What Is Pure Silver? A Guide for Precious Metals Enthusiasts (2024)

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Last Updated on: 22nd January 2024, 08:33 pm

In the precious metals business, we have an expression that differentiates pure silver from sterling silver, white gold, and other similar metals and alloys: three nines fine. In other words, “pure silver” refers to silver bullion or coinage that is hallmarked with a .999 stamp. 

Even a beginner can tell apart a pure silver bar from an alloy. For one, pure silver is shinier, sleeker, and almost looks luminescent under direct light. Secondly, silver alloys lose their color relatively quickly compared to pure silver—given its copper content, silver alloy oxidizes on its surface and takes on a dull and dark tint.  

In 2024, more and more investors are taking an interest in silver as an investment. Given silver’s price performance in 2022 and 2023, with the metal averaging $21.71 an ounce and finishing the year a hair under $24, it makes sense why silver demand has recently reached all-time highs. 

In fact, there was a forecasted 142 million-ounce silver supply deficit in 2023.

Given silver’s meteoric rise in recent months, you may want to learn more about pure silver and how it differentiates from other forms of silver. Below, we’ve provided a full breakdown of the basics of pure silver, how to identify it, how to acquire it, and more. 

Pure Silver: How to Differentiate It From Alloys, Platinum, and Gold

Newer investors often have a hard time discerning pure silver from its lookalikes. And, to be honest, even more experienced ones too. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see $100M+ precious metals scams in the news year after year.  

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to identify pure silver from impure varieties. 

Pure Silver vs. Silver Alloy (Sterling Silver)

Below are some of the most reliable methods for identifying pure silver bullion, coins, and ingot.

  1. Hallmarks and Stamps: Look for hallmarks, stamps, or engravings on the silver item. These marks often indicate the purity level of the silver. A common mark for pure silver is “925,” which indicates that the silver is 92.5% pure (sterling silver). Other markings might include “999” for fine silver or “800” for silver with a lower purity level.
  2. Magnet Test: Use a solid magnet to check the item's reaction. Pure silver is non-magnetic, so if the magnet sticks to the item, it likely contains iron or other metals and is not pure silver.
  3. Color and Luster: Pure silver has a distinct, bright white color and a high luster. Alloys may have different shades or a slightly duller appearance due to the presence of other metals.
  4. Acid Test: Conduct an acid test using a silver testing solution or acid. Apply a small drop of the testing solution to a discreet area of the item. If the metal changes color or reacts with the acid, it might be an alloy. Pure silver should remain unaffected.
  5. Weight Comparison: Compare the weight of the item to a known quantity of pure silver. Alloys often have different densities, so a significant difference in weight might suggest an alloy.
  6. Sound Test: Gently tap the item with a metal object. Pure silver produces a clear, high-pitched ringing sound. Alloys may produce a duller or different sound due to their composition.
  7. Hallmark Research: Research the specific hallmark or stamp used on the item. Different countries and time periods have used various hallmarks that can help you determine the purity of silver.
  8. Professional Appraisal: Seek the expertise of a professional jeweler or appraiser who can perform more advanced tests and examinations to determine the silver's authenticity and purity.
  9. Malleability and Texture: Pure silver is highly malleable and can be easily bent and shaped. If the item is unusually rigid or difficult to bend, it might contain other metals.
  10. Tarnishing Behavior: Observe how the item tarnishes over time. Pure silver tarnishes slowly and develops a black or grayish patina. If the item tarnishes rapidly or differently, it could be an alloy.

Remember that while these steps can provide helpful indications, definitive identification of silver purity may require professional analysis, especially for valuable or intricate items.

Pure Silver vs. (White) Gold

White gold is sometimes confused with silver. But don’t fall for fool’s silver, because pure silver has many distinct physical and chemical properties that set it apart from white gold. Here’s how you can distinguish between them:

