Birmingham silversmiths set for Assay Office talks over India hallmark use

Assay Office Birmingham

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.

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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.”



Tags : Assay office birminghamBraybrook & BrittenCrescent SilverDavid BradleyFGH Products LtdHardwicke CollectionJacqui HiggsJohn LangfordKate HartiganNeil Grant
Naida Redgrave

The author Naida Redgrave


  1. Kate Hartigan is incorrect to state the Anchor has always been applied to imported goods, during the period 1904-1998 goods of foriegn manufacture would have been marked instead with an import mark, which for the Birmingham office was a triangle in a square or oval shield depending on the metal type. Thus ensuring that goods marked with the Anchor were of UK manufacture.

  2. All imported jewellery and silver should carry an ID mark that is clearly indicative of the products origins. From within the EU that is not permitted under EU rules. Let’s hope for an exit from the EU, impose import tariffs on cheaper imported goods, and rebuild UK manufacturing in ALL sectors.

  3. Hallmarking was introduced to protect the public, the purpose of it now has essentially been turned on its head, it is being used by retailers to deceive the public into believing that their goods are produced in the UK.

  4. Using the Birmingham hallmarks abroad would be, in marketing parlane “brand devaluation”. It indicates a lack of understanding that it being a Birminham mark itself carries value. Wedgwood and Denby pottery discovered the same when they moved production to China and paid the price. Wedgwood is moving production back, but the damage is done. MGs being made in China and Longbridge closing is the same. They don’t get the “British” element of the value. If Birmingham do this, then I would advise all silver makers using Birmingham to move their assay office to Sheffield and hope they dont do the same stupid trick.

  5. Most UK consumers understand a hallmark to denote origin of manufacture, as well as the quality of the gold or silver. That’s why other countries mark their gold, as well as the UK. That guarantee of quality was made law in 1973 to stop flyboys rolling 18ct/22ct over alloy, silver, or anything else non-magnetic. This whole idea of setting up an overseas office using UK hallmarks is a huge con trick, which will utterly destroy the value of hallmarking and eventually cheapen the retail price of 21/24ct jewellery. How will it do that? Simple really, once hallmarking is seen as essentially worthless, a tickbox exercise undertaken in countries where bribery is an everyday part of business life, the law will be changed so that non-marked jewellery can be imported in volume and openly sold on UK High Streets – I wonder who is behind this plan, who does it benefit?

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