Given how much lead there can be in older – and newer – jewelry (both in the metals and in the faux jewels), my recommendation for jewelry has always been to stick with pure solid sterling silver (it should be marked 925 in a stamp somewhere on the item – see inside of ring image featured here). For additional sparkle, stick with natural stones which don’t have to be expensive; natural stone options include amethyst, jade, garnet and topaz.
“925 Silver” (Sterling Silver) means it is 925,000 parts per million silver (92.5%). Much of the 925 silver I have tested has actually been higher than that (usually 940,000 or in that range) so my understanding is the 92.5% is likely a minimum standard in the jewelry industry, where it is expected to be “at least” 925 silver or higher. The other 7.5% is generally copper, however it can be a mix of other metals and with items marked 925. In my experience so far (with the many, many items I have tested over the years), those other metals (in 925-stamped silver) never include lead.
Click here to see why I don’t recommend gold jewelry.
Note: vintage/ antique silver that I have tested (mostly from the late-1800s and earlier) has been as low as 800,000 ppm silver (or 80% silver), and those items often do have lead. Based on my limited knowledge of the history of jewelry making, with antique cast silver items, the initial designs and casting were often done in lead—since it was soft to sculpt; this may have left some lead in the mold – and then the lead from the original sculpted design contaminates the silver. The only time I have been particularly concerned about this is with antique baby rattles that may be marked or sold as sterling silver (but not “925” sterling), and therefore may have trace lead at levels that are considered unsafe for children by modern standards.
I try to avoid both vintage and costume jewelry at all cost—unless it bears the (indelible) “925” silver stamp.
Below I have linked some good examples of #SaferChoices on Amazon (but I am sure you can find similar ones in your local jewelry stores too!)
It’s really hard sometimes from an online listing on Amazon to determine if things are actually solid 925 sterling – so be careful which vendors you buy from and make sure not to buy anything that is “silver plate” – as that can often be silver plated brass – which can contain high amounts of lead. Silver is really affordable as it is – however if things look like they are far too inexpensive to be sterling, then they probably are not sterling (and usually in such cases their product specification sections may be fairly sketchy/non-specific.)
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The links in pink below are just ideas and examples—I don’t necessarily own these particular pieces; I have bought most of my jewelry from local vendors and local artists (and I don’t have very much of it!)
To see some of my addition posts with 925 Sterling silver, click here.
After spending a good hour surfing Amazon for true solid sterling silver pieces, I’m assuming this “Amazon Collection” line is the most legit [unlike some of the other listings that come up when you look up “sterling silver” on Amazon, with the “Amazon Collection” their prices are consistent with being genuine sterling silver, most of the images clearly show the “925” mark, and the detailed product descriptions for this Amazon Collection are also pretty clear]—so maybe this is a good place to start
- Some earrings
- These are cute too!
- A bracelet
- A locket
- some earrings with amethysts
- a ring with blue topaz
Happy shopping, and as always, please let me know if you have any questions.
Affiliate link disclosure: If you Purchase something after clicking on one of my affilIate links I may receive a small percentage of what you spend at no extra cost to you.
What about platinum? Does it pose any risks? Thanks for all your work!
Also wondering about this as my wedding set is platinum. I’m allergic to gold and I thought platinum was a safe choice (ugh!)
Shawn E says
I would love to test some of the jewelry findings I have purchased on eBay and Etsy. Would the swabs work for this if I nick the piece if it is plated/and even if not? Thanks for all the information!
The swabs will not work on most jewelry findings. Sorry! Plus that can get pretty expensive too!
So these at home lead testing kits don’t work on jewelry?
They do not.
Can you recommend any professional labs to get jewelry tested for lead, cadmium, and mercury?
What about gold filled jewelry?
Shawn E says
Thanks, Tamara…that’s disappointing. Sure can’t afford one of those meters either but would love to have one. Any other suggestions for testing jewelry?
Nope – not economically. You can go to a local jeweler. They have some reactive agent testing methodologies for certain metals, but they can’t always detect contaminants.
What about the gold plated Sterling silver? Are there any safe yellow jewelry options (I don’t like silver)?
I have not tested enough gold plated sterling to draw a conclusion. Gold often has quite a bit more contaminants than silver, so in general I would steer clear. If you like the gold color you could look for a high quality high copper-content lead-free brass, I have seen quite a few examples of that available in jewelry and other applications.
Most of the sterling silver that I have found has cubic zirconia and is plated with rhodium. What are your thoughts on cubic zirconia, but most importantly on rhodium plating?
Hmmm – then it shouldn’t be labeled Sterling Silver (or 925). Is it? I haven’t tested many things with rhodium, so cannot weigh in on that.
Ann Becker says
Hi Tamera, Thank you for all this information. I have been looking at some sterling silver jewelry and was also wondering about the rhodium stated in some items as covering the sterling silver to prevent tarnishing. Then I just found you had this link on jewelry with some recommendations. One of them, the blue Topaz ring, does state in the description on Amazon that it has rhodium coating, so I am wondering whether or not to trust it, as I don’t think you have tested that one.
Also, do you have any links to titanium jewelry you might have tested or would assume safe, earrings in particular. Thank you.
a. quick says
so you are saying you would never hang onto vintage jewelry at all? thank you so much for all you do.
I have no vintage costume jewelry. This is saying a lot because I used to have an enormous collection (since I have a background in off-broadway costume design, from when I was in college in New York in the 1980s – and worked on lots of period pieces so came across a lot in my travels and my work and started collecting it!)
Can older platinum items have lead if they are from a reputable jeweler? I have a set that was my mom’s made in the 1980s. Also, if you take the diamonds out of antique (like 1930s) gold settings and put them in modern settings would that resolve the issue?
Pat Tekin says
I don’t buy a lot of jewelry but when I do I opt for sterling silver (after reading your post). However, I often see the warning “not intended for use by children under 12 (?) Years old” on jewelry that are marked as “sterling silver” and I steer away from them out of caution. Do you know why sterling silver would have that warning? Thanks!
Dawn strang says
I’ve developed a really bad rash from wearing my Fitbit inspire which has a rubber like band. I’ve seen many images with people with the same issue. I’m wondering if stainless steel would be a better choice than leather for a replacement.
Thanks for commenting!
It really depends on your allergies / sensitivities. Leather can be tanned with Chromium (and sometimes Lead); stainless steel has high levels of nickel and chromium sometimes. Titanium always seems to be a good choice if that is an option. I don’t know anything about Fitbits or what the options are – so I cannot advise on that product specifically.
Here’s a post about stainless steel that you might find helpful: https://tamararubin.com/2018/07/asktamara-what-is-stainless-steel/
Tamara, I have some bakelite bracelets and am wondering is they contain toxins?
Tamara, can you tell me if jewelry containing lead is allowed to be advertised as lead free? Meaning if it’s under a certain amount they can claim it’s lead free. Thanks