Buying silver jewellery.

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How can you tell if it's real silver?

If the item is large it will have a silver hallmark on it somewhere; these days it's usually the number 925.  This refers to the number of parts per 1000 of pure silver.  The other 75 parts are made up various metal fillers,and again, usually these days nickel and other metals known to be allergy-inducing are not included.
The Sterling Standard is 925 parts per 1000.  The place of manufacture is not always included in the hallmark.

However, there are exceptions to the rules about silver hallmarking.  Very small items such as earrings and the items used for jewellery making such as headpins, crimps, small beads and some fastenings are not legally required to be hallmarked.  There are a few ways you can run some simple tests, but it comes down to trusting your seller.  Real silver, especially in the longer, slimmer elements, is very soft and bendable - so soft that if you have bought earrings which have silver headpins you need to be careful as they bend very easily.  This can be good though - it also means that you can straighten them for yourself quite easily too.  Another giveaway, though not one you'd want to see, is that silver tarnishes when not worn.  Unfortunately, this also applies to silver plated items, so beware of using this as a stand-alone marker.
Proprietory silver dips will clean even heavy tarnishing on silver items; if you are unlucky enough to buy silver that arrives tarnished, by all means grumble at the seller, but bear in mind it will clean, and the cost of a pot of dip is probably less than return postage for the item.  You'll also have a long-lasting answer to the problem of all your silver items' tarnishing.
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