Demystifying 925 mark, 5 Fake Sterling Silvers, Millesimal Fineness system, and important stories about silver you absolutely need to know
Can you tell why
935, and many other types of silver are called Sterling silver?
Did you actually know for sure what Sterling Silver is?
And what is the difference between Sterling Silver and
What do some other different imprints mean on silver jewelry, and how much are they important?
If you ever tried to buy silver jewelry or silver in general, you most probably will have one or all of these questions popping up in your mind.
There is a lot of passion and politics, scams, fraud, and high treason here.
Let's find everything out together step by step.
A lot to discover!
Different fineness systems
Today, most countries adopted silver standards based on the parts of pure metal by mass per thousand in the alloy. This system is called Millesimal fineness system.
Historically, this is not the only existing silver standard system.
- Russia had the system called "zolotnick";
- Austria and German had "loth";
- Countries like France, Portugal, Spain had their own silver standard systems.
There is a great variety of silver marks today, and there is even more if you take this subject from its historical perspective. Let's dive into the Millesimal fineness system first, as it brings us most of the answers.
Millesimal fineness system
We have compiled for you the most complete Millesimal fineness system. Some numbers in the listing belong to the Millesimal fineness system itself. Some belong to loth, silverplate, or zolotnik fineness systems. We have done it for you to eliminate one source of confusion. Often you may encounter fineness listed in the Millesimal fineness system .812.5, and it will not be listed in most of the fineness systems, which is confusing. You look up the numbers, and they are not popular; Millesimal fineness system does not list them. Like Wikipedia for instance: it is because these types of numbers are coming from other than Millesimal fineness systems.
We will explain it all below.
.1000(Japan). Also, in
ARG.1000in Silverplate system (Italy).
.959(Czechia & Slovakia, Malta);
.950(France 1er Titre, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, Czechia & Slovakia);
.948(Russia 91 Zolotnik);
.937.5(Austria, Germany. 15 in loth fineness);
.935(Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, Hungary);
.930(Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Palestine);
.925Sterling (U.K., U.S., becoming worldwide);
.916(Finland, Portugal, Russia 88 Zolotnik, Romania, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland);
.900Coin (u.s) - (China, Argentina, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Czechia & Slovakia, Hungary, Japan, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Belgium, Colombia, Estonia, Germany, Iran, Mexico, USA);
.875(Russia 85 Zolotnik, Baltic States, Finland, Switzerland, Romania, Latvia, Poland, Malta);
.843.75(Finland 13.5 loth fineness);
.835(Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Czechia & Slovakia, Egypt, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Portugal);
.833(Portugal, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway);
.830(Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Malta);
.812.5(Russia 78 Zolotnik, Austria, Finland, Germany;
.800(Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Japan, Romania, Egypt, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, Lebanon, Austria, Belgium, Czechia & Slovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Indonesia, Sweden). There is also
ARG 800, which is Silverplate, not Milessimal Fineness system.
.750(Germany & Prussia, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Czechia & Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Austria);
.687(Germany 11 Loth);
.625(Germany 10 Loth);
Pure or Fine Silver
Let us start with understanding purity first.
"Five nines fine" - is the name of the purest silver ever produced.
It is called "Five nines fine" because in the Millesimal system its purity expressed as 5 digits nine:
It was achieved by the Royal Silver Company of Bolivia.
"Four nines fine" and "three nines fine" are other popular types of pure silver.
Four nines fine -
999.9 - or ultra-fine silver is used by the Royal Canadian Mint for their famous Silver Maple Leaf and other silver coins.
Fine silver or three nines fine -
999 - is used in Good Delivery bullion bars:
It is also used in most current silver bullion coins, in U.S. silver commemorative coins and silver proof coins starting in 2019.
Now here is a surprise finding: there are silver pieces with
1000 marks on them.
What are they?
Some of them are found on Japanese silver called "jungin", which means "pure silver".
Japanese silver features the highest purity in the world, often close to
There are cases registered with
1000 marks indented on them, but the sources are either unknown or unverified.
