What Is Tibetan Silver?

purse with Tibetan silver accents

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Tibetan Silver is the name given to the metal used in some jewelry available online, such as on eBay or via Amazon. These items typically ship from China. Have you ever wondered how much silver is in Tibetan Silver or about the chemical composition of Tibetan Silver? Would you be surprised to learn that this metal can be dangerous?

Tibetan Silver is a silver-colored alloy consisting of copper with tin or nickel. Some items described as Tibetan Silver are cast iron that has been plated with the silver-colored metal. Most Tibetan Silver is copper with tin rather than copper with nickel because nickel causes skin reactions in many people.

Health Hazards

Ironically, the metal often contains other elements that are much more toxic than nickel. It is inadvisable for pregnant women or children to wear items made with Tibetan Silver because some of the items contain high levels of dangerous metals, including lead and arsenic.

eBay issued a buyer warning so that bidders would be aware of the metallurgical testing conducted on Tibetan Silver items and the possible toxicity of these items. In six of seven items that were analyzed using x-ray fluorescence, the primary metals in the Tibetan Silver were actually nickel, copper, and zinc. One item contained 1.3% arsenic and extremely high lead content of 54%. A separate sampling of items revealed comparable compositions, with trace amounts of chromium, aluminum, tin, gold, and lead, although in that study, all of the samples contained acceptable levels of lead.

Note that not all items contain toxic levels of heavy metals. The warning for pregnant women and children is intended to prevent accidental poisonings.

Other Names

Sometimes comparable metallurgical compositions have been called Nepalese silver, white metal, pewter, lead-free pewter, base metal, or simply tin alloy.

In the past, there was an alloy called Tibetan Silver that actually did contain the element silver. Some vintage Tibetan silver is sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver. The remaining percent could be any combination of other metals, although usually, it is copper or tin.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is Tibetan Silver?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-tibetan-silver-608022. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 25). What Is Tibetan Silver? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-tibetan-silver-608022 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is Tibetan Silver?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-tibetan-silver-608022 (accessed March 30, 2023).