specify the copper portion of the alloy too,
but frankly, the admitedly limited resources I’ve got (an old little
book on british hallmarks), that describes the british standards,
also mentions only the silver portion of the alloy. This could
easily be a limitation of the paragraph, rather than an accurate
description of the British legal standard for Sterling. I’d ask
you to remember, however, that there may be a difference between the
historical meaning of the term, which certainly does specify the
copper content, and the legal requirement that the base metal MUST be
copper and no other. I’d leave that, of course, to those Orchidians
on the european side of the atlantic, who no doubt understand their
own laws better than I could hope to. But I’ll mention in passing
that I do happen to know a couple manufacturers who are selling
items marked sterling, in europe, though i don’t know which countries
specifically, where those items are cast in one or another of the
fire scale free sterling silver casting alloys sold here. These
alloys substituted significant amounts of the copper for other
metals, sometimes all of the copper is substituted. So either these
firms have found that these alloys are legal in some parts of europe,
or their breaking laws (or perhaps it’s legal for them to
manufacture here and sell there, but it wouldn’t be legal for someone
to manufacture over there with such alloys… )

Peter


#4

From every book on the subject of Silver I have ever read; You are
correct when you say that “Sterling” is an alloy of Silver/Copper,
and if a piece is marked “Sterling” it legally needs to be a mixture
of Silver/Copper. However, I believe that the line can get a bit
fuzzy when the piece is stamped “.925”, for while we might associate
this (in the US at least) to mean “Sterling”, in reality it just
indicates that 92.5% of the alloy is Silver and the other 7.5% could
be pop-tarts/bacon grease or anything else for
that matter. This does present problems, especially for the end
consumer who goes to places like Mexico, where the Silver is alloyed
with 7.5% Nickel (if I am remembering correctly) instead of Copper;
this alloy tends to be much more brittle and work hardens much
quicker than the Copper counterpart; and tends to crack after
relatively little wear. It is also more of pain in the but to
repair, as many of you know from experience.

US refiners/manufacturers of “Sterling” (like Hoover & Strong) are
held to quite strict regulations regarding alloy content. So, if
you are buying the “Sterling” from a metals supplier in the US, it
is pretty safe to assume that you are getting a Silver/Copper Alloy.
If however, you are doing your own mixing (like during casting) and
you decide to use a different “.925” mixture. Full disclosure to
your customer should preclude the making of the piece, just so they
understand what they are getting. I have had customers who have
wanted an alloy of Silver/Gold. Who am I to argue, as long as the $
are there?


#5
Just a question regarding the what is "sterling" thread. What do we
call an alloy that consists only of 92.5% sliver and 7.5% germanium?

Well David, I think its important to keep it simple. I would stamp
925 and avoid Sterling. As for its name, silver germanium alloy.

Jonathan Brunet


#6

Peter, I’m coming to believe I should have kept my mouth shut for a
bit longer on this one. I appear to have let my belief substitute for
knowledge in re the legalities of the Sterling standard - not a very
scientific approach and one I don’t have a lot of time for.

Without wishing to grovel overly much at this stage, I’d like to say
that my concern was only that the “you can’t enamel Sterling silver
castings successfully” myth was being perpetuated here on Orchid.
I’ve spent the thick end of 20 years trying to correct that belief in
Australia.

If, as you and others have pointed out, in the U.S. Sterling silver
is legally “anything that contains a minimum of 92.5% silver” then I
now understand why few of your enamellers can get it to work ! Over
the years I’ve tested the suitability of the major deox/bright
silver alloys for vitreous enamelling ( samples of a couple of the
next generation of alloys as recently as a few months ago ). Some of
this type of alloy can be enamelled ( i.e. the enamel will fuse to
the metal and not delaminate ) but all that I have come across have
problems of one sort or another that make them unsuitable for quality
vitreous enamelling.

It will be interesting to see what posts are made in re the laws
regarding Sterling in the various jurisdictions - I still believe
that dogs aren’t cats.

cheers
Allan


#7

Hi Al,

I think Peter makes a valid point: “there may be a difference
between the historical meaning of the term, which certainly does
specify the copper content, and the legal requirement that the base
metal MUST be copper and no other.”

Let’s check with the “experts”…

Oppi Untract (a European), in Jewelry Concepts and Technology, p.
44, in a paragraph describing British hallmarking: “Sterling silver
must contain 925/1000 parts silver; and Brittania, 958.4/1000 parts
silver, the rest usually being copper.” There’s an awful lot of
wiggle room between “must be” and “usually be.”

