You’re out shopping at a market for a bargain. You see some beautiful jewellery which will go perfectly with that Breton top and it’s an absolute snip. You can’t believe it’s silver at that price, but you take a close look and yes, it’s got the ‘925’ stamp imprinted on the metal. So that must mean it’s Sterling Silver, right?
WRONG! Although loads of people think a piece must be Sterling Silver if it’s got that 925 stamp on it, in reality it doesn’t prove a thing. Many pieces of Sterling Silver will have a 925 stamp (as 925 is indeed the sign for Sterling Silver - so it has a purity of 92.5% silver and 7.5% of the alloy is made of copper or another metal. This is because pure silver would be too soft for many pieces of jewellery). But here’s the thing: anyone can buy a 925 stamp and legally sell jewellery with it on, even if it’s NOT real silver.
For some reason, it’s widely assumed that the 925 symbol is proof of quality, when in fact it’s not. It doesn’t mean that a piece isn’t Sterling Silver if it’s got the 925 mark on, it just doesn’t prove that it is either.
But there is a way of knowing if something is the real deal - hallmarking.
The only way of knowing for sure a piece is Sterling Silver, is if it bears a hallmark saying so. This is because before a piece is hallmarked it has be sent off to an ‘Assay Office’. The Assay Office tests each piece to check it is whichever metal it’s supposed to be, and then hallmark the piece. There are only four Assay Offices across the UK - London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. And NO-ONE else can hallmark a piece. In addition to hallmarking for Sterling Silver, there is also a hallmark for Gold, Platinum and other metals.
I get all my pieces hallmarked at Birmingham Assay Office. Being from Birmingham, it was a HUGE moment for me when i registered there and got my very own maker’s mark. And now i hallmark all my silver pieces...which is why it sometimes takes a while to get stock made and up on the website!
So what does a hallmark look like? Well it depends on a number of factors - including what the metal is, at which Assay Office the piece has been tested and the maker of the piece.
Here’s a handy chart from London Assay Office which breaks down the components of a hallmark:
Now, the thing that makes it a little bit more complicated is that a piece of Sterling Silver can be legally sold in the UK without a hallmark up to a weight of 7.78 grams - that’s about the same weight as 2 teaspoons of sugar.
So as hallmarking can be expensive and time consuming, lots of jewellers don’t hallmark smaller silver pieces. Therefore, a smaller silver piece without a hallmark COULD well be real silver - but you haven’t got proof. In this case it’s up to you how much you’re paying and how much you trust the person selling you the jewellery that it is in fact, genuine Sterling Silver.
So the next time you’re out shopping and you’re tempted, well at least you know a bit more about what you’re buying! What kind of jewellery do you buy and where do you get it from?