Sterling Silver And Magnets
So the question is if my sterling silver jewelry sticks to a magnet does that mean my silver is fake? I see this question quite often, and I have seen a multitude of different answers. Most of the answers you find on the internet, including videos, say the sterling is fake if it sticks to a magnet, and people don’t even take the time to acid test to verify their findings, they just assume. Imagine how many pieces of perfectly good sterling silver jewelry have been thrown away based on just a magnet test!
Although sometimes there may be some truth to these statements, the short answer is “NO“, that does not mean your sterling silver is fake. A magnet test is just the first step in testing sterling silver jewelry, if a magnet is used at all. Many jewelers, precious metal refiners, and pawn shops do not even use a magnet to test jewelry. Even though I have a few rare earth magnets(neodymium), I personally do not use one. I acid test every single item that comes through my business. Unless you have enough money to afford an electronic machine to analyze metals, an acid test is the only sure and affordable way you have to test jewelry yourself.
Every image in this post can be clicked to view a larger version of the image in a new tab or window.
- A .999(99.9%) small test bar
- A new old stock(NOS) early 1970s sterling silver charm on it’s original card. I chose this because it has nickel content and will stick to a magnet.
- A newer(mid 2000s) damaged rope chain. The rope chain is rhodium plated to prevent tarnishing so also has nickel content(will write another blog post later about rhodium)
- A super or rare earth magnet(neodynium)
- A testing stone.
- 18k testing acid(I am using the 18k solution instead of the silver solution because it is much easier to see the results).
The testing stone. This stone is 3×6 inches. Most of the testing kits you find online only come with a 2×2 inch stone and complete set of testing solutions for around $15. I test a lot of jewelry so bought the larger stone separate, if you look closely you can tell I use this on a daily basis(tons of wear).
The charm I am using for the test. Notice the card it’s on says Sterling Silver at top(the horseshoe is sterling), and at bottom says Tab-Nickel Silver(the state tab in center is nickel silver), I have also added a pic below that shows the horseshoe itself is marked Ster.(c), and the state tab is marked Nickel Sil. I have a few of these same charms. Normally I would not do this, but for the purpose of this demonstration I am going to destroy(cut in half) this charm.
The super or rare earth magnet. When I bought this it was 2 inches long, dropped it and it broke. Will still serve the purpose for this test.
The rope chain. I chose this chain because it is already damaged so I don’t have to worry about that, and because it is much newer and shows that newer and older jewelry can stick to a magnet.
18k gold testing solution. Like I said above I am using this solution because it is faster and will show the results much better. Keep in mind the 18k solution will give the same results whether the item contains 80% silver or 99.9% silver. If I was testing to verify the percentage of silver I would use the red silver solution(I have already verified the silver content of all items used in this test/example).
BEFORE I get to testing I want to make something clear: I have scratched each item below very wide and very hard; this is not necessary when testing wearable jewelry, I only did this for the benefit of this article to make it easier for you to see what is going on.
So let’s get to testing! First up is the magnet test. In the pics below you can see that both pieces of the charm and rope chain all stick to the magnet, but the fine silver test bar does not. Although the horseshoe part of the charm is sterling silver it contains nickel so sticks. The rope chain is rhodium plated to prevent tarnishing and this plating process requires nickel content.
NOS sterling charm sticking to magnet
Sterling rope chain sticking to magnet
Silver test bar does not stick
Something to keep in mind if using a magnet to test jewelry: When a bracelet or necklace with a lobster claw or C style clasp is close to a magnet the clasp will stick because it has a steel spring inside the clasp. This applies to any type of spring loaded clasp.
Next up is acid testing. First test I will go ahead and test the fine silver test bar. The first pic is the scratch, second pic shows a double acid test. As you can see when I add a drop of acid the scratch turns a milky whitish blue color. In the picture you can see there are two separate tests, the one on the left is the rope chain, on the right is the test bar. I did this to show something I talked about above; the tests look almost identical, but one is 92.5% silver, the other 99.9% silver. I did this just to show that using 18k testing solution will Not tell you the percentage of silver the item contains(you can see a slight difference in the two tests if examined closely; after you have tested many items you will learn to spot these minute differences more easily).
The test bar and scratch. As you can see the scratch is a nice bright silver color.
A side by side acid test of test bar and rope chain. On the left is rope, on the right is the test bar. As you can see there’s not much difference in the two tests.
This next test will be both parts of the charm. Before scratching I cut both pieces in half. The first scratch on the stone is the horseshoe(left), the second scratch is the nickel silver state tab(right). Notice there is very little difference in the color of the two scratches. When I put a drop of the 18k solution on each scratch you can see that the horseshoe scratch turns a milky whitish blue color, and the nickel silver scratch just disappears. And there you have it, even though the horseshoe sticks to the magnet, can even be picked up by the magnet, it still tests as sterling silver.
The horseshoe itself is marked Ster.(c), and the state tab is marked Nickel Sil.
Charm and tab cut in half, half of each stuck to magnet.
Horseshoe scratch on left, state tab scratch on right. Notice they look the same.
Acid test results. The horseshoe(left) is milky white/blue, the state tab(right) completely disappears.
Next up is the rope chain. The chain is rhodium plated which makes it stronger and very resistant to tarnish. For rhodium plating to stick the item must be coated with nickel because the rhodium will not adhere straight to and will damage the silver(will do a write-up on this in a later post). Before I scratch it a little warning…rhodium is a very hard substance and when you scratch it you must press hard enough to scratch through the plating. When scratching you will see the scratch change to a silver color once you make it through the plating.
I usually do two separate scratches when dealing with rhodium just to make sure I get deep enough to verify silver content(although rhodium has positives like strength and non tarnish, I actually despise it because it is so hard to scratch through, especially when laid on thick). The plating on this chain was thin enough I only needed to scratch once. As you can see I get the same result here as I did with the charm above, the same milky whitish blue color.
Another picture of the rope chain sticking to a magnet, notice the whole chain will stick.
Nice wide scratch on the testing stone from the rope chain. Scratching this hard and wide is not necessary when testing wearable jewelry.
The acid test results for the rope chain. It clearly tested as sterling silver. There is a picture earlier in post showing this scratch compared to the test bar scratch.
So there you have it. A magnet test does not determine if something is real silver or not. I know I only tested two items in this post, I did that only to keep the post shorter(came out pretty long anyway). I chose these two pieces because one is older and one is newer. I have 100s of pieces in my own collection that will react to a magnet the same way.
Use the main image at the top of this post as an example…every single item in that picture is sterling silver, and every single one sticks to the magnet. The picture contains the testing stone with each item tested, and in the background each item is stuck to the magnet in a pile.
There are many other things to consider when dealing with sterling silver, many myths and misconstrued facts, but I will save that for another post. What are your thoughts on sterling silver and magnet testing?