Finegold & Seitz, in Silversmithing, p. 14: “In order to be made
harder and to wear better in general use, silver is frequently
combined with copper. This makes a binary alloy, a mixture of two
metals. (A ternary alloy would contain three metals.) When the ratio
between silver and copper is 925:75 the alloy is called sterling
silver.” Might support your assertion that the alloying metal must
be copper to be called sterling, depending on interpretation.
Certainly opens up the possibility of alloying silver with metals
other than copper.

Interestingly, they also provide an alternate derivation of the word
sterling, aside from the German based Easterling. "A more plausible
derivation seems to be the Old English word Steorling - a coin with
a star - which refers to the small stars that appear on some Norman
pennies.

Rio Grande catalog (yes, an American co.), 2002-2003, p. 35:
“Sterling silver is the term used to describe silver alloy that
contains 92.5% and 7.5% copper. Legally, 7.5% of any metal may be
used, with the product still marked ‘sterling.’” They don’t state
whether it’s globally or domestically legal, but I suspect they ship
goods all over the world.

Last, but not least, from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s
Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries,
Effective April 10, 2001:

=A7 23.6 Misrepresentation as to silver content. (b) It is unfair or
deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise represent all or part of an
industry product as “silver,” “solid silver,” “Sterling Silver,”
“Sterling,” or the abbreviation “Ster.” unless it is at least
925/1,000ths pure silver.

URL: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/jewel-gd.htm

Of course, this just governs us silly Americans (what do we know?),
but again, nothing specifies what the other 75/1,000ths must be.

I’ve checked several other (non-American) resources, too, and none
of my research turns up anything that states specifically that the
alloying metal must be copper in order to use the term sterling.
The overwhelming evidence I find is that the degree of fineness
(.925) is the determining factor, with no stipulation as to the metal
with which the silver must be alloyed.

Phase diagrams are well and good, but I don’t see how they would
support your position. If anyone has any documentation that silver
must be alloyed with copper to be deemed “sterling” in the global
marketplace, I’d love to see it.

All the best,
Dave

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
dave@sebaste.com


#8

Sterling silver in the UK is any alloy with 92.5 percent silver or
above Brittania is 95.8% silver and fine is 99% silver, the solders
also have to have a high silver content. regards Martin

link to uk hall marking laws
http://www.britishhallmarkingcouncil.gov.uk/publications/


#9

Hi folks,

I’ve been following this thread, these past few days, and have to
admit that Al & Peter’s comments left me feeling unsure enough that
I wanted to know more, one way or the other. It’d always been my
impression that, as far as definitions in the U.S. and England are
concerned, if 925 parts per 1000 of a given alloy are comprised of
silver, and 75 parts per 1000 of that alloy are of copper, than it
is known as Sterling Silver, but that if that non-silver part of the
alloy isn’t copper, while the resulting alloy could still bear the
purity mark of “.925”, it could not, legally, be sold as “Sterling”,
any more than 23 karat gold could be sold as “pure” or a VS Diamond,
as “flawless”. But, as I said, I did some searching, and came up
with the following…

In the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s “Guide for the Jewelry,
Precious Metals and Pewter Industries”, published April 10, 2001
(viewable at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/jewel-gd.htm ), the
following appears:

"=A7 23.6 Misrepresentation as to silver content.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise
represent all or part of an industry product as “silver,” “solid
silver,” “Sterling Silver,” “Sterling,” or the abbreviation "Ster.“
unless it is at least 925/1,000ths pure silver.”

So, thanks, Peter: I stand corrected!

All the best,
Doug

Douglas Turet, GJ
Lapidary Artist, Designer & Goldsmith
Turet Design
P.O. Box 162
Arlington, MA 02476
Tel. (617) 325-5328
eFax (928) 222-0815
anotherbrightidea@hotmail.com


#10

Allan,

Here is the relevant info from the United States Federal Trade
Commission. They are the Agency with jurisdiction over the quality
marks in the US. Their web page for quality marking is at
http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/jewelryjump.htm I think you will find
that in most of the world the rules and regulations at to what
constitutes an alloy for quality marking have been unitized. What
quality is legal in a given country varies, like 9k is not legal in
the US but 10K is. But the meaning of 10K or Sterling is pretty much
universal in the majority of countries. Also who can mark the goods
varies .

23.6 Misrepresentation as to silver content.

(a) It is unfair or deceptive to misrepresent that an industry
product contains silver, or to misrepresent an industry product as
having a silver content, plating, electroplating, or coating.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise
represent all or part of an industry product as “silver,” “solid
silver,” “Sterling Silver,” “Sterling,” or the abbreviation "Ster."
unless it is at least 925/1,000ths pure silver.