Like this one that appeared on smpub.com forum: This pendant appears to be mid-20th century vintage and almost certainly not American, according to the discussion.
It would definitely be interesting to perform laboratory tests to find out whether it is one of the purest known silver - hard to say.
There are also cases saying ARG 1000/1000.
This stands for
This is what silvercollection.it says about this marking:
BEWARE: pseudo-hallmarks like
ARG 1000, and similar don't refer to silver but to SILVERPLATE
We will discuss Silver-plate vs. Silverplate in one of our upcoming articles. That can be another significant source of confusion.
Sterling silver or what's wrong about
916 Silver fineness
Once you get to the real markets, you will immediately find out how much naming confusions, marketing inaccuracies, lies, and forgeries are there. All the formats above have something strange in common: They are all often presented as "sterling". This can be a mistake, a trick, a forgery, or even a subject to criminal prosecution, penalties, fines, and even imprisonment.
Spoiler alert - none of the standards listed above can legally be called sterling. Except for
Why? Let's find out.
First, go on eBay and try to search for any of the following:
950 Sterling silver /
940 sterling silver /
935 Sterling silver /
930 sterling silver /
925 sterling silver /
916 sterling silver.
You will immediately find how many silver articles are listed under the name "sterling"... with different fineness numbers attached to it.
Let us put things straight: sterling silver is an alloy that contains
92.5% silver by weight and
7.5% of other metals by weight (usually copper).
Historically, the term "sterling silver" originated in eastern Germany when five towns formed the Hanseatic League in the 1100s.
These towns minted their own coins of
92.5% silver that were called "Easterling coins".
When Britain sold cattle and grain to the League, they were paid in these "Easterling coins" that had a reliable reputation as a payment method and were durable and soon became the standard for subsequent British coins.
King Henry II decided to adopt the standard
92.5% coins for Britain's own currency.
He imported both trained metal refiners and their equipment from Germany to England and set up a royal mint to produce easterling silver coins known as "Tealby Pennies".
The term "easterling silver" was quickly shortened to "sterling silver", which was how the name was adopted.
In the U.S.A., since 1905 until today, United States Code, Title 15, Chapter 8, Section §296 clearly specifies:
... the word "sterling" or "sterling silver" or any colorable imitation thereof... contains nine hundred and twenty-five one-thousandth parts pure silver;
With §298. Violations of law clearly specifying (a) Criminal prosecutions; penalties; jurisdiction for violations related to these numbers.
The stamp or hallmark on these items is mandatory by the United States government to keep silver regulated.
It is illegal for any plated or fake silver item to be stamped or hallmarked with "sterling" or
As stated, "In the case of articles of merchandise made in whole of in part of an inferior metal, having deposited or plated... no such article... shall be stamped, branded, engraved or imprinted with the word 'sterling'..." (sec 297, 15 U.S.C. 8, www.gpo.gov).
The first law passed igniting the start of this silver regulation was enacted by the "National Stamping Act" in 1906. Silver items from the 17th and 18th centuries will need further evaluation by silver experts. There is a chance that not all items from these days were stamped "sterling". Instead, silver flatware and other items may have been stamped with the hallmark of the original maker.
925 silver became so widely accepted and de facto standard of the silver industry?
Simple - metal alloys with a silver content of more than
92.5% are too pliable to be used without suffering from dents and dings.
So, now it is probably clear for you that all these auction listings claiming
916 Sterling silver items are pure marketing at best, if not intended scam.
If these distinctions and definitions are clear now, let me confuse you a bit further.
Search "What is Sterling Silver".
Most of the definitions will say: Sterling silver as "a metal alloy or blend containing at least 92.5% silver".
And no one explains what this "at least" actually means?
930 is more than
925 - maybe it is Sterling silver?
Here is another story that will help you to finally understand this part.
935 or how to be legal in England if you are Swiss
This amazing story will give you a lot of understanding of the silver market, sterling silver, and related silver standards through a real story unfolding in Europe around the 19th-century mark.
Let's get to it!
