Materials & Techniques

Silver, Sterling Silver, and Silver plate

Pure silver is very soft, malleable, white, ductile, and is considered a precious metal. Silver is widely distributed throughout the world, occurring rarely as metallic silver and more often as silver-gold alloy and silver ore. As a pure metal, silver is second to gold in malleability and ductility, can be polished to a highly reflective surface, and used - typically in an alloy - in jewelry, coinage, photography, mirrors, electrical contacts, and tableware.

Sterling is a standard high-grade silver alloy and means that the item contains a minimum of 925 parts silver (at least 92.5% silver); the rest is copper to give it more strength, and allows it to hold a shape. Sterling silver is found in the form of hollowware, jewelry, tableware, flatware, and coins.

Silver plate contains only an outside layer of sterling silver, usually with nickel underneath.

Adapted from

  • Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art, (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press, 1996), 20.

  • Getty Vocabulary, AAT (silver (metal): AAT: 300011029).

  • Kevin Tucker, DMA unpublished material, Gallery text, American Art, "Silver Terms."