© It is unfair or deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise
represent all or part of an industry product as “coin” or “coin
silver” unless it is at least 900/1,000ths pure silver.

(d) It is unfair or deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise
represent all or part of an industry product as being plated or
coated with silver unless all significant surfaces of the product or
part contain a plating or coating of silver that is of substantial
thickness. 8

(e) The provisions of this section relating to markings and
descriptions of industry products and parts thereof are subject to
the applicable tolerances of the National Stamping Act or any
amendment thereof. 9

Note 1 to 23.6: The National Stamping Act provides that
silverplated articles shall not “be stamped, branded, engraved or
imprinted with the word ‘sterling’ or the word ‘coin,’ either alone
or in conjunction with other words or marks.” 15 U.S.C. 297(a).

Note 2 to 23.6: Exemptions recognized in the assay of silver
industry products are listed in the appendix.


#11

David, your Germanium alloy would still be sterling, but why use 7.5
%? As the clever metallurgist who devised the patented "Argentium"
brand of sterling has shown us, all you need is 1.2% by weight
Germanium to virtually eliminate subsurface firescale. Oh yeah, did
I mention that it’s patented? Germanium, being a rare-earth, is
costly compared to copper, but I wonder how hard it is to process?
Could one alloy it in the small shop? Curious…


#12

g’day Dave

Hallmarks and Common Control marks etc relate only to gold, silver
or platinum “fineness” - that is, metal purity. They are not related
to alloy composition in any other way.

So this:

 23.6 Misrepresentation as to silver content. (b) It is unfair or
deceptive to mark, describe, or otherwise represent all or part of
an industry product as "silver," "solid silver," "Sterling Silver,"
"Sterling," or the abbreviation "Ster." unless it is at least
925/1,000ths pure silver. 

refers only to minimum precious metal content and nothing else. The
terms “silver”, solid silver" and “Sterling silver” used in this
context must refer to previously-defined metallurgical entities in
order to have any meaning. e.g. the element silver is a metallurgical
entity that has been exhaustively studied and about which millions of
facts are known.

23.6 implies that a minimum silver content of 92.5% would make any
alloy “silver” or “solid silver” as well as “Sterling silver” or
"Sterling" - clearly that can’t be right unless “silver”, “solid
silver” and Sterling silver" are interchangeable terms !

Sec. 296. - Standard of fineness of silver articles; deviation again
refers only to fineness :

http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/15/296.html

and doesn’t provide a definition of Sterling silver either.

However I’m either right or wrong - there’s a long-standing legal
definition of Sterling silver in UK law or there isn’t.

I’m doing some digging around and will post the results when they
come to hand.

Phase diagrams are well and good, but I don’t see how they would
support your position.

I don’t intend the phase diagrams to support my contention that
there is a legal definition of Sterling silver Dave - they simply
show graphically a few of the more obvious reasons why, given the
difference in physical and chemical characteristics between alloys
from the silver-copper system and ( say ) the silver-lead or
silver-sulphur systems, it’s ridiculous to allow the corresponding
92.5% silver alloys to all be called “Sterling silver”. The 92.5%
silver -7.5% pop-tart analogy.

cheers
Allan


#13
This does present problems, especially for the end consumer who
goes to places like Mexico, where the Silver is alloyed with 7.5%
Nickel (if I am remembering correctly) instead of Copper 

Mr. Silverfoot I am not so sure that your Mexican alloy manufacturers
are making sterling with nickel. It is my experience that while you
might be able to get by using nickel as a grain refiner in a sterling
alloy when introduced with copper as a master alloy, it is not likely
possible to directly mix pure silver and nickel. They do not like
each other and will not mix directly. Nickel tends to sit in a clump
all by itself off in a corner somewhere while the molten silver
dances around it. Has someone else out there seen pure silver get
pure nickel to join the party?

Best Regards,
J. Tyler Teague
JETT Research
(Jewelry Engineering, Training, & Technology)


#14

An additional note on silver (and gold) alloys within the EEC. It’s
now no longer legal to use nickel as part of the alloy because such a
high proportion of people have allergies to it. Like wise “spinning
silver” - although not illegal - is no longer used because of the
lung diseases caused by the dust particles. The old alloy contained
cadmium.

Tony Konrath
Key West Florida 33040


#15
    If, as you and others have pointed out, in the U.S. Sterling
silver is legally "anything that contains a minimum of 92.5%
silver" then I now understand why few of your enamellers can get
it to work ! 

