Silver is one of the precious metals used for making jewellery. Did you know that there are several British silver standards? When you are looking at vintage jewellery its really useful to be able to tell the different types. These standards are controlled by the British Hallmarking Council .
Silver is a natural material mined from the earth alongside other metals when it has been processed. You can get 100% pure silver but this is quite a soft metal and not suitable for making jewellery as it is too soft. Of course jewellery can have a plating of silver rather than being solid. Today’s article is about solid silver pieces.
You can get 100% pure silver but this is quite a soft metal and not suitable for making jewellery as it is too soft. To make it fit for our precious trinkets other metals such as copper, zinc or aluminium are added to it in varying percentages.
A silver standard is expressed as a % such as 92.5 or as parts per thousand such as 925. In addition, many standards have a name such as Sterling and a hallmark symbol. There are 4 current British silver standards which are legal in the UK today:
In the UK we normally see and recognise Sterling silver or 92.5 % silver in the metal.
This has a lion hallmark which in England is a lion passant ( looks like its and looking to the left)
or in Scotland a lion rampant ( which looks like the lion is standing on its hind legs)
999 or 99.9%
This is rarely used as its too soft for jewellery
958 or 98.5% known as Britannia silver. This is denoted by the Britannia Hallmark symbol.
800 or 88.8%. Many people think that this grade is not legal as silver but the hallmarking laws changed. Since 1999 we can happily refer to this standard as silver quite legally. This standard of silver has been heavily throughout Europe including France, Belgium and Germany for many years. Jewellery stamped 800 may well be European in origin although other factors may indicate an Eastern or Asian origin.
Different countries have their own sets of silver standards but most silver jewellery from around the world will be between 98 % pure and 80% pure. From a non-technical, practical point of view of owning and wearing there is very little difference between a 98% piece of silver jewellery and an 80% pure piece. Personally, as long as it is at least 800-grade silver I would choose the style and any design over the silver grade.
We will always try to include the British silver standards in the descriptions of jewellery we although most of it is Sterling silver . Sterling has been used to manufacture the vast majority of British silver jewellery since the year dot. When we come across non-Sterling silver vintage jewellery it is normally of continental European origin.