The Definition, Markings and Meanings of Sterling Silver Jewelry

The Definition, Markings and Meanings of Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver jewelry has a long history from coinage and tableware to heirloom jewelry and personalized engraved jewelry. It also has a long history with us at Monica Rich Kosann.


When we first launched our designer jewelry brand, it was a locket necklace and matching bracelet in sterling silver that were our very first styles. We’ve expanded our collection to include various styles of sterling silver necklaces, sterling silver rings, and other gifts for the home like sterling silver frames. To celebrate our roots in this category, we wanted to take a comprehensive look at sterling silver, including its definition, meaning, manufacturing process, and the importance of its markings and use in gifts throughout the years.



As a brand, we have always appreciated the history and value of sterling silver both across cultures and other product categories like decorative objects and flatware. All of these pieces have been hallmarked for centuries and the markings one finds on older pieces are the most charming and fascinating symbols that often changed annually over that time. 

By nature, silver is a soft metal. If one were to make a piece of jewelry out of 100% pure silver, the softness of the metal would create a piece that was easily dinged, bent or damaged. As a result, sterling silver has become a standard in fine jewelry.


Whether a reference to coin makers from eastern Germany or an adaptation of an older word for pennies with stars, the meaning of the term “sterling” quickly became synonymous with high quality and eventually a certain standard of purity. Around the arrival of the 14th century, the meaning of sterling silver was officially defined in terms of its composition as an alloy containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of other metals and its increased durability and longevity of use. In addition to its composition and properties, sterling silver also became recognized by its hallmarks. Although including unique marks on silver or other metal creations was not new, hallmarking was introduced as a more formalized marking process to prevent fraud and celebrate quality sterling content. It was this grand tradition that evolved into the hallmarking systems used in all of our sterling silver jewelry today.


If you own silver jewelry currently and are interested in learning more about the origin or quality of an item like a silver ring, take a magnifying glass and look carefully for any stamps, inscriptions or symbols on this piece or any other jewelry that you may have. These identifiers on your sterling silver pieces may be either indicators of hallmarking and/or other revealing markings.


While similar to most people, sterling silver has both markings and hallmarks. Sterling silver markings indicate the material’s purity and authenticity. For example, the 925 or Sterling symbols are considered markings. Other popular markings include a Lion Passant, which indicates at least 92.5% purity in British silver, along with maker’s marks, the city or country of origin, and the year of manufacture. Hallmarks are similar to markings and often include a maker’s mark or purity mark, but are required by law. The key difference is hallmarks are applied by an independent party (often an assay office) and markings are applied by the manufacturer.


Both sterling silver hallmarks and markings may appear on jewelry, cufflinks, flatware and even decorative items around the home. Regarding the meanings of sterling silver markings, they can be of personal or sentimental significance for the individual or family. They can also have historical importance, be associated with family crests or momentous events, or simply provide decorative adornment as reflective of the creator’s style or the design specifics of the customer.


The meaning of silver sterling hallmarks ties to its quality and its legality, specifically its adherence to designated standards and regulations governing sales. In some countries, there are hallmarking laws to ensure that these marks are included. Additional meanings of sterling silver hallmarks are as follows:


  • A guarantee that an item has met designated standards of silver content and quality

  • An indication of its origin, including its creator and year of creation. For example, a medallion may include a silversmith’s initials or unique symbol.

  • A testament to a producer’s transparency to consumers as they consider their sterling silver purchases
  •  In terms of quality, one of the most important markings on sterling silver is the “925” marking.  



The meaning of the sterling silver marking “925” is that it verifies the purity and quality of the silver pieces. This standardized indicator shows that a piece is genuine sterling silver, as it contains at least 92.5% pure silver. Locating this number makes it easier for potential buyers to avoid being confused by silver-plated pieces or other low-quality silver jewelry or home goods. Consequently, consumers can enjoy greater peace of mind in making their purchases, because they are assured that their investment will retain its value and is in compliance with legal regulations if a resale is possible or anticipated. The word sterling itself may also be used to indicate this quality. This mark will also provide a better understanding of how to care for sterling silver jewelry or other pieces




In earlier times, artisans across the world may have created silver jewelry (of varying compositions) by hand. Today, most sterling silver jewelry is made from pieces that are either die struck or created from a process known as lost wax casting during the first manufacturing step. The latter is most common, but understanding the nuances of die struck pieces may help you be better informed about potential purchases.


Die struck jewelry is the result of silver material filling a hollowed-out mold and being struck together under enormous pressure. The resulting struck pieces are then finished and combined with similar pieces to create the final ring, necklace or other jewelry item. The die struck process can be restrictive from a design level, as the molds can be expensive, are often time consuming to make and don't easily lend themselves to more intricate designs.


The most common first step in manufacturing sterling silver jewelry is lost wax casting. In order to cast a jewelry piece, a hand model (or one created from a computer aided design or CAD) is made. That hand model is then used to make a rubber mold, which can then repeatedly create duplicate wax models by injecting wax into that mold. These waxes are then “sprued” as a tree onto a rubber base. The next step is to insert that tree into a metal flask. Plaster (known as investment) is mixed and then poured into the flask until it is filled. Once it hardens, the flask is inserted into a kiln, where the wax is melted away and replaced by metal like sterling silver.


Once the process is over and the pieces are cooled, those pieces are then removed from the flask and organized into individual cast pieces of silver. They are then available to be filed, finished and assembled into a finished jewelry style. Depending on the complexity of the styles, some jewelry pieces require far more hand finishing then others. MRK lockets, for example, require more extensive workmanship, as there are multiple sets of hinges and moving parts. The finishing process involves a combination of meticulously filing and polishing all aspects of the various parts, so they are free of imperfections. Once this happens, the parts can be soldered and assembled into the final finished jewelry style.

Above from top: Wax Tree prepared for casting and flask being prepared for the casting kiln



As jewelry or as other items like frames, flatware, barware or decorative objects, sterling silver pieces have always been associated with tarnish, a process wherein sterling silver takes on a darker coloration over time after having been exposed to certain elements in the air. Once this happens, the piece would traditionally need to be polished using silver polish and a soft cloth. Early in the history of our MRK sterling silver jewelry, we wanted to ensure that this would not happen, so we began finishing all of our sterling silver styles with rhodium.


As of this writing and for its rarity, rhodium is a precious metal that is more valuable than gold. Once any of our sterling jewelry styles emerge from the finishing process above, rhodium is plated onto the design to protect it from tarnish. It can keep one's silver piece looking bright and fresh for many years to come.



When caring for these MRK jewelry pieces, one should just buff them gently with a soft cloth. There is no need to polish the pieces, and vigorously rubbing a style will wear off the rhodium finish making the piece susceptible to tarnish.


If one doesn't wear a sterling jewelry style for a prolonged period, it is best to store it in one of our protective pouches or even in a small zip lock bag which will keep the air out.



For many, individual pieces of sterling silver jewelry within a personal collection have particular significance. At Monica Rich Kosann, we celebrate the storied past of sterling silver—from ancient coinage to modern heirlooms—and invite you to partake in its legacy. Our collections are crafted not only to wear but to embody the stories, milestones, and memories that you hold dear. From our noteworthy locket necklaces to an expansive array of rings and frames, we've seen sterling silver transform into a canvas for self-expression. As you clasp our sterling silver jewelry around your wrist, slip a ring onto your finger, or gaze upon a cherished photo framed in silver, know that however you instill meaning in your jewelry, it is your story to tell.


As Monica always says, “there are no rules.”

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