Posted by Dana on 12/3/2014 to Jewelry Help
We discussed ways to determine if sterling silver was real or fake in a previous post. This post will discuss the many different ways sterling silver or other forms of silver may be marked (this does not include hallmarks). Sometimes, these markings can help you narrow down a maker, a country of manufacture or a time period to date your jewelry pieces. Marking requirements will differ between countries. This is a work in progress and I will add more as the research unfolds.
Common types of marks seen on silver jewelry:
STERLING = means silver of a purity of at least 92.5%
STER = means the same as sterling and has to have a purity of 92.5%
.925 in an oval cartouche = This is the earliest numerical purity mark which stands for 92.5% silver
.925 = Early silver purity marks included the period in front of the 925 and it stands for 92.5% silver
925 = A later purity mark where the period was removed and it stands for 92.5% silver.
.999 = This is called Fine silver and it has a content of .99.9% silver.
Fine Silver = Metal that is 99.9% silver.
SILVER = Commonly seen on Chinese exports mostly dating from the 1920-1940 time period. Can indicate a content anywhere from coin to fine silver.
COIN or COIN SILVER= This is a slightly lower grade of silver and can vary anywhere from .892-.900. This is equal to 89.2%-90% silver content.
Other numerical marks from .600-.1000 = These marks vary greatly by country. An excellent guide to these numerical marks or decimal standards can be found here: http://www.925-1000.com/a_Standards.html
Alpaca or Alpaca Silver = This is not silver. It is a mix of alloys that is silver colored.
German Silver = Again, not silver. It is a mix of alloys that is silver colored.
925 FAS = A modern designation that may or may not be sterling silver. In some cases it could possibly be a makers mark.
USA purity marking information:
Unlike other countries the United States does not require quality marking (aka purity) on silver jewelry manufactured here. So unlike other countries that are very strict, we have several ways our silver jewelry is marked.
US silver started being marked STERLING or STER around mid 1860's - 1870. This silver would be guaranteed at least 92.5% pure. Many of the unmarked older jewelry can also be coin silver. You will have to test it to determine the true purity.
In 1906, The National Gold and Silver Stamping Act was passed. If jewelry is marked for quality with a numerical mark such as 925, then there are compulsory requirements for how you must mark the jewelry. A link to the act is below for your reference.
Basically, if you want to make jewelry in the USA and include the purity (numerical mark of 925 etc.) of the silver you must also include:
1. A registered hallmark or makers mark.
2. An artist signature or manufacturers name so the piece can be traced back to the creator.
European countries are much more strict with their silver markings (many switched to 925 much sooner than the USA) so some high end companies such as Tiffany, adopted the 925 marking early as a mark of quality. In addition, if you wanted to export jewelry to other countries from the US, you would have to use the 925 mark.
Trademarks and hallmarks are costly in the US and out of the reach of smaller companies and artists. So you will still see the STERLING or STER marks used today though 925 is the most common mark you will find on modern jewelry post 1970.
With the increase in worldwide trade, use of the 925 mark became commonplace in the US in the 1970's. This was after the EC European Communities adopted the 925 mark as the official standard mark for sterling silver in trade. I believe the countries covered under this were Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine. I am still working on verifying this information.
British Silver marking:
More to come!