Stainless steel and sterling silver are both popular choices when it comes to jewelry. But what’s the difference between these metals? Are there pros and cons associated with each option?
Both materials are a beautiful, shiny silver color, which makes them top of anyone’s list when it comes to stand-out, fashionable jewelry. Contrary to popular belief, stainless steel is not only used for practical items like cutlery and surgical instruments. It can also be used decoratively for ornaments and modern jewelry.
Sterling silver is mostly used for jewelry and decorative items, but is also used for musical instruments such as saxophones sometimes.
When choosing between these metals you need to consider a few points: durability, use, look, and maintenance. While stainless steel is much more durable and hard-wearing, sterling silver can have a more elegant look to it and is lighter weight. Stainless steel is cheaper but has a much lower market value compared to sterling silver which retains is value even after many years if cared for correctly.
In terms of price, sterling silver can be worth up to 100 times as much as stainless steel. However, there is great variation in pricing depending on the size, style, and alloys which have been combined in a stainless steel item.
We will provide you with the pros and cons of stainless steel and sterling silver, comparing and contrasting these materials to help you make a decision when it comes to your jewelry choice.
Quick-Read Comparison List
Stainless steel pros:
- Chromium base: protects from corrosion
- Durable, functional and scratch-resistant: can be worn daily, at all times
- Much cheaper
- More highly reflective shine when polished up
Sterling silver pros:
- High market value: good reselling potential
- Elegant and timeless
- Easier to repair
- Lighter weight
Stainless steel cons:
- Hard to repair if damaged
- Low market value: bad reselling potential
- Has had reputation for being a purely practical material (i.e. not for decorative use)
Sterling silver cons:
- Easier to damage, will tarnish when exposed to moisture
- High-maintenance: needs to be cleaned and stored properly
- Much more expensive to buy
Stainless Steel Vs Sterling Silver
If you’re trying to choose between these two materials, there are some important points to consider. Who will be wearing the jewelry? What will it be used for? Does it need to be tough and durable? How important is the cost of the item to you?
The main similarities between stainless steel and sterling silver are the gleaming silver appearance and the fact that both materials are alloys. The similarities end there!
One important point to note it that, while they may look the same, stainless steel actually has a grey-blue hue which can become highly reflective when it has been polished up. Sterling silver has a more white-yellow hue which can give a softer sheen once it has been polished.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these metal alloys, as well as the pros and cons of purchasing jewelry made from one material or another…
Stainless Steel: Pros
Stainless steel is a metal alloy, incorporating different metals with approximately 150 different variations! The most common alloy is chromium (usually containing a minimum of 10.6%) and steel. Carbon is another element that is commonly included.
One of the biggest advantages of stainless steel is its durability. The alloy between different metals increases its toughness and makes stainless steel items more functional. It also makes it a scratch-resistant material and increases its lifespan. Overall, it is a very low maintenance material.
Another advantage of the variations of alloys is that stainless steel is incredibly versatile – it can be made to look like other metals such as pewter which adds to its appeal when it comes to vintage-style items.
This material can be polished, creating a highly reflective surface. This makes it really appealing for people who love shiny accessories and like to wear statement pieces. Reflectivity is a great advantage for smaller items too, such as earrings and rings, which light will easily bounce off and help the item to glow.
The “stainless” part of stainless steel is true to its name – this alloy will not corrode! Even if it is regularly exposed to moisture, humidity, sweat, and lotions it will not discolor or rust. This is a great advantage if you lead an active and outdoorsy lifestyle, or if you are often exposed to wet conditions in humid climates or as part of your job.
If you are worried that stainless steel is too flashy and cumbersome for a fine piece of jewelry, stop worrying! More elegant and refined stainless steel items are being crafted everyday. It is easier and easier to find beautiful, delicate jewelry made from this amazing material.
Stainless steel is also much cheaper than sterling silver – an important consideration if you are on a tight budget.
In conclusion, stainless steel is the top choice in terms of durability, long-term wear, and everyday use.
Stainless Steel: Cons
Although we have listed it as an advantage, the cheapness of stainless steel could also be viewed as a disadvantage. This is because the lower market value of this material means you will get much less return on reselling the jewelry compared to sterling silver.
Another important con is that, although it is hard to damage stainless steel, scratches and scrapes are very difficult to repair effectively. This is because it is a very strong material and has been soldered. These qualities make it tricky to alter and return it to its previous form once it has been damaged. This is a big disadvantage if you have a ring or bracelet that needs to be resized – it can be hard and expensive to get this done professionally.
One potential con is that stainless steel can be alloyed with nickel, which can produce bad allergic reactions in come people. Make sure the piece you go for it marked “hypoallergenic” if you know you have a metal allergy.
Stainless steel jewelry is breaking down barriers all the time. But it has had a reputation as a cheap and purely functional alternative to sterling silver. This is mainly because people recognise it as the material cutlery, kitchen sinks and taps, and surgical instruments are made out of.
Sterling Silver: Pros
Pure silver is a precious metal but it is too soft to use as jewelry alone. So, sterling silver was created, mixing pure silver (92.5%) with other metals including zinc and platinum, but most commonly copper. You can usually tell if an item is real sterling silver if it has been stamped with “925” indicating 92.5% pure silver has been used to craft it. Alternatively, “Sterling” or “S/S” also indicate authentic sterling silver.
Sterling silver has a great reputation in the jewelry market, and has done for centuries. Its soft, refined shine and often incredibly delicate and elegant designs make it a super popular choice. Some people say it also feels better when sitting against your skin.
Unlike pure silver, the alloy combining tougher metals makes it slower to tarnish or corrode. This is especially true if it is properly stored, cleaned, well maintained during its lifetime.
Sterling silver is lighter weight compared to stainless steel, which adds to the comfort of earrings and necklaces and avoids the feeling of being weighed down, or stretching the earlobes.
The high market value of sterling silver is a real advantage when it comes to reselling the jewelry. Perhaps the person you bought it for doesn’t actually like it in the end? Or you feel the piece you bought doesn’t suit you? Sterling silver will hold its market value well, and has commanded a relatively high and stable value for many years. This means it can be viewed as an investment.
Sterling Silver: Cons
Compared to stainless steel, sterling silver is much more prone to damage and less durable. Scratches and tarnishing can appear if the jewelry is worn regularly or often exposed to moist conditions. Tarnishing can happen more quickly when the item is exposed to sweat, lotions, cosmetics and other substances. Taking it to get it repaired by professional jewellers can be expensive.
Sterling silver items require regular cleaning and polishing, and it is recommended to get them professionally deep-cleaned every few years, depending on how regularly the jewelry is worn. This makes it a relatively high maintenance material.
Its high maintenance reputation also spreads to the way in which it is stored. While stainless steel jewelry can be thrown in a drawer or bag without worrying, sterling silver needs to be properly protected in a specialised jewelry bag. This should be kept away from moisture and humidity, and no heavy items should be placed on top of it.
It is much more expensive to buy compared to stainless steel – an important consideration if you are on a tight budget. This point is also important if you are not sure whether you or your loved one will like the piece, for example if you are buying it online and haven’t had a chance to see it in person.