Hallmarks have been used on silver jewelry pieces for centuries. These printed numbers were first used as code by European jewelers to verify whether the silver they were purchasing was genuine or not. Back in those times, sterling silver didn’t exist, and people mostly bought and sold jewelry pieces made of pure silver. In recent times, sterling silver has been identified as genuine silver and precious material in its own right. Still, pure silver is graded higher by jewelers than sterling silver. Hence, both of these materials feature different hallmarks used all across the United States and beyond.
The Millesimal Fineness System
The millesimal fineness system is used to determine the true quality and authenticity of pieces of jewelry made of alloys. For instance, sterling silver is made of 92.5% pure silver, and the rest is made of either copper, zinc, or nickel. So, technically sterling silver is an alloy. Since pure silver isn’t strong enough for regular use, jewelers use these alloys to make their sterling silver jewelry stronger and more durable. According to the millesimal fineness system, the percentage of pure silver an alloy contains, determines its purity. For instance, if an alloy contains only 41% pure silver, the silver content is not high enough for that alloy to be considered pure silver or sterling silver.
Pure Silver and Sterling Silver
The 925 ring stamp is all you need to see to know whether your sterling silver jewelry contains 92.5% of pure silver. The millesimal fineness system also dictates that for alloys to be called “pure” or “fine” silver, they must consist of at least 99.9% pure silver (Ag). Jewelry pieces made of fine silver come with hallmarks like “999” or “.999.” You can find these hallmarks on the insides or undersides of jewelry pieces. However, the concept of purchasing pure silver jewelry is extremely outdated. Compared to sterling silver, pure silver is extremely fragile, soft, and easily breakable. That’s why sterling silver is used far more in jewelry design.
Silver and Sterling Silver Hallmarks Across the World
The hallmarks “925” and “999” are mainly used in the U.S. and Western European countries. The rest of the world has similar standards for both sterling and pure silver. Since these markings are over 150-years old, it’s highly likely that antique silver jewelry pieces will feature these markings. Owners of such jewelry pieces must take out a magnifying glass and check whether their jewelry contains numbers between 999 and 625.