Hallmarking of Silver
Good to Be on the Safe Side
While some would refer to silver as the cheaper cousin of gold, that does not take away from the peculiar charm of this precious metal. It has been known and valued since ancient times. While our early ancestors started using silver due to its beautiful white colour, its resistance to corrosion and its shine combined with its scarcity has created a demand for it both as an ornament and as a form of wealth. It is also used widely in the production of coins, utensils and artefacts. However, as in the case of gold, it is relatively easy for the customer to be a victim of irregular metal quality. This is why it is important to grasp the relevance of hallmarking. A hallmark indicates that the silver adheres to acceptable standards of purity.
There is a common mix-up about what a hallmark really is. Many people confuse hallmarks with makers’ marks. A hallmark is essentially an indication of metal content, a guarantee of purity or quality, which may include a maker’s mark and other marks. Makers’ marks alone are not considered hallmarks. Hallmarking provides a benchmark with regard to standards of fineness and acts as a guarantee against prevention of adulteration, be it deliberate or accidental.
Pure silver is too soft to withstand wear as an article and unscrupulous manufacturers and suppliers tend to take advantage of this by using alloys of lesser value. This malpractice has translated into substantial monetary losses to the consumer.
Silver is extracted from sulphide ore by cyaniding and improved smelting processes and is then refined by electrolysis process. The fine silver produced by this process is a relatively soft metal and wears away in the course of use. To avoid this, silversmiths over the ages have alloyed their silver with a small quantity of copper, the latter not exceeding 10 per cent. The most famous of these alloys is probably the English sterling (925 parts silver and 75 parts copper per thousand), which was formulated about AD 1200 and is employed for jewellery and plate as well as coinage. Till now, the popular coin silver is a silver alloy of 900 parts pure silver and 100 parts metal alloys. To protect the common man from purchasing adulterated silver article, necessary preventive measures were taken by the authority of London in the 12th century. Assaying and purity marking on sterling silver was first introduced in London, giving rise to hallmarking.