At this point, perhaps it would be fair to point out that in the
U.S., and likely most other sources, if you go to your metals
suppliers and just buy “sterling silver”, the alloy you’ll get is
almost certainly going to contain just 7.5 percent copper only, in
addition of course to the silver. The various other alloys used for
fire scale/fire stain resistance or tarnish resistance, or other
such uses, are virtually always more costly, and thus need to be
specifically specified when ordering. Many of them are also usually
only available in casting grain form, rather than sheet and wire, so
those folks buying sheet and wire forms of sterling will have a
somewhat difficult time finding any forms of sterling silver other
than just the traditional silver/copper alloy.

Peter


#16

No- But what I have seen in Mexico is Alpaca, AKA German Silver,
being sold as silver. German Silver is a nickel-based alloy with no
silver in it. It is much harder and more brittle than sterling.

Lee Einer


#17

The sterling standard in the UK refers only to silver content not to
the alloy composition. Tony Konrath


#18
  They do not like each other and will not mix directly.  Nickel
tends to sit in a clump all by itself off in a corner somewhere
while the molten silver dances around it.  Has someone else out
there seen pure silver get pure nickel to join the party? 

Hi Tyler, Welcome to the list.

If you look at a binary phase diagram of silver and nickel you will
see that they do not alloy. They are like oil and water neither
one is soluble in the other. You could as you say use it as a grain
refiner but it would be in very tiny amounts (less than 1%) and you
would need the copper or some other metal that is able to take
nickel into solution in the mix to get the nickel distributed.

Jim
James Binnion Metal Arts LLC


@James_Binnion


#19

Hey guys, I have been following this sterling/enamel thread for a few
days now because of the metallurgical discussions and I thought I
might throw this in the pile. I would like to avoid the discussion
of "is it sterling if the remaining 75 parts of the alloy is not
copper. In my world (USA), it certainly is sterling if there are 925
parts pure silver. Regardless, I design a lot of custom alloys for
various companies for various purposes around the planet. I got
called to come up with one for this one company in particular. They
needed another deox sterling silver alloy that left less slag in the
crucible, had fewer oxide related defects, was more tarnish resistant
than ones currently being used, was more user friendly, yadda yadda,
yadda… I had done many versions of deox sterling in previous work
so this one didn’t take too long to do since I knew where I had
screwed up before. So I finally came up with this formula and I was
all proud of it, standing there with my chest sticking out, when they
blindsided me with one more requirement for this alloy. They wanted
to be able to oxidize it. In my mind I was thinking, how crazy are
these people. They had me spend all this time developing this
version of alloy only to want to now intentionally tarnish it.
Freaky!, what was the point of this exercise?

I have told you this story because it kind of goes along with the
issues that I have been reading regarding enameling and sterling,
especially from Mr. Heywood. The solution that I came up with for
this particular company to tarnish their new tarnish resistant
sterling alloy might help those that are having difficulty enameling
on tarnish resistant alloys. The metals like Germanium, Zinc, Boron,
etc…, are very reactive metals and are used in these types of
alloys for that reason. They protect the other metals in the mix
from attack by oxygen and sulfur by sacrificing themselves first.
Very noble. Anyway, what I had this company do to tarnish this deox
sterling was to pretreat it in a hot, 120 degree Fahrenheit, 20%
Nitric acid bath for 20 seconds, rinse, and then go directly into the
"liver of sulfur". This acid pretreatment removed the sacrificial
elements from a few micros of the surface and left a virtually pure
silver layer. After oxidation, they would mechanically remove that
pure silver layer and the higher oxidized surface back down to the
subsurface layer that was the protective alloy. This gave them a
jewelry item where the oxidized portion and the polished portion
would always be the same. This might also work for you enamel folks.
I don’t personally do any enameling but I understand the process
and after reading some of the letters, I thought that this little
story might be of some use. By using tarnish resistant, low copper,
alloys with a similar pre-treatment, you could get the high purity
silver layer for your enamel work then polish off the outside later
after firing. If used properly, many deox sterlings would work well
in this heating process since their job is to protect against fire
scale and other evils anyway.

One other thing. If the walls between the enamel areas are thick
enough, have you tried undercutting the bezel with an inverted cone
burr ever so slightly. This probably would not be possible on very
thin walls but in some other instances, it could and would help.

Best Regards,
J. Tyler Teague
JETT Research
(Jewelry Engineering, Training, & Technology)


#20

Mr. Teague, as a fan of metallurgy, could you describe to me, off
forum, how to read phase diagrams to determine inter-metallic
soluability? I am familiar w/ phase diagrams, and have used them
with steel alloys to see heat treatment temps and eutectic alloys
etc., but how to infer soluability…sounds neat. Danny