In 1887 the British Merchandise Marks Act introduced the new requirements for imported silver watch cases.
As a result of this Act, from January 1st, 1888, British customs would not allow the import of watches with silver cases marked with
Both were the Swiss legal standards of silver at the time, but both were below the British legal sterling standard of
This situation was discussed at a Swiss Federal Council meeting on December 24th, 1887, and Swiss decided to set the standard for silver at
.935 to comply with British law.
Now, this may look like a severe deviation from the Sterling Standard, right?
If the British standard is
.925, why would you decide to set the standard at
.935 to comply?
The entire story is about the precision of measurements that technology allowed at the time. To put the entire story in just one sentence, you can give it the name of "The Story of 2 errors".
Think of it this way: if you want to make sure you are protected and accepted as a trade partner, you have to discount for:
- first, an error can crawl in at the time of creating and assaying silver alloy in Switzerland;
- second, when the silver piece is assayed - estimated by an assay office on the British side.
So, on the side of makers, the Swiss hallmarking law of 1880 allowed specific tolerances, sometimes called "remedy," on the assay results.
An error limit of 5 thousand parts for silver was permitted because, realistically speaking, there is a limit to which you can measure the amount of pure silver in an alloy.
That's what the "remedy" was for, and it meant that silver that assayed at
.870 parts could be stamped with a bear signifying
.875 on the Swiss side.
This tolerance was actually due to the difficulties of precise industrial measurements at the time.
As part of the assay process, small amounts of material were scraped from the alloy in a process called "drawing".
These drawings were tiny in order not to damage the item excessively.
Then this drawings would go through very high temperature processing to separate "noble metals", like gold and silver, from base metals, like lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, bismuth etc.
As the result, the alloying elements were removed, leaving only the pure gold or silver behind.
These amounts were then weidghed.
The process was traditionally called cupellation.
The difference in the two weights gives the fineness; e.g., a sample of silver that weighed 1 unit before and
.925 units afterward was
92.5% pure silver, sterling fineness.
To achieve accuracy better than 5% in an industrial measurement is complex, and although very skilled assayers could perform better than this, perfect accuracy is impossible.
So, the Swiss knew that "tolerance" effectively recognizes a limit on the accuracy of an assay of plus-minus 5% and would allow a silver item that assayed at
.920 to be stamped .925.
However, in Britain, no tolerance was allowed; the minimum fineness allowed had to be "11 ounces and two pennyweights of fine silver in a troy pound", which equates to
British law clearly stated that sterling silver always had to be at least 11oz 2dwt fine (that is at least
92.5% fine silver).
So, what do you do to make sure you pass the assay process?
You have to set the standard ABOVE the passable
How much above?
British silversmiths used silver sufficiently above standard to make sure silver articles would pass the assay process.
Swiss decided to set the standard to
.935, above the sterling grade.
Since neither the alloy creation nor the assay process can be absolutely accurate, the results of an assay in Britain might be slightly different from one performed in Switzerland, and therefore, a margin for error could be double.
And so to take into account all potential margins for errors on the maker's side and assayer's side, Swiss set the standard for
In which case even if
.005 was estimated wrong on the makers side in Switzerland and instead of
.935 there were only
.930 of fine silver in the alloy, and then
.005 error was made on the side of assey office in Britain in which case
.930 would look like it is
.925, Swiss silver would still comply with the British law of having "at least
958 Britannia silver
So now you know what is Pure and what is Sterling.
You know what does it mean "at least
.925" and why?
You also know why Sterling is
92.5% and no more or less.
Britannia silver has a millesimal fineness of at least
The alloy contains
95.84% pure silver and
4.16% copper or other metals.
Britannia silver is the story of crime, high treason, and punishments.
Is there a chance you can see this mark on a piece of jewelry you are buying?
We are about to find out!
The Britannia standard was developed in 1697 when the state of English currency was a total mess, to say the least. What created this problem was the simple fact that coins were made rough and "hammer-struck." This meant that a brand new-minted coin was not perfectly round.
