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Stainless Steel vs. Sterling Silver: What’s the Difference?

Do you want to give a gift to someone special in your life? Are you thinking about buying them a nice piece of jewelry? Are you inclined to purchase sterling silver but have heard good things about stainless still? Or perhaps you are looking for ways to smarten up your own look. Do you want to make sure you invest in jewelry that will add dazzle to the clothes you wear?

Purchasing jewelry for yourself or for someone is a big deal. You should gather all the information you can on the item you are considering before you sink money into it.

Sterling silver and stainless steel are two of the most popular choices for jewelry accessories. They are often lumped together because they are similar in appearance. Anyone who is inclined toward bright and shiny jewelry is likely to put items made of these two materials at the top of their list.

Sterling silver and stainless steel are in fact quite different from one another. It does matter which one you purchase. Here are some of the basic facts you should know about each.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel

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This material is used in everything from cutlery to surgical equipment. It is also increasingly used in some of the most intricately shaped and beautifully designed jewelry.

Many people go for stainless steel rings, bracelets, necklaces, watches, and earrings because of how well they reflect light after being polished. Stainless steel gives off a bright sheen which appeals to people who like to show off their bling.

This form of steel is composed of metal alloys that have different chemical compositions, the most common being chromium and steel. This latter combination makes the final jewelry product stronger and more durable. It also adds to the functionality of the steel and reduces the effort required to maintain it.

In fact, stainless steel is called stainless because it does not corrode, rust, or become discolored, regardless of exposure to moisture and humidity. Stainless steel is also scratch-resistant, which makes it perfect for everyday use.

Sterling silver

Sterling silver

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Sterling silver is quite different from stainless steel. Like gold and platinum, it is considered a precious metal. Sterling silver is composed of 92.5% pure silver. The rest consists of other metal alloys—usually copper. This mixture of metals is necessary because pure silver is too soft to use for jewelry.

All sterling silver goes through an authentication process. Sterling silver jewelry is stamped with a hallmark in some out-of-the-way place that confirms its composition. If the item contains the three-digit number 925, then it is authentic sterling silver, as the 925 indicates 92.5% silver. Some pieces will be marked with Sterling or S/S which are also confirmatory marks.

Sterling silver’s soft luster and receptive properties make it highly popular among shoppers. If stored properly and cleaned regularly, sterling silver jewelry can maintain its shine for a long period of time. Sterling silver is also slow to tarnish, which means you will not be constantly struggling against blackened jewelry.

The two metals considered

Both stainless steel and sterling silver consist of a mixture of metal alloys. If you are looking for durability, low maintenance, and a longer lifespan, stainless steel is more appealing because it can better withstand everyday use.

Stainless steel’s anti-corrosion and scratch-resistant properties should also be kept in mind. If you or the person you are buying the jewelry for spends a great deal of time outdoors, then jewelry made from this metal may be the best choice. If you and your special someone go to the beach a great deal or work in marine-related jobs, stainless steel jewelry will last longer.

Sterling silver, on the other hand, is more elegant. It looks better and may even feel better on the skin. Sterling silver is of lighter weight than stainless steel. It also has more market value than the latter.

Making it plain: pros and cons of stainless steel versus sterling silver

To make the comparison plainer, here are the pros and cons of each type of jewelry:

1. Stainless steel jewelry

Stainless steel jewelry

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  • Its chromium base means that it will not oxidize and leave rust on the surface
  • It is waterproof and sturdy, which means it can be worn in the shower, swimming pool, and the beach, and you can wear it during your daily work-out in the gym
  • It is hypoallergenic, which makes it perfect for people who are allergic to metal
  • It is much less expensive than sterling silver, though it resembles the latter in appearance
  • It has a higher shine when polished


  • Damaged stainless steel jewelry is hard to repair because it is soldered, and the strength of the metal makes it hard to manipulate by hand

2. Sterling silver jewelry

Sterling silver jewelry

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  • It will hold its value over the years because it is a precious metal
  • It has a soft luster which is highly sought after, and a bright white shine that is brilliant when newly polished
  • It is easier to repair because it is easier to mold and manipulate
  • It will hold its shine if polished regularly and stored properly


  • It tarnishes over time, especially if constantly worn and exposed to cosmetics, skin lotion, and outside elements
  • It can be easily scratched and dented
  • People who are allergic to metal cannot wear it without irritation
  • Much more expensive than stainless steel

It should also be noted that stainless steel and sterling silver only look the same at a glance. There are subtle differences in appearance. Stainless steel has a grey-blue metal color that is highly reflective and shiny when polished. Sterling silver has a white-yellowish hue that has a softer shine after it is buffed up.

Things to think about when gift-giving

If you intend to buy jewelry as a gift, you will need to take into account the opinions and attitudes of the person you intend to give it to. Do not assume that your girlfriend will prefer sterling silver because she is a woman and all women like expensive jewelry.

Attitudes are changing, and this is simply not the case anymore. You can discern her feelings about precious metals by her response to seeing them in shops and the frequency with which she wears this type of jewelry.

If she never wears silver or gold, then she may have an allergy or she may have some particular objection to precious metals. You can rule out expense if she comes from a wealthy family or makes more than enough money to purchase such items.

In this instance, it may be better to purchase stainless steel jewelry.

In this instance, it may be better to purchase stainless steel jewelry.

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Indeed, you should put out of your mind the belief that stainless steel jewelry is cheap and worthless because it is inexpensive. And though there are certain stainless steel pieces that are large and gaudy and appeal to people who like bling, not all such items are in this form. There is plenty of stainless steel jewelry that is compact, elegantly designed, and feminine.

On the other hand, you need not rule out buying sterling silver because it is more easily damaged and becomes tarnished over time.

If, for example, your special someone lives an active lifestyle, it is still possible for them to wear and enjoy sterling silver jewelry. The key is for them to take measures to protect it.

They should remove the jewelry before going to bed, taking a shower, going for a swim, or gardening. If they enjoy camping trips and hiking, then they should leave their sterling silver jewelry at home.

Storage is also important. Keeping the jewelry in a specially designed bag that can be purchased at a jewelry store is the best way to maintain it. The bag itself should be kept in a place that is free of moisture and humidity. There are other tricks that the wearer of sterling silver jewelry can learn to preserve.

One of the best of these is to put the jewelry on last when dressing, which gives lotion, perfume, and other cosmetics time to settle in the skin before the silver is exposed to it.

It is relatively easy to clean sterling silver. They can do it themselves using household cleaning products. It is also possible to take the jewelry to a jewelry retailer or repair shop to have such cleaning done professionally. You will probably want to do this anyway every few years to get it deep cleaned.

Being realistic about finances

The fact is stainless steel is much less expensive than sterling silver. If you cannot afford to pay for the kind of sterling silver jewelry your significant other would like, then you should not opt for a less expensive option that she will probably find distasteful.

In fact, it may be better to purchase an even less expensive stainless steel ring, necklace, or bracelet that is beautifully crafted and more in line with her taste.

The bottom line here is that the market value of sterling silver will not necessarily determine its worth and value to the person who you intend to give it to.

In summary

Stainless steel and sterling silver have a similar appearance, but there are real differences between them. Stainless steel is tougher and more durable, and it has a high sheen shine when polished. It is also relatively inexpensive.

Sterling silver is not as resistant to damage and will tarnish over time. This form of silver has a soft and elegant luster when polished, and it is more expensive than stainless steel.

If you intend to give one of the two types of jewelry as a gift, then you should consider the tastes, lifestyles, and personalities of the intended recipient. You should not allow the cons of either metal be the sole determinant in your decision.