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Silverplate vs. Sterling Silver? What's the Difference?

As you know by now, Laughing Frog Studio upcycles vintage silverware into jewelry, accessories, housewares and more. We work with both sterling silver and silverplate flatware. Since the bulk of our creations fall under the category of jewelry, we often get questions about metal content especially as it relates to allergies. Here are some of the questions we have received along with our explanations.

“What does “Silverplate” mean?”

Silverplate flatware is silverware that is made from a base metal and then coated/plated with a thin layer of fine silver.

“Is Silverplate the same as Sterling Silver?”

No. First, there are several types of silver. Fine Silver, Sterling Silver, Coin Silver.

  • Fine Silver contains no alloy and is 99.99% silver.
  • Sterling Silver is an alloy of 92.5 % (.925) silver and 7.5% (.075) copper.
  • Coin silver is an alloy of 90% Silver and 10% copper.
Sterling silver pickle fork with ornate scroll detail front and backside with sterling marking.
    Sterling silver flatware contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
    Silverplate flatware begins with a base metal that is coated with a very thin layer of 99.99% fine silver (measured in microns).

    For silverplate flatware, the process by which this bonding/plating is achieved is called electroplating. Electroplating uses an electrical current to coat an electrically conductive metal with a thin layer of silver. In effect, the base metal’s electrical charge attracts the silver particles to adhere to the piece. For more about the science of electroplating go to http://www.explainthatstuff.com/electroplating.html.

    “What is the base metal of Silverplate flatware?”

    That’s a big question. But we will try to make it as simple as possible. There are the four main base metals: Copper, Brass, Cupronickel, and Nickel Silver, Nickel.

    Copper is not often used as a base for flatware as it is very soft. More often a copper alloy is used.

    Brass is not a pure metal but an alloy of copper and zinc. It is usually 70 % copper and 30% zinc.

    Cupronickel is an alloy of copper that contains nickel and strengthening elements, such as iron and manganese. It is usually 90% Cupro (copper-nickel) and 10% iron.

    Nickel Silver is an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. It is usually 60% nickel, 20% copper and 20% zinc.

    Nickel is a pure metal is really only used in very old antique pieces.

    With all that being said, we cannot say with 100% certainty what the base metal is of each specific piece we make. Sometimes we can guess the base metal based on how the metal looks when its cut or how it responds to our creation methods. But we simply cannot say with 100% certainty.

     Antique silverplate and sterling silver silverware and jewelry made out of old silverware this photo shows the before and after.

    “Will Your Upcycled Silverware Jewelry Make My Allergy Flare Up or My Skin Turn Colors?”

    This is a very tricky question. For the vast majority of people there will be no reaction whatsoever. But if you have a nickel allergy or some other metal allergy, we suggest you choose pieces made from more pure metals like sterling silver. (Note: Sterling silver is also an alloy, so people can still technically have an allergy, but those responses are far less frequent with sterling as it contains a very high percent of fine silver.)

    Regardless of the metal composition, vintage silverware (both sterling and silverplate) are gorgeous works of art that capture a moment in historical time and lend themselves nicely to upcycling with beauty and style. 

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    Other Blog Posts: 

    Is It Flatware or Wait is It Silverware? Wait No, It’s Cutlery
    Vintage Silverplate Tells a "Story" Just Like Vintage Photos Tell a "Story"

    Welcome to Laughing Frog Studio

    The Secret Meaning of Flowers on Upcycled Silverware Jewelry

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    2 comments

    • Thank you for sharing the difference between these two. I really liked your way of presenting the article.

      Leight Works
    • Hi
      I came into numerous pieces of silver plated flatware and had grand ideas for making—— You know! I do not have any need for my fork pieces after cutting off the handles. Would you be interested? Please let me know

      Shannon

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