Actually, a perfectly round coin was instead an exception. Also, coins were made from real silver (or gold), and real silver or gold is a relatively soft metal. Chips and knocks were regular signs of wear and tear.
This simple fact presented a couple "business opportunities" to creative individuals. Let us now connect a few dots about the use of coins. Imagine you have 2 silver quarters in your hands. One is seriously worn, while the other one is in good condition.
The first question is: "How does the worn coin becomes worn?"
Well, it may be worn by actual use from one person's hand to another person's pocket; and then from hands to pockets many times, right? In a few years, the lettering will begin to grow indistinct, and the metal is worn away. Now, people knew perfectly well by actual experience that this worn coin will be taken by anyone. It can be passed along just as well as the newly minted one. This naturally suggested that if a coin can be artificially worn, the part of the metal from this good, full-weight coin will be pure profit as the coin did not lose its purchasing power and will be taken at its full face value. Hmm... this sweet idea had taken several very successful shapes.
Before milling was introduced, clipping was a comparatively easy process since coin edges were irregular, and the metal could be clipped off from the outside.
These offered the perfect opportunity for cutting or "clipping" some of the valuable metal alloys. If done right, this process could quickly go unnoticed.
Here is an example:
|Completely unclipped||Partially clipped||Finally clipped|
What had been done next by "clippers"? The cut-off pieces would then be melted into a bar and sold to a goldsmith or used to make counterfeit coins with the full face value. By the end of the 17th century, the practice was widespread that in one year 1692 in London alone, 300 clippers were arrested!
Here is 500 silver clippings found in the Forest of Dean by metal detector enthusiast Gavin Warren:
Sweating and plugging
Coin clipping was not the only way to "mine" silver. Another method, frequently employed, was called "sweating". The idea was born when attentive people with curious and inquiring minds noticed that coins in the course of their ordinary use could be worn away to perhaps two-thirds or even less of their former size. So can they be artificially worn by placing a lot of them in a bag and shaking it? That process was called sweating. The bits of the metal worn away by this process would be collected in the bottom of the bag and easily separated and recovered from the bottom, giving a significant profit on the transaction.
Sweating would wear the coin more naturally than clipping and was harder to detect and incriminate.
But that is not the only way, either.
If the coin was large, a hole could be punched out of the middle, the hole plugged up with some cheaper metal, and the coin's face hammered over to close up the hole so that trick will not be noticed.
Here is a forged Charles 1 half-crown. The corroded plugged metal can clearly be seen. Note: Silver does not corrode as a metal.
There is also a story when double-eagle of the United States was sawn in two, the gold extracted from the inside and the two parts would be filled up with a cheaper metal and welded back together. The story mentions that it was done with a piece of platinum put into the cavity to bring the coin up to its full weight. In such a case, it would be almost impossible to detect fraud. These became known as plugged coins, hence the phrase, "not worth a plugged nickel".
The act of clipping was a severe criminal offense as it undermined the currency of the country. It was such a problem that clipping was regarded as high treason and punishable by death in Britain.
To prevent clipping the bits of precious metal off and then use the coin to buy the same amount of stuff, different approaches had been made throughout history.
But clipped around the edges that were gradually reducing the value (weight) of coins to the point when they could no longer be a legal tender to pay taxes was NOT the only problem. After 1662 the machine-struck silver coins produced by the Royal Mint in the Tower of London were protected from clipping by an engraved, decorated, and milled edge. So the coinage gangs started forging coins by casting from counterfeit molds and by die stamping from counterfeit dies. By 1696 forged coins constituted approximately 10% of the nation's currency.
One of these Charles 1 half-crowns is a fake. Can you tell which one?
If that was not enough, the currency also had a third problem: its value as silver bullion in Paris and Amsterdam was more significant than the face value in London. Thus, vast quantities of coins were melted and illegally shipped abroad - a perfect arbitrage trade.
