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Sterling Silver: How to Choose It, How to Care for It

Sterling silver has several advantages as a setting for fine jewelry. It's less expensive than gold or platinum, so big, bold looks are affordable; it looks particularly striking with certain hair and skin colorations; often teamed with yellow gold, it's a natural accompaniment to stones such as pearls, onyx, garnets, amethyst and turquoise.

Silver designs run the gamut from the classic to fashion-forward. A simple sterling and freshwater pearl bracelet is a wardrobe staple. A plain silver bangle or ring conveys conservative elegance. A round pendant with a textured silver surface and a bezel of karat gold and diamonds makes for a dramatic look.  

Sterling silver continues to be a popular choice for religious and spiritual jewelry. Crosses and other symbols denoting various Christian affiliations are traditionally made of silver; symbols of love, faith, and family, such as lockets that house tiny mementos, are often designed in silver.

Quality sterling silver jewelry and giftware is well finished, has no rough edges, and often bears a maker's mark.

Silver is always alloyed (combined) with other metals, such as copper, to make it stronger and more durable. Sterling silver, the alloy most usually used for jewelry, is at least 92.5% pure silver, and will be marked accordingly with a tiny stamp that says ?925,? ?92.5,? ?Sterling,? ?Silver? or ?Ster.? Despite its great selling points, sterling silver needs a bit of special care and handling. It can tarnish and scratches easily. The solution? Keep silver jewelry separate from other jewelry, preferably in a small cloth or plastic bag. Before you put it on, give it a quick buff with a soft cloth.

Tarnish can easily be removed with commercial silver polish, but always rub the polish on and off with a soft cloth, not a brush. If you have to use a brush to get at the crannies, it should be the softest brush you can find. Frequent rubbing will give silver a slightly dull finish, or ?patina,? which many people find very attractive.