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Sterling Silver or Silver Plate:  How do you tell?

Carefully inspect your item for a sterling silver mark; this may be in the form of a 925 stamp or a hallmark. If you are looking at jewelry, check the clasp. You should see one of the following markings or something similar: "9.25," "925/1000," "Sterling," "S/S" or "Sterling 9.25." If you do not see any of these markings, it's highly unlikely the item is genuine silver.

If you do not see the sterling marking, the item is probably silver plated. Check the coloring of the item carefully; genuine silver is generally less shiny and colder in tone than silver-plate. If you see places where the silver appears to be flaking off or turning green, the item is silver plated.

To investigate further, you can try cleaning the item with a soft cloth. Real silver will oxidize with friction and as a result, usually leave black marks on the cloth. Exposure to air or other chemicals results in tarnishing that does not occur with fake silver.   

Sterling silver will tarnish over time and should be polished with a soft cloth using a silver cleaner. 

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