That was the range of problems England faced, and Britannia standard silver was introduced as part of the great recoinage scheme of William III from 1696 when attempts were made to fight these problems. This standard was introduced in England by the Act of Parliament in 1697 to replace sterling silver (92.5% silver) as the obligatory standard for "wrought plate" items. The lion passant gardant hallmark denoting sterling was replaced with "the figure of a woman commonly called Britannia", and the leopard's head mark of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (in London) replaced with a "lion's head erased".
The recoinage was not a financial success. Production tailed off by 1698. It had proved impossible to maintain a system based on gold and silver. Silver was worth more melted down into bullion and smuggled for arbitrage trades.
Britannia silver was considerably softer than sterling, and after complaints from the trade, sterling silver was again authorized for use by silversmiths from 1 June 1720. After that, Britannia silver has remained an optional standard for hallmarking in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Since the hallmarking changes of 1 January 1999, Britannia silver has been denoted by the millesimal fineness hallmark
958, with the symbol of Britannia being applied optionally.
That was the rise and fall of the
.958 millesimal fineness hallmark.
Do you still believe you can find jewelry with a
.958mark on it?
Also, do not mix Britannia silver with Silver Britannia coins produced by Royal Mint in 1997 from .999 fine silver and is manufactured with exceptionally high-quality standards and tightly-controlled production protocols.
Come to think of it - Britannia silver.
We just learned that Britannia silver is
We have found that there are a lot of resources out there listing Britannia silver as
Like this one, for example.
Or take a look at the Brittania silver on Ebay auctions.
That's another inaccuracy.
Britannia silver is exactly what we described above -
958 in the milissimal fineness system.
950 silver mark has nothing to do with it.
950 silver mark can be found throughout history in different countries.
France, Mexico, Japan, USA, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary have silver pieces marked as
Here is an example of
950 Mexican Silver Neckless:
However, this is not seen very often in jewelry because it's difficult to make jewelry with this softness of metal.
The French 1st standard has a millesimal fineness of
950, which is an alloy of
95% silver and
5% copper or other metals.
The French actually have two standards for silver. The first is
95% silver), and the second is
.800 or (
So, the French 1st standard is higher in silver content than sterling silver (
92.5% pure silver).
From the 10th of May 1838 the French began to use Minerva mark - a Roman goddess profile to denote the standard of a piece of French silver.
Pieces with Minerva marks bearing the number one (near the forehead) are of
.950 quality and can be called sterling.
The French refer to it as Minerve 1st. Titre or Argent massif.
Pieces with the Minerva mark and the number two (near or under the jaw) are of
.800 quality and are referred to Minerve 2nd Titre.
statista.com, a German company specializing in market and consumer data, estimated the total global production volume of silver in 2019 at 836.5 million ounces. Mexico produced some 190 million ounces of silver and, therefore, was the world's largest silver-producing country.
At the time of the metal boom, different Mexican cities worked as various metalworking centers. Taxco was quickly growing as an internationally recognized center for high-quality silver designs.
William Spratling and Fred Davis were running their famous shops from Taxco. Some of the finest Mexican artists began working at Spratling's before most of them went to designed and produced silver jewelry under their own names. Most famous of them were Antonio Pineda, Antonio Castillo, Margot Castillo, Miguel Melendez. Each silver artist had their own unique jewelry style and a quality symbol. But some silver artists pushed it even further. Like Antonio Pineda for instance. While other artists used 980, 960, 940 or 925 silver, Antonio Pineda mainly used 970 silver as the signature standard of his work.
.959 Czechoslovakia Standard
Another great mini-story illustrates how an interesting standard of silver fineness or purity - the
.959 one - went through a history always hidden by a number 1.
The first historical mention of the
.959 standard that I could find appeared in 1929 in later became known as Czechoslovakia.
The mark that appeared was a stout isosceles triangle, inside which is depicted a mountain range or hill country surmounted by a Patriarchal cross (this cross has two cross-beams, the lower one nearly twice as long as the upper).
This mark would bear one of the standard numbers 1 (
.959), 2 (
.925), 3 (
.900), 4 (
.835), and 5 (
By 1939, the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia were invaded and conquered by Hitler's armies, and Slovakia declared independence.
