Tibetan Silver – Getting what you paid for?

It’s been brought to my attention that Tibetan “Silver” may not always be what we thought we were purchasing. Genuine Tibetan Silver contains 92.5 % silver, and it quite expensive, but there are sellers out there, most likely unknowingly, selling items labeled as Tibetan Silver that actually have no silver content.

What started out as a copyright infringement case opened up a can of worms. The items that were in question were sent to a lab for tests. The results came back and the info wasn’t good. The items had no silver content what so ever. Nickel, copper and zinc were the dominant metals in 6 of the 7 tested items. A couple very scary added ingredients were found in the seventh. It was 54% lead and 1.3% arsenic !!! This offending item was shipped out of Hong Kong. I was told that copies of these finding are readily available from the company that did the testing – TierraCast, Inc.

Links of interest:

Tibetan Silver: A Buyer’s Advisory
What is Tibetan silver?
What is Tibetan Silver?
Tibetan silver
Composition of Metals in Jewellery

A way to test your items for silver content (found this in a forum post)

“Tibetan silver is only a name it does not guarantee any silver content, The country did not make advancement in technology or mining until the Chinese moved in. The silver content of any silver alloy will become obvious with time.

The lower the silver content the quicker and blacker the tarnish it even develops a greenish tinge, depending on the atmosphere and environment its been exposed to.

Quick simple test.

Get a genuine sterling silver item and a Tibetan, Bali, or Mexican silver item. Wet them. Place them on a plate with cut in half a hard boiled egg (free range eggs have a higher sulphur content so they work better) leave it stand under a glass dish turned upside down and watch. The lower the silver content the quicker it tarnishes.

Take the tarnished items and boil the in a dilute solution of sodium carbonate or bicarbonate, only the coinage silver (800 to 900 or sterling silver 925 content will revert back to a white silver surface. if it goes salmon colour then its a high copper alloy, stainless look will be nickle silver or stainless.

Two things to observe. 1) what colour did the tarnish go and how long it took by comparing a known against an unknown.
2) what colour did you finish up with after the soda carb test.

This test does not harm the metal in fact the soda carb test is used to clean and remove tarnish from silver.”

So please be careful from who and where you buy your Tibetan Silver from in the future. Lead is very dangerous and causes birth defects. Not to mention the side affect of arsenic !


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aims
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 19:56:27

    Wow! Is this ever good to know!

    I’m going to test some of the ‘silver’ I got from Hong Kong. I guess a guarantee is needed if one is to buy from there.

    Thanks for posting this.


  2. Lauren
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 13:59:04

    thanks for this info.! I just bought some Tibet silver, & while I knew that it doesn’t usually contain much, if any, silver, I did not know about the lead!!! Is there a test for the lead content?
    Thanks for any help!


  3. Carolyn Good
    Feb 04, 2010 @ 20:13:53

    The article you referred to says that “Tibet Silver” is a 100% lead-free zinc alloy that has anywhere from 5-10% actual silver content. It is 100% hypo-allergenic.” I have purchased some before and it looks more like a pewter.


  4. Drew Bamber
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 15:52:30

    great article and very informative,I have just purchased a ‘Tibetan silver’ from a far east seller on e-bay,The ring was only £2.00 so I was’nt expecting it to be 925 silver,or anything close,But the lead content issue is very worrying,As i bought the ring as a present for my young niece who is only 4 years old,And now I am worried about how much lead maybe in the ring!?,The best thing to do is maybe just throw it away!!?,But is there any easy test for anyone at home to find out how much lead the jewellery item may contain??,Any help would be appreciated,Many thanks again for your article,Drew


  5. Jackie Endres
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 02:21:34

    I design and make jewelry. I work with sterling silver, gold, gold-filled, and copper, and I won’t use any metal unless I know exactly what it is, and I only buy from reputable companies. Lead is very dangerous to children, and if they put it in their mouths, they have lead poisoning. Lead accumulates in your system, and medically, there’s no getting rid of it. So the best course is to avoid it. One of my suppliers had the following warning: “All cast metal, charms, and costume jewelry contains lead.” Any metal that you don’t know what’s in it is suspect, especially goods fom China. They have been unloading leaded jewelry on us for years. California has the strictest lead laws in the country, and some jewelry that was marked “925”, sterling silver, was tested. Much of it from China contained high levels of lead and was not sterling silver. Stay away from Tibetan Silver. It’s only
    a marketing term, designed to make you think you’re getting silver. You’re
    not. It’s all manufactured with different quantities of metals, but the majority has no silver at all, and much of it contains lead.

