Sterling silver and hallmarking
The Sterling Silver Buckles, where possible, carry large display ( spread) marks which are stamped, after testing, by The Assay Office in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter - the largest Assay Office in the world.
The buckles are precious metal articles and cannot legally be sold as Sterling Silver in Great Britain until they have been independently tested in one of the four Assay Offices, situated in Edinburgh, Sheffield, London and Birmingham. The hallmarks on the buckles prove that they are exactly what they were declared to be when the buckles (articles) were submitted for testing.
Collectors of British Sterling Silver can reference through the documented history of hallmarks to discover who made a particular item, what it was made from, when it was produced and where it was tested and verified.
History of British Hallmarking
The name Assay comes from the French word assayer which, when translated literally, means to try - in this case to try the fineness or purity of the articles submitted.
The whole process was set up in Great Britain over 700 years ago in the year 1300 by a statute from the monarch King Edward 1 and it is Europe's earliest form of consumer protection.
London artisans produced more gold articles whilst Birmingham was well known for silver pieces, more substantially so in the eighteenth century. When gold needed to be assayed, in the early days, it had to be submitted to Goldsmiths Hall in London and from this we now have the word hallmark.
Sterling Silver Hallmarks
The numbers 925 or the word silver seen alone on modern articles for sale proves nothing. Authentic British Sterling Silver hallmarked items weighing over 7.78 gms usually carry a variety of stamped symbols.
B&H maker's hallmark. The first is the maker’s mark, also known as the sponsor’s mark, which is held on file, in various scaled sizes, at the Assay Office. It is retrieved and used exclusively when that maker’s items are sent in for testing.
Anchor hallmark. The second mark designates testing and stamping by The Birmingham Assay Office.
925 hallmark The third mark is 925 which proves that during testing the precious metal was 75 parts copper and 925 parts pure silver per thousand. Britannia silver has a content ratio of 42/958 but is by nature too soft a material to make everyday items from.
The fourth mark is a date letter, in this example, for 2006. The stylised letter ‘g’ appears on all items tested and hallmarked between January 1st and December 31st in that year. The date mark is retired on the closing of the Assay Office on December 31st.
Lion Passant hallmark. The fifth mark is the lion passant, stating that the article is British Sterling Silver.
Preservation of the Earliest Form of Consumer Protection
The whole history of British hallmarking was recently under threat from an Italian directive submitted to the European parliament in Brussels.
Italian manufacturers use continental silver which, at best, is only 200/800 parts pure. Their manufacturing base is the largest in Europe for mass produced jewellery (chain etc.).
In their second attempt at trying to remove the earliest form of consumer protection for British Sterling Silver and other precious metal articles, it was suggested in a directive introduced for consideration by the members of the European Parliament that all that should be required to verify the purity of precious metal items should be a declaration, stamped at the place of manufacture, of the symbol 925 for silver and equivalent symbols for platinum and the various carats of gold.
This whole suggestion was, of course, considered to be an outrageous intrusion into the integrity of British sterling silver, gold and platinum makers and a snub to the valued history of British hallmarking and its valued place in consumer protection.
In a massive show of support, the industry, collectors, retailers and credible associations such as the WI, rallied behind The Assay Offices to lobby and petition.
Countries which have systems similar to British hallmarking are Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland. These countries also rallied against the Italian directive.
As positive proof, to support the case for leaving the current hallmarking procedures in place, The Assay Offices went on a spending spree, purchasing items imported into the UK. The results were quite conclusive. Self-declaration was proven to be wide open to abuse and the testing showed that items imported into the UK were, more often than not, under carat and not as the article purported itself to be.
Fortunately, the directive was shelved for the second time which means that as more important decisions have to be made within a now expanded EU membership, the likelihood of this ever surfacing again is remote.
THE DATE LETTER FOR 2017 IS THE LETTER S IN THE SAME BACKGROUND FIELD AS THE EXAMPLE FOR 2006.
Spotting a fake
When looking to buy buckles that are on this site that might also appear on another make sure that their hallmarks are crisp.
Look for B&H, anchor, 925, date ( letter S for 2017) and the lion passant and you will know it is a genuine handmade article made by B&H, The Sterling Silver Buckle Company.