Birmingham anchor hallmark
The anchor hallmark that has been used on silver assayed in Birmingham, UK since 1773. It has now been authorised for use at Birmingham Assay Office’s sub-division in Mumbai, India.

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Birmingham Assay Office recently authorised the stamping of items with UK hallmarks – including the anchor town mark used since 1773 – from their sub-division in Mumbai.

ATG understands the Sheffield office will soon follow suit in overseas hallmarking.

Opponents say this practice is damaging the status of British hallmarks – the oldest form of consumer protection. They argue that the rigorous practices and legislation that applies to the British stamping system cannot be guaranteed outside of UK jurisdiction.

A group of British silversmiths, jewellery retailers and manufacturers have launched a petition to Parliament calling for overseas hallmarks to differ from those in the UK. It has already gathered over 1500 signatures and 57 businesses have signed a letter of complaint to the British Hallmarking Council, which oversees all four UK assay offices.

The Council said it did not consider outsourcing represented any risk to the reputation of the UK hallmarking system and that the law allowing assay offices to open branches abroad did not state that different symbols must be used.

ATG contacted the Birmingham Assay Office for comment but they had yet to respond at the time of publication. However, Marion Wilson, a director at Birmingham Assay Office told The Times that the office would ensure the same quality of work in India as in the UK.

Dealers’ Views

Brighton-based precious metals dealer Michael Bloomstein:

“The anchor is for Birmingham, the crown is for Sheffield. You look at the mark because you want to know where an item was made and where it was tested for quality.

“I’ve no objection to the assay offices working overseas but the marks used should be different.

“Hallmarking is a very fine tradition in this country and we’ve got the best system in the world. You can look at an item and the hallmark tells you who made it, where it was made and provides an assured standard of quality.

“From what I understand, offshore hallmarking would enable cheaply-made products made overseas to give the impression of being made in the UK. This will assist in the sale of those products at the expense of the reputation of the hallmarking system.”

Simon Surtees of dealers John Surtees in the London Silver Vaults:

Simon Surtees silver dealer

Simon Surtees of John Surtees in the London Silver Vaults.

“I fear that the practice of offshore hallmarking could do much to reduce the authenticity and reputation of the antique silver and jewellery trade. British hallmarking has, throughout history, provided universal assurance of quality and certification. In the wrong hands, it is very possible that items could enter the market with insufficient checks on their quality and origins.

“For 700 years we have lived with a system of certainty regarding the stamping of objects made from precious metals. If the practice of offshore hallmarking is permitted to flourish, we will deny this certainty to future generations and the industry will be diminished as a result.”

George Styles of Styles Silver in Hungerford:

“Offshore hallmarking inevitably dilutes the effectiveness of the mark, but the main effect will be on the mass-produced market where items can be made abroad more cheaply. 

“As a specialist, I don’t expect it to affect my business too much, as everything I sell has to be of a certain standard. I know my British makers, and know they make in the UK, and I will continue to monitor the quality.

“Hallmarking items made abroad is not a problem if there was also an import mark to show it was made abroad, which is what was happening 100 years ago, and should still be happening now.”

John Langford of London silversmith and jewellers Braybrook & Britten:

“The hallmarking system has guaranteed the integrity of UK silver over the centuries. What Birmingham Assay Office are doing is tantamount to flogging off 700 years of history.

“It’s nonsensical and it’s difficult to find anyone who can give you a proper reason why this is happening.”