Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What is the Difference?

Stainless steel and sterling jewelry are two popular metals that are used for making jewelry. Both are shiny and have that alluring silvery look. They look similar when polished and you may fail to distinguish them.

Unless you take your time to study both stainless steel and sterling silver, the chances of buying a wrong piece of jewelry will be pretty high. You may end up choosing sterling silver when you wanted stainless steel and vice versa.

Is stainless steel real silver? This is a common question that most people ask when trying to distinguish the two metals.

Sterling silver comprises of 92.5% pure silver and the rest of the percentage is taken by other metals. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is an alloy of different metals. There are more than 100 varieties of stainless steel but only a few of them are used for making jewelry.

The good news is information is power. With the right information, you will be in a position to choose the right jewelry.

In this article, we are going to help you distinguish stainless steel vs sterling silver jewelry.

Stainless Steel Jewelry

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What is the Difference?

Stainless steel is a type of steel alloy that contains iron chromium and nickel. Other metals are added to enhance the strength of the material.

Stainless steel is a popular metal that is used for heavy-duty applications thanks to its physical strength Some of these applications include construction, automotive, biomedical, kitchenware, and jewelry(which is our main focus).

A wide range of jewelry is made of stainless steel. They include rings, chains, bracelets, necklaces among others.

The monochromatic finish and a never-ending beauty are some of the reasons why stainless steel is used for making jewelry. Of course, we cannot overlook the strength and durability of this material.

You should also take note that the type of stainless steel for jewelry is different from the stainless steel for construction.

304 is the most common type of stainless steel for jewelry. The alloy comprises mainly of chromium and nickel.

316 stainless steel is the most ideal type that is used for jewelry making. The main difference between the 304 stainless steel is hypoallergenic. The fact that it does not contain nickel means it is not capable of triggering allergic reactions. It contains molybdenum which enhances the corrosive resistance of the metal.

It has all the necessary properties that are suitable for any jewelry. It is shiny, strong, and has a high resistance to tarnishing.

This stainless steel is also hypoallergenic hence suitable for someone sensitive to nickel. This explains why it is also used for medical and surgical purposes.

When it comes to buying stainless steel jewelry, do not pick any that is available in the market. Instead, spend some time to verify the type of stainless steel. Is it 316 stainless steel body jewelry?

If you are not careful enough you may end up with low-quality stainless steel jewelry that is lace with allergens which will end up having an adverse effect on your health.

Take your time to verify with your jeweler.

Stainless steel is usually polished to make it shinier and improve its aesthetic appeal; a critical aspect of any jewelry.

Different types of polishes used include brushed, hammered, engraved polishing, mirror-like polish, and matte finish.

The type of polish used will determine the overall outlook of stainless steel jewelry.

So, when buying the jewelry, you may consider finding out about the type of polish or even coating that has been used.

Sterling Silver Jewelry

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What is the Difference?

Sterling silver is a common name in the jewelry industry. It ranks among the most valuable metals for making jewelry.

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver that comprises 92.5% pure silver and the remaining 7.5% is for other metals such as copper, cobalt, nickel among others.

The type and content of metals will determine the final properties of the sterling silver jewelry that you buy.

The soft nature of pure silver makes it difficult to be used in making jewelry. The alloy form is strong, hard, and durable.

Sterling silver jewelry is usually engraved with identification marks such as .925 or simply 92.5%.

Argentium silver is another silver alloy that is used for making jewelry.

A very small percentage of copper is used on sterling silver just to increase the strength but not diminish the looks. Keep in mind that as jewelry, sterling silver should retain its glassy luster.

Rhodium is usually coated on sterling silver to protect it from corrosion and make the jewelry tarnish-resistant.

Sterling silver pieces of jewelry come in different styles and designs. The style will depend on the target user and the intended purpose of the jewelry.

Some styles are more masculine while others are feminine.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Jewelry

The easiest way of distinguishing stainless steel vs sterling silver is by looking at the good and the bad of each metal.

To start, let’s look at the pros of stainless steel jewelry:


-Strong and durable: A piece of stainless steel jewelry will rarely bend, dent, or even break. It is hard enough to resist any amount of external force that is exerted against it.

-Stainless steel metal does not tarnish: This is a phenomenon where a piece of metal loses its original luster due to exposure to moisture and air.

A piece of stainless steel jewelry will retain its original luster for a long time.

-Resistant to oxidation and corrosion: The metal exhibits high resistance to corrosion, abrasion, and even oxidation. This means that the coating of the jewelry will look shiny and flawless.

Also, stainless steel is rarely discolored or defaced.

-Cheaper than sterling silver: Stainless steel pieces of jewelry are among the cheapest in the market. Despite the low cost, they come with tons of desirable features such as strength.

The thought of paying less and still get more makes stainless steel alluring.

The economic value of stainless steel also comes in maintenance. It is very cheap to handle and maintain this jewelry metal

-High aesthetic value: Polished stainless steel jewelry look good just as sterling jewelry.

