How to Tell the Difference Between Platinum & Silver
Both precious metals, platinum and silver have long been considered attractive options for those wishing to purchase fine jewellery that isn’t gold in colour.
The two metals entered the fine-jewellery scene at strikingly different stages of history. Silver’s use in jewellery dates back to 5000 BC, whereas platinum’s first foray into jewellery was in the 1800s.
Both precious metals have pros and cons; however, platinum is considered the more esteemed of the two. This is due to the fact that platinum’s “mass fraction” (how many kilograms can be expected to be found per billion kilograms of the earth’s crust) is five parts per billion. Silver, on the other hand, is much more common, with a mass fraction of around 75 parts per billion.
Outside of this difference in scarcity, there is a list of other factors that separate these two fine metals from one another. Throughout this article, we run you through a few of these differences so you can pick them apart like a pro. Let’s start with a look at the primary differences between platinum and silver.
Although quite similar in appearance, a closer inspection reveals quite a few determining factors that set platinum and silver apart. These differences range from the physically observable to unseen characteristics, such as the atomic construction of the metals themselves.
Let's begin by addressing the differences in appearance, particularly the disparities in colour of platinum vs silver. While at first glance both silver and platinum appear to be clearly silver in colour, the two metals are actually easily discernible to the naked eye. Both have grey undertones, unlike white gold, which has a warmer, yellow undertone. These grey undertones vary, however. Platinum is much brighter and shinier than silver, which has a duller, grey appearance.
One section where the venn diagram containing these two metals definitely overlaps: patina. Patina is a layer of material that develops across the surface of particular metals; silver and platinum included.
This darker layer of blackened silver takes somewhere between a few months to several years to develop. It’s a naturally occurring process that takes place when particular precious metals are exposed to the elements. The metal slowly oxidises when exposed to air, which results in the jewellery developing a unique burnish over the top.
Although it sounds undesirable, the patina process is actually what makes silver and jewellery unique. It adds more character to your already impressive platinum or silver jewellery.
Where durability is concerned, there really is no contest between platinum and silver. Silver is a soft metal that both wears down quickly and tarnishes easily. Conversely, some of the biggest advantages of platinum are its high melting point, durability, and resistance to tarnishing, which means it does not require any alloys.
Platinum rings often consist of 90-95% pure platinum, which makes them perfect for standing up to the test of the everyday wear-and-tear required for an engagement ring.
The difference between platinum vs silver is even clearer where price is concerned. Silver is one of the most affordable jewellery metals on the market, which makes it great for simple costume jewellery that goes in and out of style. With this in mind, platinum is well worth the investment when the item is a piece of fine jewellery you expect to wear quite often (if not daily). It's one of the most expensive metals used for jewellery making, second only to rhodium (which is typically only found as a coating over gold to increase its durability).
Wear & Care
The choice of sterling silver vs platinum becomes even more one sided when the topic of wear and care is introduced. Platinum is one of the leading metals of choice for jewellery wearers with sensitive skin. Its purity and low reactivity ensure that it is naturally hypoallergenic and shouldn't cause skin irritation.
While most people aren't directly allergic to silver or gold, many metals typically alloyed with them are common allergens. Nickel, in particular, is often the culprit when allergy complaints arise, as it is commonly used as an alloy for white and pink-gold jewellery. Looking for low-maintenance jewellery? That’ll be another point for platinum. While all fine jewellery should be professionally cleaned by a jeweller a couple of times a year, you won't need to do much else to maintain the hallmark lustre of platinum. Silver, on the other hand, requires frequent polishing in order to keep unwanted tarnish at bay. If you're on the hunt for a special engagement ring or other fine jewellery, the choice is pretty clear between platinum and silver. Platinum’s durability has long made it the desired material for young couples, encapsulating the same things that a long and healthy marriage is expected to embody.
Stampings & Markings
The final key differences between platinum vs sterling silver are their stampings and markings. Any stamped markings on an item (referred to as “hallmarks”) indicate the item’s metallic content. If you’re looking for an online reference of silver stampings and marks, you can visit 925-1000.com for a comprehensive list.
If you find a marking containing the letters PT, Pt, or Plat, you have found an item made of platinum. If you see a karat marking like K or k (usually accompanied by a number): the item is made of white gold.
So what does it mean if you’re unable to see any markings? Well, there could be several reasons for this. Firstly, the item could have been made in a country where hallmarks are not required.
The Hallmarking Convention (also known as the Precious Metals Convention) contains just 21 countries, leaving plenty of jewellery-producing countries that are not required to mark their jewellery items.
Keep in mind that just because a piece doesn’t boast a stamp or mark, it doesn’t necessarily mean the item is of a poorer quality, or that the quality is not as was advertised. It simply means that the Hallmarking Convention does not assure the item’s quality. The next reason could be that the item is quite old, dating back to a time when markings were not required. Finally, the item could have been made by a semi-professional craftsperson. This usually means that the item is made of silver, not platinum or white gold, because amateur silversmiths are much more common than amateur jewellers who work in gold or platinum.
Testing your metal
If you’re still unsure which precious metal your jewellery comprises, you can always try one or more of the following tests!
For the magnet test, simply run a magnet over your jewellery. Most pure precious metals aren't magnetic, so if you place a magnet near your jewellery, you shouldn't see any movement in the piece.
If your platinum jewellery reacts to a magnet, however, there’s no need to panic. Pure platinum is a soft metal, meaning it is often alloyed to strengthen its finish. Cobalt, which is quite hard, is becoming popular as a platinum alloy. Because cobalt is slightly magnetic, some platinum jewellery may still react to a magnet. Platinum/cobalt alloys will usually be stamped as PLAT, Pt950, or possibly Pt950/Co. The most common alloy used to harden sterling silver is copper, which is not magnetic. If you have a piece of sterling silver jewellery with a .925 stamp attracted to a magnet, you should consult a reputable jeweller to verify its authenticity.
If you've exhausted all other methods and are still uncertain whether you have platinum or silver, you can conduct a scratch test from home by buying an acid scratch test kit. If you don't want to do it yourself, a jewellery store or precious metal refiner can always do it for you. As daunting as it sounds, a scratch test is perfectly safe for your jewellery. During the test, your piece is scratched against a scratch stone, leaving behind a small sample of its contents. A dropper then dispenses one or two droplets of acid onto the sample. In platinum's case, if the sample extracted from your piece dissolves, then the item is not platinum. If conducting the acid test yourself, always wear latex or vinyl gloves to protect your skin from the acid!
With that, you should have no problems ascertaining platinum from silver.
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