How to Identify Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver is a common metal for jewelry because it ages well, is easy to manipulate, and is more affordable than gold or platinum. By definition, sterling silver is silver that is 925/1000 parts silver, or 92.5% silver. Pure silver (99% +) is too soft for jewelry-making so the highest silver content in jewelry is usually .925. The remaining percentage of alloy is usually copper, but other metal alloys can be used too such as zinc and platinum.

Identify Sterling Silver using Hallmarks

The best way to identify sterling silver jewelry is to inspect the piece, because almost all silver jewelry has a stamp indicating the silver content. A HUGE catalog of silver stamps used over time and by different manufacturers is located at the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Makers Marks. Researching these makers marks will tell you just about everything you need to know about where and when your jewelry was made.

925 Sterling Silver

925 sterling silver mark
A sterling hallmark from a piece of Mexican TAXCO silver. This includes a “sterling” hallmark with the “925” as well as a TAXCO indicator and the jewelry maker’s mark.

Since the early 1900s, American sterling jewelry is required to have a sterling mark if it is 92.5% sterling silver. Pieces older than the early 1900s will be stamped “STERLING” or “STER” or “SS” somewhere on the piece of jewelry. It may have been stamped this way or it might have worn away over years of wear.

However, newer sterling silver jewelry is often stamped “925”. 

To the right is a sterling silver hallmark from a TAXCO piece, including the maker’s mark (“Perlita”). If you have a TAXCO piece that includes detailed hallmarks, you can research them in a Mexican sterling marks catalogue. In this case, Perlita is the name of a local shop in Taxco, Mexico, the Mexican town that is so famous for silversmithing.

I love Mexican silver and can get lost on eBay poring over the tons of examples and huge range of quality found in Mexican silver jewelry, particularly Taxco silver.

950 Sterling Mark

You often find the 950 Sterling mark on Mexican sterling from before the World War II era. 950 silver is 95% silver and 5% alloy, and does have a higher silver content than sterling. However this is not seen very often in jewelry because it’s difficult to make jewelry with this softness of metal.

900 and 800 Silver

Older and antique jewelry may include a 900 stamp. This shows that the jewelry is 900/1000 parts silver, 90% silver and 10% alloy. This is obviously not quite as high a silver content as sterling. Coin silver might be an alloy, but it can literally mean you’re holding silver made from melted down coins. Vintage Native American jewelry may often not have a silver content mark on it, but often this jewelry has a silver content in the range of coin silver.

Sometimes, you’ll see an 800 stamp on a piece of vintage silver jewelry. This means that the content of the jewelry is 4/5 or 80% silver and 20% alloy. Many times, based on the style of the piece and the 800 stamp, you can begin researching European jewelry and other foreign makers. Some vintage silver filigree jewelry will have an 800 mark as well.

Silver Testing

Commercial silver test kits are available for silver jewelry online, or you can go to your local jeweler or metal scrapper for testing if you’ve exhausted your own research.

Why Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is one of my favorite metals for jewelry because it ages well, often developing a beautiful gray or black patina, and it is more affordable than gold or platinum. Jewelers love sterling silver because it is easy to work with and beautifully sets off precious and semi-precious stones. In the gallery above, I included some of my favorite styles of sterling silver pieces, including Mexican jewelry, Tuareg jewelry, and mid-century silver statement pieces.

Learning to identify sterling silver is easy with a little experience and research and will bring big returns to any collector. As with any metal commodity, you can track the value of sterling silver at any given time by getting familiar with the commodities market.  

What is Siam Sterling?

Siam Sterling jewelry was manufactured from the 1930s through the 1980s, and was a very popular motif in the 1950-60s. Although Siam officially changed its name to Thailand in the 1940s, the “Siam” nickname for this style of jewelry stuck. 

Siam silver is officially called “Nielloware.” Niello is a black mixture of copper, silver, and lead, used as an inlay on engraved or etched metal. American soldiers who visited Thailand in the mid-20th century bought this jewelry for their ladies back home, making it a popular mid-century trend. Much of the filigree was etched by hand by Thai artisans.

Identifying Siam Sterling

Nielloware pieces are usually stamped “Siam” or “Niello” on the back. You will find common examples with figurals such as dancers or peacocks carved out of a black field. All Siam sterling is sterling silver and will usually have some type of black, white or occasionally colored enamel as part of the design. Only the black and silver pieces are considered Nielloware by collectors, and colored enamels fit into another category of Siam silver.

Value

Most pieces aren’t worth a ton of money, but if you think you have something large or unusual, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Collectors of Siam sterling get very serious about unusual colors and large, rare pieces and will pay top dollar.

The Chickens at Point of Lay

Our chickens started laying a couple of weeks ago. In the video below, the ladies are pictured right before “point of lay,” and are darting around their run after we gave them kitchen scraps and chicken scratch. There is a loaf of old french bread hanging in the coop for some chicken enrichment activity (I don’t know, what is my life?) but they mostly ignored it. Apologies for bad video quality.

What does “point of lay” mean?

Point of lay” describes a young chicken — AKA a pullet, AKA a female chicken under one year old — at the time she is about ready to begin laying eggs. You’ll know your chickens are ready to lay when their combs and wattles get big and red and they do a submissive squat-and-dance when you approach them. When they do this, they basically think you’re the rooster and are giving you the okay to mate. However, please don’t mate with your chickens. My chickens also got cranky, hungry, and loud for a couple of weeks, like they were going through an accelerated chicken puberty.

Their combs and wattles got bigger and changed color from pink to red. Then the chickens started making moaning and croaking noises and spent a couple of days going to and from the nest box. Eventually they settled down and laid their first eggs.

Brown eggs er’ry day, er’ry day.

With seven chickens who *just* started laying, we’re averaging about four eggs a day. Some breeds begin laying earlier than others, but the average is about 22-24 weeks old depending on a variety of factors from the breed, to the amount of daylight they receive, to the foods they’re fed. Some of the eggs are teeny-tiny, about half the size of a normal grocery egg. This is both normal for first-time layers AND ADORABLE.

All of our chickens are brown egg layers. We thought for a minute that the red chicken might be an Easter Egger, a blue egg layer, but she’s a regular old heritage hen. She also happens to be the friendliest and most social chicken. She’s our only regular squatter-and-dancer, which means she’s the only one that tolerates being held and socializing with us outside of the coop, which ALSO means she happens to get more opportunities to scratch around the garden for bugs and sprouts while we work in the yard. This is a great opportunity for her, as the more variety and richness that chickens experience with their feed, the more rich and healthy and delicious their eggs will be.

Chickens need calcium, greens, fat, and fiber to stay healthy and lay healthy eggs. We feed them layer feed and supplement with scratch and oyster shell, along with giving them kitchen scraps nightly. They LOVE a wilted grape, tomato, or strawberry and will fight over small fruits. I’ve heard if you feed your chickens onions and garlic, their eggs will taste like it, so we try to avoid that.

What about a rooster?

One thing that people ask me all the time is how the chickens lay eggs without us having a rooster. It surprises me that folks don’t know this!

It’s biology, y’all. The ladies ovulate regularly (just like humans do) whether or not a rooster is around. With a rooster — with mating — you get fertile eggs and chicks for hatching. Without a rooster — without mating — you get infertile eggs for eating.