09 Mar When Silver Falls Short of the Mark

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The Hot Issue question in our most recent Brain Squad survey concerned the purity of silver coming into jewelers’ stores, either off the street or from vendors.

Several store owners had told us they were finding more and more silver that was well below what was advertised or which seemed to be generating an unhealthy amount of interest from a magnet. Of the 140 jewelers who answered the question, about half said no, this wasn’t issue for them, while about 30 per cent listed the extensive checks they went through to ensure it wasn’t an issue for them. That left about 20 per cent who said they were regularly seeing low-purity silver come in. Our conclusion: Be careful out there and be sure to do the required testing.

Here is a sampling of some of the responses to the question:

-A lot of the better-finished sterling silver has a nickel plate before the rhodium plate is applied, which can apparently make it magnetic. This makes it very difficult to distinguish lower purity silver from 925 due to the fact that it is slightly attracted to a rare earth magnet.

-Flatware is mostly accurate, but other silver, buyer beware! I have been stuck more than I care with under-karated silver. Paying much less now for crafted silver scrap.

-Some of the makers use a process that plates the silver with a copper plating and then silver plating over it so the plating holds better.

-Make sure the invoice supports the karat or silver mark and make the vendor responsible.

-I have not had any issues with silver, however I have had some problems with gold. I have run into metals during repairs that appear to “puddle” when heated even before the solder flows. It seems as though whatever alloy process is being used isn't very consistent. I mostly find this in what I would call "offshore promotional quality" goods.

-I have to rely on vendors. Surprisingly, some vendors that I have dealt with for years have told me who to watch out for. And those "watch out fors" have been correct.

-A large percentage of the silver we are getting in is below .900. We are using acid testing and "detective" work to find the true silver content.

-Due to all the fraud and unreliable silver purity, in large part due to temporary or illegal overseas merchants, we’ve actually stopped all silver production and sales. It is impossible to compete with people not selling real silver because their costs are half of ours.

-I just returned two sterling cuff bracelets to a vendor for evaluation. I have never had any silver item tarnish so quickly after thorough cleaning and I suspect that the silver is either alloyed with the wrong material, or the silver content is lower than stated.

-We have seen a lot of jewelry stamped 925 only to test it and find it is not even silver.

-We have all of our vendors verify the origin of product and also if the merchandise is nickel-free. Nickel-free is the best way to go; a lot of people are allergic to nickel.

-We have heard of a group trying to triple-plate brass to pass the acid testing but if scratch tested it will show a gold color.

-Nine out of 10 silver chains coming into the store are marked 925 but are silver over copper!

-Wow! That question touched a chord here! The best advice I've heard in the last two weeks is to regularly send merchandise and mill products to a third party for independent assay and keep on top of your suppliers, and call them on less-than-legal standards ... it's our name and face that gets attached to less-than-sterling sterling. Since early December a major vendor has been refusing to submit in writing the content of their product and has now been cut out of our business chain of refiner to retailer.

-Only use new silver from Hoover & Strong. Overseas “sterling” is a joke. Since we have been buying gold off the street, we rarely find 14K is 14K, more like 12K.

- We test all sterling to make sure that it is sterling. 2) We use a concentrated nitric acid.

-The only problem we've encountered is rhodium vs. raw silver.

-I talked with my refiner about how to buy silverware and candle sticks, tea sets; he gave me a good formula. Manhattan Gold & Silver — great company to work with.

-We see a lot of silver, or should I say jewelry marked as silver that isn't. Most of it you can tell fairly easily, however when in doubt we have our goldsmith test it with a wheel just to be sure it is silver. Whether or not it is a least 900 is far more difficult but when buying off the street we are not panicking over 3 per cent or so.

-We have a Thermo Nitron X-ray gun and I can say that almost NONE of the silver jewelry coming in is 925, especially from Mexico. 900 silver is coin silver, and most jewelry in the North American market for the last 100-plus years has been sold as sterling, which is 925. As for new goods, yes, the branded product we buy new is .925 and assays as such. As a side note, U.S. sterling flatware and hollowware always assays/x-rays to 925 ... the under quality is a feature of the imported jewelry, mostly from Mexico.

-“Mexican silver” is made with quite a bit more lead so we adjusted to giving around 30 to 40 per cent instead of 60 to 70 per cent. We do silver acid tests but if I am not sure it goes to NTR as a separate lot and they melt and test and I report back to the customer based on these findings. The customer knows they are responsible for all mail and melt charges and they can decide from there. Not worth it most of the time but at least you are not sending them out the door with a "no" tone type of answer. Very few customers seem to be put off by it.

-We have been burned a couple of times from buying over the counter and to combat that we have been forced to reduce the purchase price for silver. As we are one of the few in the area still purchasing silver we are doing very well offering a little lower percentage on silver buying.


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Last modified on Friday, 09 March 2012 09:08
Chris Burslem

Chris Burslem is the group managing editor of INSTORE. He loves it when good ideas triumph.