  1. Hallmarks and Stamps: Check for hallmarks or stamps on the item. Pure silver often bears marks like “925” (sterling silver) or “999” (fine silver), while white gold may be marked with numbers like “14K,” “18K,” or “10K” to indicate its gold content.
  2. Color Comparison: Compare the color of the metal. Pure silver has a distinct bright white color, while white gold has a slightly warmer hue due to its gold content.
  3. Acid Test: Similar to the gold toothbrush test, you can use household acid solutions to test your silver in a DIY environment. Apply the solutions to separate areas of the item. If the metal reacts differently to each solution, it's likely white gold.
  4. Weight Comparison: Compare the item's weight to known quantities of both pure silver and white gold. White gold is denser than silver. Therefore, a weight difference might suggest white gold.
  5. Professional Appraisal: Seek the expertise of a professional jeweler or appraiser who can perform advanced tests and visual examinations to accurately identify the metal.
  6. Tarnishing Behavior: Observe how the item tarnishes over time. Pure silver tarnishes quickly, developing a black or gray patina, while white gold tarnishes slowly, if at all.
  7. Jeweler's Markings: Look for additional markings, engravings, or symbols that jewelers may use to indicate white gold, such as “WG” or “WHT.”
  8. Metal Composition: If possible, inquire about the metal's composition from the seller or manufacturer. White gold is an alloy of gold and other metals like palladium, nickel, or silver.
  9. Light Reflection: Examine how the metal reflects light. White gold tends to reflect light with a subdued, soft glow, while pure silver's reflection is typically brighter and more pronounced.

Pure Silver vs. Platinum 

Platinum and pure silver have a large number of clear differences that set them apart. Nonetheless, you sometimes see novice precious metals investors confuse the two. Here’s how you can easily tell pure silver from platinum:

  1. Hallmarks and Stamps: Examine the item for hallmarks or stamps. Platinum may have marks like “950” or “PT” to indicate its platinum content.
  2. Color Comparison: Compare the color of the metal. Pure silver has a bright white color, while platinum has a similar silvery-white hue but with a cooler and grayish tone.
  3. Density Test: Check the density of the item. Platinum is significantly denser than silver, so if the item feels heavier than expected for its size, it might be platinum.
  4. Acid Test: Conduct an acid test using specialized platinum and silver testing solutions. Apply the solutions to separate areas of the item. If the metal reacts differently to each solution, it's likely platinum.
  5. Professional Appraisal: Seek the expertise of a professional jeweler or appraiser who can perform advanced tests and visual examinations to accurately identify the metal.
  6. Tarnishing Behavior: Observe how the item tarnishes over time. Silver tarnishes more quickly, developing a black or gray patina, while platinum is highly resistant to tarnishing.
  7. Jeweler's Markings: Look for markings or engravings  such as “PLAT” or “950 Plat.”
  8. Light Reflection: Observe how the metal reflects light. Platinum tends to reflect light with a bright, white shine, while pure silver's reflection is typically bright but may have a warmer tone.
  9. Magnet Test: Use a strong magnet to check the item's reaction. Platinum is non-magnetic, while silver may show a weak magnetic response due to other metals mixed in.
  10. Metal Composition: If possible, inquire about the metal's composition from the seller or manufacturer. Platinum is a noble metal, whereas silver is a transition metal.

Physical Characteristics of Pure Silver

Pure silver, known for its timeless elegance and versatility, possesses distinct physical characteristics that set it apart from other metals:

  1. Lustrous Appearance: Pure silver showcases a brilliant and captivating luster. Its surface reflects light with exceptional brightness, imparting a captivating shine that adds to its aesthetic appeal.
  2. White and Bright: The color of pure silver is a dazzling, bright white with a hint of blue undertones. This distinctive hue contributes to its classic beauty and makes it a sought-after choice in jewelry and decorative items.
  3. Soft and Malleable: Among metals, pure silver stands out for its remarkable softness and malleability. It is incredibly pliable and can be easily bent, shaped, or worked into intricate designs by skilled artisans.
  4. Conductivity: Pure silver is an exceptional conductor of both heat and electricity. This property has practical applications in various industries, including electronics and technology.
  5. Non-Magnetic: Unlike certain other metals, pure silver is non-magnetic. It doesn't exhibit any magnetic attraction, allowing it to be easily distinguished from magnetic materials.
  6. Tarnish and Patina: One of the unique characteristics of pure silver is its tendency to tarnish over time when exposed to air and certain environmental factors. This natural tarnishing process forms a thin layer of patina that can add depth and character to silver items.
  7. Ductility: Pure silver is highly ductile, meaning it can be drawn into thin wires without breaking. This property is particularly useful for creating delicate and intricate jewelry designs.
  8. Low Reactivity: Silver is relatively unreactive chemically, making it resistant to corrosion and oxidation. This stability contributes to its durability and longevity.
  9. High Reflectivity: Known for its exceptional reflectivity, pure silver can efficiently reflect light and other electromagnetic waves. This property makes it valuable in applications such as mirrors and reflective coatings.
  10. Sound Characteristics: In its pure form, silver produces a distinctive and melodious ringing sound when struck. This property has led to its historical use in crafting musical instruments and bells.

