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Canadian five-dollar fine silver coins featuring Elizabeth II

 

Silver is a beautiful white metal prized for its shine and lustre since ancient times. Pure silver is soft and malleable, making it easy to work into jewellery, coins, and decorative objects. But, not all silver products contain the same level of purity.

Different grading systems are used to classify the fineness of silver, which indicates the percentages of pure silver versus other metals in an alloy.

 

We’ll explain what constitutes pure silver and review the common silver classification terminology you’ll likely encounter.

What Qualifies as Pure Silver?

Pure silver is rare in everyday products because it’s soft, prone to denting, and lacks durability. Instead, most silver contains some copper or other metals to strengthen it in a process called alloying. So, what counts as pure silver?

Products described as “pure silver” or “.999 fine silver” contain a minimum of 99.9% silver content, with other metals making up no more than 0.1% of the material. This very high purity level exceeds the amount of silver found in sterling silver, giving pure silver its signature bright white colour and resistance to tarnishing.

The softness of nearly pure silver also makes it ideal for detailed engraving and minting highly defined coins or bullion.

Silver bullion coins and bars investors purchase from mints and precious metal dealers usually have a pure silver content of .999 fineness. Because precious metals are traded based on the weight and purity of actual silver content, pure silver provides the most value per unit of measurement.

 

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Silver Purity Classifications

 

Fine silver bars labeled with their purity and weight specifications

 

Several classification systems are used to grade and indicate the purity levels in silver alloys. Some terminology refers to percentages of pure silver content, while others use numerals to represent fineness. Here are the common silver purity labels you’ll see:

Sterling Silver - Contains 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper. The term “sterling” refers to the .925 fineness of the silver content. Sterling silver is less pure than fine silver but is more durable for jewellery and household items.

Britannia Silver – A higher grade than sterling, Britannia silver is 95.84% pure silver, making it .958 fine. Created in England, Britannia silver is commonly used in silverware and bidding items.

Fine Silver – Products marked “fine silver” have a .999 purity, meaning they are 99.9% pure silver content. This is considered commercially pure silver.

.999 Silver – Another way to label 99.9% pure silver content. Silver bullion and investment-grade silver rounds are often .999 fine.

.9999 Silver – Even finer than .999 silver, this “four nines” grade contains 99.99% pure silver and only 0.01% other metals. This highly pure grade is uncommon.

90% Silver - U.S. minted coins dated 1964 or earlier contain 90% pure silver with 10% copper. These “junk silver” coins include quarters, dimes, and half dollars.

800 Silver - Silver items marked “800 silver” contain 80% pure silver and 20% copper or other metals, making the alloy .800 fine. This grade is commonly used in silver jewellery and decorative pieces.

 

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Silver Grading Scales

In addition to using percentages and descriptive terms, two numeric scales are also used to note silver purity:

Sterling Silver Scale – The sterling silver scale is based on 1,000 parts, so .925 sterling silver means there are 925 parts pure silver per 1,000 total parts in the alloy. Pure silver is .999 fine on this scale.

Millesimal Fineness Scale – Used in Europe and by precious metal traders, the millesimal fineness scale measures purity in 1,000 parts. But the numbers represent parts per 1,000, so .999 fine silver contains 999 parts silver per 1,000 parts metal. Pure gold is 1,000 fine on this scale.

Apprehending these scales helps when you encounter silver items marked with 3-digit numbers. A piece stamped “925” is sterling silver, while “999” indicates pure silver according to the millesimal scale.

 

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How Fineness Impacts Silver Value

 

Green, yellow, and red colored stock market data displayed on a digital screen

 

For investors and collectors, judging silver value means determining its weight and purity. Since pure silver has the highest percentage of pure content per ounce, .999 fine or .9999 silver items will be valued higher than less pure silver alloy products containing the same silver weight. For example:

  • 1 ounce .999 fine silver bar = 1-ounce pure silver content
  • 1 ounce .925 sterling silver bar = 0.9 ounces pure silver content
  • 1 ounce 90% pure “junk” silver coin = 0.9 ounces pure silver content

The purity level also impacts an item’s collectability and demand. Collectors typically prefer coins and vintage silver pieces with finer silver content since lower grades may have less shine and aesthetic appeal.

Bullion investors likewise favour pure .999 fine silver bars and rounds to get more value per ounce.

 

Final Tips on Judging Silver Purity

  1. Look for purity stamps or labels like “.925” or “Sterling” to identify product grades. Authentic silver items will be marked on the metal itself or tags.
  2. Be wary of silver-plated, silver-filled, or German silver items passed off as solid silver. Silver plate is just a thin coating that wears away over time.
  3. Pure silver (.999 fine) has a bright white appearance. Lower purity silver looks darker grey as copper content increases.
  4. To check vintage unmarked silver, there are DIY purity testing kits as well as professional appraisal services that can chemically analyze metal composition.
  5. Research reputable precious metal dealers when buying silver bullion, rounds, or coins to ensure you get guaranteed purity levels. Avoid untested silver from non-verified sources.

Knowing the different silver classifications by percentage, grade, and use gives you insight into this popular precious metal.

 

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Conclusion

Silver purity classifications and grading systems are essential for traders and investors to understand. As the article explains, higher fineness equates to higher purity levels, which impacts the value and collectability of silver items.

The purest forms of silver contain the most content per ounce, with .999 and .9999 fineness. While less pure sterling or 90% silver alloys are more durable for jewellery and coins, their value reflects the lower silver composition.

Traders are encouraged to research the hallmarks and testing methods further to authenticate silver purity before purchasing. Knowledge of silver classifications and grading processes allows for more informed buying, selling, and collecting.

 

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“When considering “CFDs” for trading and price predictions, remember that trading CFDs involves a significant risk and could result in capital loss. Past performance is not indicative of any future results. This information is provided for informative purposes only and should not be considered investment advice.”

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