Sterling, a.k.a. white gold, has long been the recognized standard for solid silver although in present day America fewer people purchase sterling. By law, sterling must be 925 parts pure silver and 75 parts alloy (usually copper) which provides strength and hardness, as pure silver is too soft to work with. Silver can be hammered into sheets so thin that 100,000 stacked sheets would measure just an inch, and can be drawn into a wire finer than a human hair. Sterling is a hygienic metal with actual germ-killing properties and through repeated use and gradual accumulation of microscopic scratches, sterling achieves its lustrous patina. As silver bullion increases in price so too does sterling tableware. Demand for more than 95% of the world’s silver consumption can be traced to three sources: industrial use; photography; and jewelry and tableware.
Silverplate has a base metal, usually an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc, plated with silver which is electrostatically applied or coated to the alloy base. The old Sheffield process for silverplate was discovered by accident in the mid-1700s when a cutler was repairing a knife blade and heated two metals – silver and copper – which fused to create a silver sandwich around the copper. In the mid-1800s, the process of electroplating was invented. The quality of silverplate is based on the amount of silver deposited on the base. Other factors adding to the quality are the weight of the base metal, the intricacy of the decoration, and the amount of operations necessary to trim and smooth the base.