Shopping for a ring can be a stressful experience. Making it more so is the sheer amount of choice between designs, styles, gemstones, and the material that the ring is made from.
We are going to look at two options, sterling silver versus stainless steel rings and ask is sterling silver better?
There are a lot of things to consider when you are choosing a ring. We will examine what you need to think about before deciding between these two metals including their physical characteristics, how they differ and whether they are both good for jewelry making.
What Are The Physical Characteristics Of Sterling Silver?
Before deciding whether you are going to choose either a sterling silver or stainless steel ring it is important to distinguish between them. This includes looking at the composition of both and what that means for their suitability for jewelry and their durability.
Sterling silver is an alloy which means it is a combination of two or more metals. In this case, sterling silver is 92.5% by weight of silver with the other 7.5% being other metals such as copper. For this reason sterling silver is hallmarked with a 925 stamp.
The reason for adding other metals to silver is that by itself silver is too soft and malleable. Therefore metals such as copper are added to it to increase the strength and durability of the silver.
However, when copper is added to silver the resulting sterling silver is prone to tarnishing. For this reason other metals such as zinc, germanium and platinum are often used instead. These metals add strength to the sterling silver but reduce the chances of tarnishing.
Adding rhodium as a coating or polish gives sterling silver a brilliant, high gloss finish. For extra strength and durability, some jewelers add palladium to sterling silver.
The color of a sterling silver ring will be more white but with some yellow hues due to the presence of the copper in the alloy. When it is polished it is not as reflective as stainless steel and has a softer shine.
Sterling silver is used to make lots of everyday objects such as fine tableware including cutlery, coffee and tea service sets. It is also used to make musical instruments and of course, jewelry.
As it is still quite a soft metal, sterling silver can be crafted into beautifully intricate pieces of jewelry including rings. Due to this malleability it is also easier to resize and reshape a sterling silver ring.
Pros Of Sterling Silver Rings
- Sterling silver is stronger than pure silver which is too soft to be practical as jewelry
- It is still malleable enough to allow intricate designs and resizing
- For more tarnish resistant sterling silver metals such as platinum and zinc can be added as alloys
- As it contains a semi precious metal it is more valuable than stainless steel
- Sterling silver rings can be polished or coated with rhodium for a high gloss finish
- By adding palladium sterling silver rings can be made stronger and more durable
Cons Of Sterling Silver Rings
- Sterling silver with a copper alloy can tarnish if not cared for properly
- It is still soft enough to be scratched or dented
- Not as durable as stainless steel rings
- Requires more care and maintenance to retain its appearance
What Are The Physical Characteristics Of Stainless Steel?
While on the surface it is difficult to tell a sterling silver ring from a stainless steel ring and both are alloys there are large compositional differences between them.
Stainless steel is also an alloy containing mostly iron but with at least 11% chromium. It may also contain other elements such as carbon and other metals or non metals depending on its intended purpose.
Stainless steel is a widely used material and has many different applications including jewelry. A stainless steel ring will have an excellent resistance to corrosion and is much more durable than sterling silver.
One of the many benefits of stainless steel is that it can be made to resemble other metals such as sterling silver or white gold. It is a very strong material and will not scratch or dent easily. It also does not oxidize due to the presence of chromium which protects it.
The color of stainless steel jewelry is more of a grayish blue but is highly reflective once it is polished.
There are around 150 different grades of stainless steel with 15 that are most commonly used. The material is used in countless industries such as construction, engineering, manufacturing and has a multitude of applications.
As a metal for jewelry it has an impressive hardness, strength and durability and can be fashioned to look like other metals. With no precious or semi precious metals in its composition stainless steel is a much more affordable material for jewelry.
Pros Of Stainless Steel Rings
- Stainless steel rings will not get scratched or dented
- They can resemble other metals such as sterling silver or white gold
- It is impervious to corrosion due to the presence of chromium
- Various finishes available
- A stainless steel ring is very durable and strong
- It is less expensive than sterling silver
Cons Of Stainless Steel Rings
- Due to its hardness a stainless steel ring will be difficult to reshape or resize
- A stainless steel ring will not appreciate in value
- Stainless steel cannot achieve the same intricacy of design as sterling silver
How Are Sterling Silver And Stainless Steel Rings Different?
While it may look like there are not many obvious visible differences between sterling silver and stainless steel rings, we have seen that their physical properties are different. These differences translate into subtle variations in the appearance of the two.
