Silver has been used for jewellery since ancient times and is mined all over the world. It was widely used in the late 18th Century for setting diamonds because its white colour complimented the colourless stones better than gold. Apart from for peasant jewellery, silver did not become a widely accepted metal until the latter half of the 19th Century, after the discovery of huge deposits in Nevada in 1860. This sudden availability was coupled with increasingly well-off middle and working classes with money to spend on inexpensive jewellery.

Birmingham was the centre of silver production in the 19th Century, and manufacturers there turned out silver jewellery in enormous quantities. However, the quality of much of what was produced declined so far that by the 1880s silver jewellery was considered vulgar by the conservative upper and middle classes.

The metal came into its own again with the onset of Art Nouveau. The soft, plastic quality of silver was ideally suited to the swirling, free forms of the designs. Silver is also easily fretworked and pierced. In the early 20th Century the art of the silversmith was revitalized by the Danish firm Georg Jensen, which has continued to produce progressive designs that are still made today.



Most English silver jewellery is hallmarked with the standard sterling mark – the lion- which is still in use today. In addition to this, silver marks include the letter of the assay office (in which the piece was tested for purity), a letter indicating the date when the piece was assayed, and the maker’s mark (or sponsor’s mark if the maker has not registered his own).

Some Continental silver was marked, but there was no official system of marking in the United States. Continental silver varies from 80% to 95% pure, while British silver is 92.5% pure.