We are all
familiar with the soft white beauty and reflective quality of
silver. In its pure state, though, silver is considered too soft to use for
jewelry manufacture. This fine grade silver is what constitutes silver bullion bars.
To increase strength for practical purposes, copper is usually added in
varying proportions which gives rise to the different grades of
This purity of the silver is validated by the Assay office and the item
is then stamped with a special hallmark to show it complies with
Although hallmarking as we understand it today began in France in the 13th
century, official stamps guaranteeing quality of precious metals
were used in Ancient Egypt and in Roman times. In England, about
1300, items made from precious metal had to be brought to the
guild hall of goldsmiths, Goldsmith's Hall, in London to test for
purity. They were then officially stamped with the mark of the
Goldsmith's Hall. Hence the origin of the name 'hallmark'. A leopard's head inside a shield
was the first mark of the established assay office in England.
The grade of sterling silver refers to items containing a minimum of
925 parts per 1000 of pure silver and the British hallmark for
this is the 'Lion Rampart'. In the USA, hallmarking began in
Baltimore in 1814 and silver items are stamped with '925' or
'sterling' to guarantee this purity. The '925' mark has since been
adopted by many other countries.