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silver ringThe standard for sterling silver has remained unchanged since 1300 when Edward I of England established an early trade practice rule for silversmiths, decreeing that sterling must consist of 92.5 percent pure silver alloyed with 7.6 percent copper. The term "sterling" refers to the composition of the metal, never to the weight of a finished item.

Silver is much more plentiful than gold; however, silver tends to tarnish, making it less popular in some forms of jewelry. Like gold, silver is too soft for use in its pure state and must be combined with other metals for durability. Jewelry made of silver parts and gold parts must carry dual designations such as "Sterling and 10K."