How to read a British Silver Hallmark
When we say ‘hallmarked silver’, you might be picturing that little 925 symbol that’s often stamped on silver jewellery. Most people think that’s the thing that proves a piece really is genuine silver… but actually, someone could just buy a 925 stamp and add it on to any silver-coloured or silver-plated metal!
If you really want to know if something’s proper silver, you’ll need to look for an official hallmark. It has at least 3 marks (sometimes more: mine has 5) which can give you a lot more clues about your jewellery than simply whether it’s true silver or not. Read on for the key facts…
Hallmarking for Silver and Gold Jewellery
Any piece can be hallmarked if you want it to be, but smaller items are optional. However, once a piece is over a certain weight, it’s a legal requirement to have it officially hallmarked by an Assay Office. This means that jewellers have to be registered with an Assay Office, and then we pay a fee for each piece to be assessed and marked.
For sterling silver, anything over 7.78g has to be hallmarked, and for gold, it’s anything over 1g. (And if you don’t hallmark when you should, the fines are up to £5000 per piece!)
Silver Hallmarks: Maker’s Mark
The maker’s mark tells you who made the piece, as it’s individual to each jewellery maker. My mark is my initials, JLI, in little arches.
Although I registered my mark early on in my business, I’ve only sent special one-off commissions for hallmarking. So, every piece over the weight that I create goes off to the Assay Office: I pay for them to assess the silver quality, they stamp it with the hallmark and send it back, and then the piece is ready for sale.
Silver Hallmarks: Traditional Fineness Mark
The fineness mark tells you what the metal is: sterling silver is a little lion, gold is a little crown and platinum is a little orb. This mark is optional now, but it used to be the traditional way of knowing the purity of the metal.
Silver Hallmarks: Standard Mark
Here’s where that 925 finally fits in, and you can trust it’s truthful when it’s been stamped by an Assay Office! The number refers to how much of the metal is silver, so 925 means 925/1000 parts (92.5%) of the metal are silver. (The remaining 75/1000 is usually made from copper, which helps to add a little strength to the metal. 100% silver would be super soft.)
Silver Hallmarks: Assay Office Mark
There are four assay offices in the UK, and each one has its own symbol so that you can trace which one applied the hallmark: Birmingham, London, Edinburgh or Sheffield. I’m registered with the London Office, which has a leopard head as its symbol.
Hallmarking has been going on in the UK for over 700 years, ever since the hallmarking statute of 1300 – it’s probably the oldest form of customer protection in the world that’s still in place today.
Silver Hallmarks: Date Letters
Each year is represented by a letter of the alphabet (2020 is a V and 2021 is a W). The system cycles through the alphabet, but you can still tell different years apart because the font varies and letters switch between uppercase and lowercase. Since 1999, including the date letter hasn’t been compulsory but it’s still widely used. It’s quite a nice detail to have, isn’t it?
From time to time, temporary hallmarks become available to commemorate significant events. Since the 1930s, a symbol has been specially designed for each royal jubilee and coronation, and a commemorative hallmark was also created in 1999 to celebrate the millennium. The most recent design was for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, and it’s a little different to the others… every previous Jubilee hallmark has a profile of the monarch (like the image on a stamp) but the 2022 design is based on the traditional orb hallmark for platinum, together with the Queen’s royal cipher.
My 2022 ‘Small Steps’ jewellery collection was inspired by a quote from the Queen's 2019 Christmas Speech – "Giant leaps often start with small steps” – and it was lovely to include the official commemorative hallmark on these pieces. The Jubilee hallmark feels even more significant now, looking back and remembering the Queen’s life and reign. I wonder what the design for King Charles III’s coronation will look like?
Hallmarked pieces by Jordan Lily Designs
So that’s what you need to know to read a British hallmark. It’s a lovely thought that someone could pick up a hallmarked Jordan Lily Designs bangle in future, look up all the symbols and discover that it’s sterling silver, the year it was made, that it was registered by the London Assay Office and created by me!
Don’t forget that true silver does need a little care to keep looking its beautiful shiny best, so once you know that your piece is genuinely silver, check out my jewellery care tips here.