Stainless steel has the ability to be highly polished, and many people prefer the high gloss that lasts and doesn’t tarnish. The chromium in stainless steel actively repairs any tarnishing as it reacts with oxygen to create chromium oxide which maintains the high shine.
Sterling silver is most often made with copper as an alloy and this combination is more prone to tarnishing. This can often be seen on jewelry as a blackening of the surface, if you wipe your finger across it, you will see black smudging.
Although it does have other metals added to it to create a stronger alloy, sterling silver is still malleable and soft enough to form into complex designs. This allows a greater degree of intricacy in the jewelry made from sterling silver compared to stainless steel which is harder.
Despite this additional strengthening sterling silver is not particularly suitable for mounting gemstones on and for this stainless steel may be a better choice. Although it is possible to incorporate a stronger mount onto a sterling silver ring.
Long wear can create a dull look on sterling silver particularly when exposed to wet environments or acidic skin. You should not wear a sterling silver ring or other jewelry when you go swimming as the chlorine will cause it to tarnish.
On the other hand stainless steel rings do not tarnish nor react to wet environments in the same way and would require prolonged exposure to be affected.
Does Stainless Steel Tarnish?
As sterling silver is prone to tarnishing particularly when copper is added to the alloy it is natural to wonder if stainless steel can tarnish too. It is also an alloy so is there a risk of a stainless steel ring tarnishing?
The short answer is no, but there are always exceptions.
The composition of stainless steel is the reason why it is not prone to corrosion, tarnishing or rust. Despite having a large quantity of iron in its makeup this material is very unlikely to ever tarnish. This is due to the chromium in the stainless steel.
Chromium in stainless steel jewelry resists tarnishing by the formation of chromium oxide on the surface. This is referred to as the passive layer, and it is capable of repairing itself if it is damaged.
When Will Stainless Steel Tarnish?
Although for the most part stainless steel jewelry will resist corrosion and tarnishing under certain conditions it is possible for it to begin to deteriorate.
If you swim every day in a pool and wear your stainless steel ring this exposure to chlorine over time could cause it to tarnish. The same is true for frequent, prolonged exposure to other wet environments and the oil on your skin.
To preserve your stainless steel ring it is best to remove it when you swim, exercise or shower. If it does get wet make sure you dry it thoroughly before putting it back on.
The chromium passive layer in the stainless steel will normally repair any minor scratches, or spots of tarnish. In the case of extreme exposure to elements that can cause tarnishing make sure that you are cleaning your jewelry regularly and drying it adequately.
Is Sterling Silver Better For Jewelry?
Deciding which metal alloy is better for your jewelry will depend on what it is you want from the piece.
If you want a ring that will retain its high gloss appearance and never get scratched or dented then stainless steel is probably the best option.
However, more often than not what people are looking for in a ring is something that is attractive, unique and has some degree of monetary value. All of those things apply to a sterling silver ring.
While it may need a little bit more care and maintenance the look and feel of the ring will be more delicate, intricate and valuable. The soft malleable nature of sterling silver may be one of its weaknesses, but it’s also one of its strengths.
This metal alloy has an elegance and sophistication that is potentially lacking in a stainless steel ring. Its soft shine and unique natural finish as it ages make it feel more a part of you than a ring that remains exactly the same for decades.
Although it does have a tendency toward tarnishing with the proper care a sterling silver ring will last a long time. Nowadays, it is possible to have your sterling silver ring coated with rhodium to achieve an anti-tarnishing protection.
The added benefit of this is that the soft shine of natural sterling silver is transformed into a high gloss finish. Be aware however that a sterling silver ring coated in rhodium will become more rigid and may be more difficult to resize or reshape.
Caring For Stainless Steel & Sterling Silver Rings
Whether you decide to choose a sterling silver or stainless steel ring or both it is important to know how to care for them.
Cleaning A Stainless Steel Ring
Luckily a stainless steel ring needs little maintenance and care to keep it looking good. This is because the composition of the alloy makes it durable and strong.
However, it should still be cleaned particularly if it has been exposed to harsh chemicals or prolonged wet conditions. For initial cleaning just use some soap and warm water to remove any dirt or dust. Leave the ring to soak in the soapy water for a few minutes.
Take the ring out of the soap solution and wipe off any remaining dirt with a soft cloth. If the ring has an intricate design and dirt is in hard to reach areas use a soft bristle toothbrush to clean it. Once you have removed all the dirt, dry the ring thoroughly with a lint free cloth.