Slovakia's standard marks by 1941 took the form of various similar shapes depicting a woman in a peasant headdress, with the same numbers 1 (
.959), 2 (
.925), 3 (
.900), 4 (
.835), and 5 (
In 1942, Bohemia and Moravia used marks in the form of stout isosceles triangles decorated with a checkerboard pattern, also with the numbers 1 (
.959), 2 (
.925), 3 (
.900), 4 (
.835), and 5 (
After World War II, Czechoslovakia is reunited and soon falls into the hands of the Communist Party.
In 1949, the country adopted essentially the same marking system used previously in Slovakia, except that the quality of the first standard 1 is dropped to
Since 1962 Czechoslovakia (Now Slovakia and the Czech Republic) had used marks depicting the head of a goat within various shapes, each accompanied by a number, 1 (
.959), 2 (
.925), 3 (
.900), 4 (
.835), 5 (
.800), or 6 (
So Czechoslovakia regularly used a
.959 standard, at least from 1929-1949 and after 1962. However, during neither of these periods, did any of its standard markings ever actually bear the number
And here comes the "scam" alert: if you see the
959 quality mark on the piece of silver that "comes from Czechoslovakia," at least know that the assay office of the Czech Republic confirms that
959 IS NOT currently used and matches no known silver mark.
If you do encounter the
959 mark, it is probably one of the following:
- a manufacturer's code that has nothing to do with silver content;
- the silver piece originates from the USA as any silversmith in the USA can mark an item with the silver continent without restraint;
- if a producer of the jewelry is NOT a member of the Hallmarking Convention, nothing stops him/her from simply making something out of silver of exactly
.959fineness, and mark it with that number. Currently, this convention with the accession of Serbia on 24 June 2020, has now 21 Contracting Countries.
.959 marks also found in Malta from 1920 until the present.
Non Millesimal Fineness Systems
We will wrap up by giving helpful notes about a non Millesimal system: the Russian zolotnik fineness system.
Zolotnik as a measurement unit was initially based on a coin of the same name and was equal in weight to the Byzantine Empire's solidus - 4.2658 grams. This silver standard was derived from the Russian word "zoloto", meaning "gold." Go figure these pesky Russians!
The Zolotnik system is different and incredibly interesting because a piece of silver was not identified by just one mark. Take a look at how elaborate and complicated the Zolotnik system was. On some Russian origin piece of silver, you would see a row of Hallmarks like this:
By the Assay Charter order, all objects made of silver must carry:
- a master's mark (also called: maker's mark);
- an assayer's mark;
- a fineness or standard mark;
- a mark of the town.
All hallmarks that you would find on a piece of silver must have been registered.
The first mark that says "MK" on the picture is the maker's mark and represents the initials of the master silversmith responsible for the silver piece. The law allowed Latin or Cyrillic initials to be used, or the mark would have a full master's name stamp. All the masters (makers) by law were obligated to register in the town or district they practiced their craft. It was forbidden to register in more than one place at one time.
The next in row is Assayer's mark. In the example above, it is marked with Cyrillic И.Е over the number 1881. This represented the initials of the assay master with the year date below. Like all the makers, assay masters were obligated by law to register in the town or district they worked in, and it was forbidden to register in more than one place at a time. The Assayer's mark was imprinted the second in the row. The Assay Charter made it strictly forbidden for the assay masters to punch their marks on any object unless the maker punched his mark on the object first.
Let's look at our next mark: 84. Numbers in the rectangle represent Silver Fineness or purity in the Zolotnik system. It was also called the Silver Standard Mark. You may also encounter the following numbers: 62, 72, 74, 76, 82, 84, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 94.
The last imprint represents the Town Mark. You will often see that the purity number and the Town Mark are punched so close together that they often look like one mark.
There you have it. A great in-depth explanation of several silver fineness systems. I hope you have found some good actionable tips here.
And now I wanted to ask you:
Which tip or story have you found the most useful?
Which important tip or story we missed?
Which part would you like to hear more about?
Let us know by leaving a quick comment below right now.