Birmingham jewellery firms are set to hold talks with the city’s Assay Office early next week over its plans to use the historic anchor emblem in its new India sub-office.
The move, which has been met with opposition by some local silversmiths, has also attracted the attention of Birmingham MP Shabana Mahmood, who it is understood will be attending the meeting.
It will take place at 10am on Tuesday 12 April at Assay Office Birmingham’s Moreton Street premises and will be attended by a number of companies invited by the organisation.
Birmingham’s famous anchor hallmark has been pressed into silverware since the late 1700s, but will now be used on silver made and processed in India after Birmingham Assay Office recently opened an office in Mumbai.
The facility will enable hallmarking to take place straight after manufacture, before pieces are imported into the UK for hallmarking in Birmingham, where they would be branded with the same anchor and fineness marks.
Although it is historically associated with the city’s Jewellery Quarter, the Assay Office insists it is not a mark of origin but of the facility that is carrying out testing. It also serves as confirmation that a piece of jewellery is what it claims to be, thereby protecting consumers.
But a number of business owners poised to attend next week’s meeting remain unconvinced. John Langford, director of silversmiths Braybrook & Britten, argues that the Birmingham anchor mark is and always has been regarded as a mark of origin.
“It has been promoted as such for generations and this is how it is seen by consumers and manufacturers. Edinburgh is known for the castle emblem, and Birmingham, the anchor,” he said.
“If the purpose of the overseas marking is, as they say, simply to protect the UK consumer and ensure British quality standards on imported precious metals, then by all means hallmark them. But do not hallmark them with a specific city symbol that the UK consumer believes indicates that the item was hallmarked in Birmingham. There may be a requirement to include an assay office mark, but we can see no reason why the Mumbai mark should be indistinguishable from the Birmingham mark.”
Jacqui Higgs, owner of FGH Products Ltd, suggests that using the anchor for overseas hallmarking undermines the integrity of the British hallmark and British manufacture.
“Birmingham has a proud heritage in silversmithing and jewellery-making which has been established over the past centuries. Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is world-renowned and the marking of the anchor on foreign products is derogatory to the product and an insult to our small and medium enterprises.”
Assay Office Birmingham is by no means setting a precedent when it comes to the use of motifs overseas. Two years ago Sheffield Assay Office opened a hallmarking facility in Italy.
Neil Grant, owner of Crescent Silver says he agrees with the Assay Office Birmingham’s stance on the India office and notes that, ultimately, its purpose is testing for fineness. “However, my issue is about the individual, and whether he can put his hand on heart and say whether something’s made and hallmarked in Birmingham or not,” he said.
“It’s the people standing in my shop, asking me the question. The perception of the hallmark, in the general public’s eye, is it’s not just a fineness test, but it’s also about location. I wouldn’t mind so much with the anchor being used in India, if they put something else as well on it, like an elephant.”
David Bradley, director of Hardwicke Collection, is also among those who believe the famous anchor symbol should only be used for silver and gold made in Birmingham. He fears that Birmingham Assay Office’s plans could “destroy” the global recognition that the hallmark has.
“Business has changed dramatically since the success of the internet and as manufactures we too have had to change how we do business, but we always thought that the Assay Office was on our side,” he said.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post at the end of last month, Assay Office chairman, Kate Hartigan, stated that the anchor is and has always been used on imported products, whether that is marked in the UK or offshore.
She said the organisation was proud of the fact that the Birmingham mark will be used globally. “We are also responding directly to requests from other customers who are very keen to for us to apply the hallmark at a location where the product is sourced so as not to disrupt the import supply chain, as occurs when the mark is applied in the UK.”