Why is 925 silver jewellery hallmarked?
We are often asked why silver jewellery has hallmarks on it. In the UK the most common hallmark is a 925 stamp. In other countries you may see hallmarks with the words 'silver' or 'quality silver' in capital letters. Although the types of hallmarking used internationally vary, the principle behind the hallmarking system for silver jewellery remains the same.
Let us first look at the law as it stands. In the UK nearly all high quality 925 sterling silver jewellery must be stamped with a 925 hallmark. A rigorous body of laws, dating back from Medieval times, governs the system and legal requirements of hallmarking. More recently the 1999 European regulations and directives have introduced further requirements to the Hallmarking Act 1973. Only those 925 silver items specifically excluded by law may legally avoid the requirement of a hallmark.
Similar laws apply all around the world and are usually just as firm as those in the UK. Where hallmarking laws exist you inevitably find an official body tasked with carefully monitoring the hallmarking system and empowered to issue hefty penalties for any breaches.
Now that we know what the law is, we can look at why it exists. In essence hallmarking laws are designed to protect the consumer. High quality 925 silver is a combination of 92.5% silver and the remaining 7.5% is composed of another alloy, added to increase durability and resistance to damage. Unscrupulous jewellery merchants and retailers were tempted in the past to reduce the total level of silver in this combination. Furthermore, the dishonest producers and sellers escaped punishment because it is impossible to assess the total percentage of silver in an item of jewellery without chemical testing it.
Although it is fine to sell silver jewellery which contains less than 92.5% silver, such jewellery can not be branded as 925 silver. 925 sterling silver has a reputation for excellence and is justifiably the consumer's preferred choice. It contains a high percentage of silver while the 7.5% alloy added to the mix enhances the quality and strength of each item. The benefits of passing-off inferior silver jewellery as 925 quality are therefore patently obvious.
The hallmarking system was designed to resolve the problems of dishonest traders and to address the drop in consumer's confidence in 925 silver. A third party - such as the current main Assay Offices of London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh in the UK - would analyse and stamp each item of 925 jewellery. As this third party carried out all chemical analysis themselves, and then issued the hallmark stamp, all items stamped with the 925 hallmark were guaranteed to conformed to the required legal standard. Furthermore, heavy fines and criminal sanctions were introduced to ensure public trust in the hallmarking scheme.
The hallmarking scheme remains in operation today in the UK and most countries around the world use a similar system to ensure customers can buy 925 silver with confidence.
As an interesting historical side note the silver jewellery hallmark originated in the early Middle Ages in England. At first only the Goldsmith’s Hall in London was able to mark silver – thus the word hallmark, being a mark given in Goldsmith’s Hall, came into common use.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Shameli, the author of this article, is a director of http://www.purdicejewellery.co.uk. He also contributes to the Purdice Jewellery library of interesting jewellery facts at http://www.purdicejewellery.co.uk/qanda.asp.