    Adults tolerate lead better than children do. Web MD says that lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities in children, inability to solve problems, memory loss, and brain damage. If you’re a pregnant woman, lead poisoning can cause birth defects in your child. Nobody would want their kids to have any of these problems, because they’re permanent. Don’t let your baby put your costume jewelry in their mouth. It
    can be deadly. I have friends who sell costume jewelry in different states, and I asked them if they knew costume jewelry had lead in it? None of them were aware of the lead content. I suggested they put a disclaimer on their products, so people knew what they were buying. They didn’t want to do that for fear it could hurt their business, so buyers beware. There are few laws except in CA controlling the amount of lead allowed to be sold in jewelry. They won’t warn you because they don’t have to. Many jewelry supply vendors and stores are now including disclaimers like, “not a toy, and not for anyone 12 and under.” That disclaimer is only there to protect them, not you. In my humble opinion, they should say, “this product may contain high levels of lead, which is very harmful to children and can cause brain damage!” I’ve done quite a bit of research on this, and I encourage all of you reading this to do the same. When we stop buying these products that hurt our kids, maybe then they’ll stop importing this junk? We can’t allow harmful products that contain high levels of lead anywhere near our children.


    • Jackie Endres
      Jan 29, 2013 @ 02:32:01

      Just want to add that Swarovski crystals, or any crystals for that matter, all have lead in them. Lead is what makes them sparkle. I made my toddler granddaughter a pair of crystal earrings, but wanted to check with Swarovski themselves as to their safety for children. They responded that ‘crystals are not for children 14 years and under’, due to lead content. This is what started my research on lead in jewelry. Best to all of you!


  6. Rita
    Dec 30, 2014 @ 11:14:33

    Wow! I am worried about the Tibetan silver–I own 5 necklaces. I think I will change out the chains and glue felt to back so the necklaces don’t touch my skin. Imagine I volunteered for lead poisoning by being an unaware customer. Shame on our immigration system.


  7. Barb Greer
    Jan 22, 2015 @ 17:38:04

    Thank you so very much for your article. I guess I have had my head in the sand regarding the lead content in jewelry & how dangerous it can be. I have allowed all of the pretty sparkle to make me blind about how some jewelry can affect my health or the health of anyone I gave jewelry to. I think some jewelry items are so beautiful that it becomes “my addiction” & in some cases, the price is so low, I just couldn’t resist it. I have bought some items knowing I didn’t really have the money to buy it & I would just postpone paying the electric or gas bill till my next payday. This is probably the behavior of a typical addiction? I now know I need to be more careful about the lead content but the only thing I can say for myself is now that I’m 70, if I have not been affected by the lead content by now, maybe I’m safe? The problem is – I don’t think I can expect the jewelry designers to research each bead they buy or to ask the manufacturer of any of the components they use in their creations to know themselves about lead content or to advise the designer about the lead content. So, what is the answer? Do we get blood tests to see if our systems now contain lead? What happens to us if we do have lead in our system? I have slowed down a lot regarding buying jewelry for myself, but I still have all of the rings, bracelets & necklaces that I bought over the last 40 years & I don’t want to stop wearing them. So I will have to hope I am not already poisoned by my jewelry & try not worry too too much about if I will get lead poisoning by any of my pretty sparkly bling bling. But I did enjoy your article. Thanks. Barb G.


  8. Margie M.
    Apr 15, 2015 @ 07:40:05

    I recently purchased 5 tibetan bracelets stating that they were .925 sterling silver. I thought the prices were too good to be true, the prices ranged from .99¢ to $5.99-$8.00 (give or take) Although the shipping costs were anywhere from $5.99 to $8.99 that is still a “bargain” to me. What should I do? Should I return them to e-bay and notify/inform e-bay about this or what? Please help me w/ this could-be castrastrophe. Thanking you in advance,


    • tonjal
      Apr 25, 2015 @ 17:44:25

      Margie, you can return them. It’s up to you, but I doubt reporting to eBay will do anything. They don’t care. It might even be real sterling, but only plated. That has happened to me.


  9. Debra
    Nov 26, 2015 @ 00:09:44

    Tibetan silver is used primarily in jewelry components, and is similar to pewter – an alloy of copper, and sometimes tin or nickel, with a small percentage of pure silver. Its overall appearance is of aged silver, but it can be polished to provide highlights on complex castings.


  10. Ingrid Gilbert
    Nov 27, 2015 @ 07:30:21

    The tests done in 2009 of “Tibetan Silver” from ebay (done by Tierracast) did not find high lead content, the tests in 2007 did. I think now they are using a zinc based alloy formulation that is not much different from the American pewter, not much silver content but also no lead. You can never be sure of any particular seller though unless you test.
    Lead is soft and tends to turn a powdery greyish color when it ages, if any of you are old enough to remember the old style pewter. While shininess is no guarantee I would be most suspicious of anything that is soft and has that greying tendency. For the person who asked about home lead testing there’s a lead test swab that can be gotten from hardware stores I recently read for about $4-.


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