Chemical and Mechanical Properties of Pure Silver

Now, the chemical properties of pure silver are also worth noting. Below, we’ll note the approximate quantitative values of pure silver, which tend to vary according to the metal’s isotopic composition and a variety of other factors. 

Chemical Properties:

  • Atomic Number: 47
  • Symbol: Ag (from the Latin word “Argentum”)
  • Atomic Weight: 107.8682 atomic mass units

Physical Properties:

  • Density: 10.49 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm³)
  • Melting Point: 961.8 degrees Celsius (1,763.2 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Boiling Point: 2,162 degrees Celsius (3,923.6 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • State at Room Temperature: Solid
  • Color: Bright, metallic white
  • Luster: Shiny, metallic

Mechanical Properties:

  • Hardness: 2.5 on the Mohs scale
  • Malleability: Highly malleable; can be flattened into thin sheets
  • Ductility: Highly ductile; can be drawn into thin wires

Electrical and Thermal Properties:

  • Electrical Conductivity: Excellent conductor of electricity
  • Thermal Conductivity: Excellent conductor of heat

Other Properties:

  • Corrosion Resistance: Relatively resistant to corrosion; tarnishes over time due to exposure to air and sulfur compounds
  • Solubility: Low solubility in water and most solvents
  • Radioactivity: Stable and non-radioactive

What Does Pure Silver Look Like?

Curious about what pure silver looks like? We encourage you to watch this YouTube video by Robinson Foundry, where a metalworker hobbyist turns pure silver bars into a DIY craft set. 

In the introduction, he handles a pair of NTR Metals silver bars and taps them together to produce silver’s distinctive clinking sound. 

Still images of NTR Metals .999 pure silver bars (Source: Robinson Foundry)

Generally, pure silver bars look like those pictured above. No matter which sovereign Mint or manufacturer produced it, all investment-grade pure silver will adhere to a similar design. 

For instance, the vintage one-ounce Morgan Silver Bars pictured below follow the same marking framework: weight and purity are marked on the front, with textured branding on the reverse. 

Morgan 1-oz. silver bars (Source: Austin Rare Coins)

Silver coins will appear equally shiny and luminescent with a bright and metallic white luster. Among the best pure silver coins is the American Silver Eagle, a round weighing one troy ounce whose purity is guaranteed by the United States government. 

These rounds were first minted in 1986 and are IRA-compatible silver coins based on Adolph Weinman’s “Walking Liberty” half-dollar design. 

2024 American Silver Eagle coin (Source: JONRMS)

These pure silver coins are the most commonly bought and sold silver items in America. While precious metals scams do exist, purchasing American Silver Eagles from reputable dealers and performing basic silver authenticity tests—such as the acid and magnet tests mentioned above—can help identify fraudulent silver coins and numismatics. 

Retirement investors should be especially wary of potentially predatory silver vendors. If you’re looking for a trustworthy company to help add silver to your retirement accounts, I recommend checking out this review of the best silver IRA and 401(k) companies in the Salt Lake Tribune. 

How to Buy Pure Silver

Buying pure silver bars and coins is fairly straightforward. You can find investment-grade silver items at your local pawn shop, jeweler, or an online precious metals retailer. 

Most dedicated investors choose to buy silver from IRS-approved American precious metals dealers. These companies tend to have long histories in the market, and are staffed by precious metals experts who can facilitate the investment process from start to finish. 

Here are just a few of the benefits of buying pure silver from an online precious metals dealer: 

  • Full FDIC insurance coverage for all purchased items
  • All transactions are IRS-compliant
  • Storage and vaulting options available (off-shore or domestic)
  • Wide selection of products available of silver, gold, and platinum-group metals 

For those who want to buy pure silver for their retirement accounts, precious metals retailers can help differentiate IRA-approved silver and gold from ineligible items. This is a huge benefit over buying from pawn shops or eBay, where the vendor is not always well-versed in the items they sell. 

Buying from a reputable silver dealer can also save you a lot of money in potential IRS penalties and fees associated with reporting errors on your tax return. Professional silver dealers can help advise you on how to accurately claim your silver on your annual return and can prevent you from making accounting errors that would otherwise cost you thousands. 

If buying pure silver from a reputable, IRS-approved vendor sounds like the best option for you, consider checking out our exclusive list of the best silver investment companies in America. 

Liam Hunt
Liam Hunt

Liam Hunt, M.A., is a financial writer and analyst covering global finance, commodities, and millennial investing. His coverage has been featured in publications such as the New York Post, Forbes, and Barron's.

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