The silvery finish of the stainless steel metal gives it a high aesthetic value that you desire to get from any jewelry.

-Hypoallergenic: 316 stainless steel does not contain any elements of nickel hence is hypoallergenic. It does not trigger allergic reactions the way sterling silver.

The fact that stainless steel is devoid of all other impurities makes it safer not only for an allergic reaction but also for other health complications.

-Safety: Well, this is something that is rarely talked about in the jewelry scene. How safe is your jewelry? It is easy to cut stainless steel in case of an emergency.

Also, stainless steel is a very poor conductor of electricity. It can conduct very little current as compared to the sterling silver.

This means that the likelihood of being affected by an electric shock is almost nil.

-Environment-friendly: Are you looking for eco-friendly jewelry? Consider buying stainless steel jewelry in China.

This is because most stainless steel does not require too many resources to be produced and refined into the desired product.

Stainless steel is recyclable and also generates lesser wastage than sterling silver.

-Non-reactive: Stainless steel is a pretty docile metal-it does not react so easily with other chemicals and natural elements such as blood and sweat. This just compounds on the safety aspect of the stainless steel.

Cons of stainless steel

Here are some of the disadvantages or problems that are associated with stainless steel:

-Difficult to resize: Jewelry made of stainless steel such as rings are difficult to change their size. You have to take into consideration many issues such as embedded crystals and engravings before you change the size of the jewelry.

Stainless steel has a higher melting point than sterling silver. Cutting and soldering the jewelry is also a hectic process

Resizing stainless steel jewelry can easily disrupt its aesthetic value.

-Nickel allergies: Some types of stainless steel such as 304 stainless steel have nickel content. This element is an allergenic material hence not suitable if you are allergic. The good news is you can buy 316 stainless steel which does not have this notorious allergenic.

Low reselling price: While we have mentioned that one of the advantages of stainless steel is affordability, this can have a detrimental effect if you are planning to sell the jewel. It will not fetch a good price as compared to sterling silver.

So, if you are buying stainless steel jewelry for yourself, do not have high hopes of getting impressive profit margins when you resell it in the future.

-Heavyweight: Stainless steel is heavier than sterling silver metal. You may be impressed because the heavier the more durable. But, this can be viewed from a different perspective when it comes to wearable jewelry.

Heavy rings and bracelets are not desirable. In fact, the lighter the better.

Advantages of Sterling Silver Jewelry

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What is the Difference? 

Here are some of the pros of sterling silver jewelry:

-High value: Sterling silver is a precious metal that has a high monetary value. It can be a form of investment if you choose to resell it as it will still fetch a good profit margin.

-Beautiful and attractive: The quirky and glossy appearance of sterling silver jewelry will look good on you.

Sterling silver jewelry is available in many different styles such as delicate choker, pedant, mirror-like among others. You are free to choose one that will impress you.

-Durable: Sterling silver jewelry is strong hence durable. It will last you for long if stored and handled well. However, it is not as strong as stainless steel.

-Affordable: Although sterling silver is cheaper than other jewels such as gold, it is costlier than stainless steel jewelry.

-Hypoallergenic: Are you allergic to nickel? Sterling silver jewelry should be your go-to solution as it is hypoallergenic.

-Easily moldable: You can easily modify sterling silver by adding stone and engravings onto it. Also, sterling silver can be molded into different shapes and designs.

Cons of sterling silver

Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver: What is the Difference?

-Easily tarnishes when exposed to unfavorable conditions for too long. You need to keep it safely away from unfavorable conditions.

-Some sterling silver jewelry contains nickel hence are not 100% hypoallergenic.

-Can be dented or even break when subjected to intense pressure and force

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Comparing Stainless Steel vs Sterling Silver

After looking at the properties of both the stainless steel and sterling silver, let’s compare the key areas that are critical in determining which jewel to choose.


Sterling silver has a glossier finish than stainless steel. On the other hand, steel has a mirror-like finish, which is not there on sterling silver.

2.Strength and durability

Stainless steel is harder hence stronger and more durable than the sterling silver counterpart. Under the same conditions, your stainless steel jewelry will last for a longer period than the sterling silver jewelry.


Sterling silver jewelry is always considered to be more valuable than the stainless steel jewelry.

Sterling silver will fetch a higher resale value than the stainless steel jewelry.


Stainless steel is more affordable than sterling silver. However, it attracts a lower resale value than the former.


Sterling silver is more likely to tarnish than stainless steel. This is due to the soft nature of the silver which forms 92.5% of the jewel.


316 stainless steel does not have any allergen hence is hypoallergenic. Sterling silver contains copper hence can trigger an allergic reaction.


I hope that from this article you can now draw a clear line between stainless steel and sterling silver.

By pitting them against each other, it is pretty easy to tell what you want based on their strengths and weaknesses.

At the end of the day, your choice and preference should also count in determining which one is the best jewel between sterling silver and stainless steel.

You should also consider getting advice from jewelers who are experienced in stainless steel and sterling advice. They will give you more advice and even recommend to you the ideal type of jewelry.

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