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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Timely Information from our Archives

Here is some basic information from our archives we thought would be interesting to share. Sometimes its nice to have these primary facts readily at hand.

Sterling Silver Quality 

Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. 99.9% silver is called "Fine silver." Sterling components and jewelry made in the USA are often stamped "Sterling." Goods made for international trade are often marked "925" indicating the 92.5% fineness. "Coin" silver is used in some countries and could be marked "900" or "800" depending on fineness. 

Other markings may be seen that are less clear. "Mexican Silver", "German Silver," "Indian Silver," "Montana Silver," or simply "silver" do not guarantee any silver content. "German Silver" is another name for the alloy of Copper, Nickel and Zinc usually called Nickel Silver. Despite the name, Nickel Silver contains no silver. 

In many countries, precious metal must be stamped with a quality mark such as "925" for sterling. Some countries require jewelry of precious metal be submitted to a governmental assay office for destructive testing before being marked and sold. 

In the USA, The National Gold and Silver Marketing Act does NOT require precious metals to be marked with quality. However, if a quality mark is used, the mark must be accompanied by a manufacturer's hallmark that is a registered trademark. If there is ever a question about the precious content of a piece of jewelry the manufacturer can be traced using the registered hallmark stamped on the piece. This accountability is particularly important in gold jewelry. A devious manufacturer could mark a piece 18Kt when, in fact, it was 10Kt and worth 1/3 less on gold content alone. 

Sterling Silver is very easy to test. Silver plated brass, Nickel Silver or low quality silver alloys will turn green when a drop of Nitric acid is applied. Sterling will turn a creamy color. When testing suspect goods a small file can be used to cut through any plating or lacquer in an unobtrusive part of the item. 

For many reasons, not all silver jewelry is marked. Registering a trademark costs over $1000. The maker may not spend the money to have a legal hallmark. Small time artists and Native American silversmiths rarely trademark their work. The sizes or designs of some pieces do not lend themselves to quality marking. Findings and components are often not quality stamped leaving the assembler the choice of attaching a mark, perhaps on a chain tab, to the finished piece. 

Many individual artists will stamp a quality mark along with their name or initials. While this satisfies the accountability at the heart of the US stamping act, it is not considered legal.

In summary: 

1) US Law does not require precious metal to be marked with a quality stamp.
2) Some European countries DO require marking. Many tourists in the US will question goods sold without quality markings.
3) US law requires a maker's mark in the form of a hallmark or registered trademark in addition to the quality mark if the goods are quality marked.

Content courtesy of Big River Mercantile archives

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