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Why Silver Plate Sterling Silver?

Hello - I was looking at sterling silver jewelry made in Thailand, and noticed that some manufactures silver plate sterling silver. I don’t quite understand the benefits of doing so as silver plating sterling silver won’t prevent tarnishing like rhodium or nickel plating over sterling silver.

I asked a manufacture why they silver plate sterling silver, and they said it is to keep the item shiny longer, and the item is nickel free.

Could someone tell me if this is a common practice, and what the benefit of silver plating sterling silver? Or maybe they put fine silver over sterling…this makes better sense.

Also, does silver plating over sterling require base plating (i.e., a layer of another metal between sterling silver and silver plating)?

Thank you!

I don’t have a metallurgist degree but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to plate sterling silver over sterling silver since it is an alloy. I do undertand plating fine silver over sterling silver. I hope to learn more from someone who understands metal way more than I do. Am I missing something?

The usual reason for silver plating sterling is to hide fire-stain.

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Ah! That makes sense. The jewelry I was looking at was casted, and I recently learned that casting can create fire scale. It makes sense to cover it up by plating sterling over casted sterling piece.

Do you know if it’s possible to plate sterling silver over sterling silver? Does it require base plating?

This was always on my mind too. But the firescale reply makes perfect sense

It’s not uncommon in the watch industry when silver cases are made. The cases are usually made of 995 silver, but plated with 999 silver. Silver that is 999 pure does not tarnish, or so say the watch case makers. ACtually, it does, but at a ver much slower rate than 995 or sterling silver.

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And if you plate with fine silver, do you still stamp it as just Sterling?

my understanding is that you need to stamp according to the lowest silver content contained in the piece.

Hi Barbara, did you mean to say according to the highest silver content? That would make
more sense . Just like ingredients list in a food product they do it from the most content to the least.

no - you must mark according to the lowest. You can’t make a false claim that the entire piece is made from fine silver when part of it is sterling.

Barbara that’s my understanding, too.

Does anybody know if base plating is needed for fine silver plating over sterling, and sterling silver plating over sterling?

If using both fine silver and sterling ( in approximately the same amounts), can you not mark both? If gold is used as an accent, should that be marked as well?
Denny Diamond

it does not matter that it is equal amounts - even if 2 per cent was sterling and 98 per cent was fine silver, you still mark it as sterling. For pieces with gold as an accent I leave you to a goldsmith to comment.

Oh! ok that makes sense. :slight_smile: I am a newbie.

I mark all materials on piece.

You’ll want to check your local legislation (rules vary and this is an international community). But I think you would be allowed to mark the gold in addition to the silver as long as it is clear which pieces are which and you put the part that is the higher majority (presumably the silver) first. Or leave the whole piece un-stamped.
You’ve got to be careful to follow the local rules on this one. Some jurisdictions allow for the seizure of improperly marked items (and/or possible charges on top of that). Which would be a really unfortunate situation.

Yep, to hide fire-stain. Personally, I think its a bad practice since the fine plating soon wears off … and you got the fire-stain still there. Another tactic is to depletion guild the piece, which essentially achieves the same results as plating (but it might be thicker). Looks good for a while. Modern sterling jewelry is manufactured in an inert environment. No oxygen, no fire-scale. That’s just not feasible for a small shop. Another tactic one sees all too often is to fire-stain the hell out of it … and call it “rustic”. I hate fire-stain. I’ve had the best luck with standard sterling using prips flux and judicious torch control - reducing flame, and get in and out fast. Regardless, you still get fire-stain … it just happens. So you do something funky like call it rustic, plate or depletion guild it, or polish it out. My suggestion is to only work in gold :slight_smile: I have switched to Argentium, which brings a whole new set of problems (and possibilities) … others swear by continnium, sterlium, etc. I have not done production work in years … have not been in the trade for many years. I figure trying to make a living working in silver is a hard row to hoe.

The thin plating of pure silver onto sterling silver objects (usually castings) is sometimes called a ‘shop finish’. It is done to give a more attractive whiter finish (particularly in recesses) and covers fire stain to a degree.
It will still tarnish over time though, unlike more expensive Rhodium plating.
Under strict health and safety conditions only,
sterling silver objects may be repeatedly heated and placed in acid in order to leach out the copper part of the silver alloy which is responsible for the fire stain marks in the surface. Thus a skin of pure silver is achieved.
Some old silversmiths told me years ago that they tried to cover whole pieces with fire stain on purpose in order to avoid the patchy effect,
I have never tried that though and tend to rely on proprietory anti-fire stain products.