Cleaning A Sterling Silver Ring
If you are worried about causing any damage to a sterling silver ring by cleaning it you can take it to a jewelry store for professional cleaning. For the most part however, it is possible to clean a sterling silver ring at home.
Use a purpose made sterling silver cleaner from a reputable brand. Using a soft lint free cloth, apply a small amount to the ring. Rub gently to work the cleaner into the surface.
Rinse the ring in some clean, warm water until all traces of the cleaner have been removed. Use hard water, not filtered water as it will not be as corrosive.
Now using a soft cloth blot the sterling silver ring dry and lightly polish.
Cost Of Stainless Steel & Sterling Silver Rings
The cost of stainless steel or sterling silver rings is worth considering as, although they are quite similar in appearance there are important differences.
Stainless Steel Ring Cost
There are around 150 grades of stainless steel used for many different purposes. The most grades of stainless steel used for making jewelry are 304 and 316.
Grade 304 is used more often and is also known as 18-8 stainless steel. This is because it contains approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel. This combination creates an alloy with excellent corrosion resistance.
When molybdenum is added to grade 304 stainless steel it creates grade 316. This stainless steel has even better anti corrosion properties. For this reason, the cost of jewelry made from 316 grade stainless steel is more expensive than 304.
The cost of stainless steel jewelry will vary according to the style and design but in general a wedding band will cost between $20-$30.
Sterling Silver Ring Cost
While there are different grades of stainless steel used for jewelry there is only one grade of sterling silver. Having said that, there are several other types of silver available as jewelry.
Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver with the remaining 7.5% typically being copper, although sometimes it may be nickel. The cost of a sterling silver wedding band will be around $100.
Fine silver is 99.9% pure silver and is hallmarked as .999 to indicate this. The other 0.1% comprises trace elements of insignificant quantity.
However, fine silver is extremely soft and not very durable so by itself is not really suitable for most jewelry such as rings. Although fine silver earrings and necklaces are less likely to be dented or scratched. It has a vitreous luster compared to the soft shine of sterling silver.
As the percentage of silver in fine silver is so high, so too will the cost be. An ounce of silver costs around $21 with a pound costing around $340.
A new type of non-tarnish alloy is available which also contains 92.5% silver just like sterling silver. However as well as the addition of copper this alloy also contains germanium which makes the silver harder and more resistant to tarnish.
These new alloys of which Argentium silver is one, require less maintenance than sterling silver while still having the same percentage of silver. The price of these new non-tarnish silver alloys is higher than sterling silver.
This is because they contain germanium rather than copper. The cost of Argentium silver is $31 per ounce.
Sterling Silver Or Stainless Steel Wedding Rings?
If you are trying to decide between having sterling silver or stainless steel wedding rings there are a few things to consider.
The style of the wedding rings will most likely be your first consideration. You will want them to look stylish and to fit with your own personal taste. After all, you will be wearing them for the rest of your lives hopefully, so the look and feel of your wedding rings is very important.
Something you will need to factor into your decision is your lifestyle. For the groom, if he is working a manual job chances are a stainless steel ring is going to be more practical.
This is because it is likely to get bumped and knocked, as a more durable material stainless steel will withstand this kind of treatment. If he works out a lot the constant contact with sweat can cause a reaction with sterling silver.
Sterling silver will get scratched and dented much more easily. However, if the groom works in an office or has a less manual job sterling silver will be fine.
For the bride her lifestyle is also a consideration. Some jobs and hobbies involve working with chemicals which may cause damage to a sterling silver ring. Again a very manual job may not suit a sterling silver ring and a stainless steel ring may be more practical.
Lastly you will want to consider the cost of both the sterling silver and stainless steel rings. Stainless steel is more affordable and a typical wedding ring will cost between $20-$30 depending on the size and design.
A sterling silver wedding ring is more expensive as it contains a semi precious metal. For a wedding ring in sterling silver, expect to pay at least $100-$125 depending on the style, design and size.
When it comes to choosing between a sterling silver ring and a stainless steel one your own preferences will play a major part.
For some people the idea of a stainless steel wedding ring is not one they would consider despite how good they look and how durable they are.
As sterling silver has a high percentage of a semi precious metal many people may choose them on this basis and see them as an investment.
We hope that this guide to sterling silver versus stainless steel rings has helped you to understand the difference between them and given you the information you need to make a choice.
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