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800 silver


800 silver refers to a silver alloy that is 80% pure. Pure silver is very soft and easily damaged, so for most practical purposes silver is mixed (alloyed) with other metals in order to strengthen it. 800 silver is one of many different silver alloys, but is not commonly found in the UK.

With silver alloys being common practice, it is important to know how much silver has been used in any given item, especially when making a valuation. To ensure all claims are accurate, the purity of silver used is shown via hallmarks. These are applied by independent assay offices, whose experts test and guarantee the purity of an item. Generally, all silver items should have some sort of hallmark to certify the silver content, and this should be in terms of fineness.

Fineness measures purity in parts per 1,000. Therefore, 999 fineness or higher is virtually pure silver, and 500 fineness 50% pure. 800 silver then refers to a silver alloy composed of 80% pure silver and 20% made up by another metal or metals.

Silver can be made to any fineness, but by convention there are a few standards that are commonly used.

These are:

  • Fine silver - 999 fineness
  • Britannia silver - fineness of at least 958
  • Sterling silver - 925 fineness
  • Coin silver - 900 fineness

Today, 800 silver is not a commonly used silver standard. Historically it was commonplace in Germany, Italy and the United States.
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800 silver marks

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It is a legal requirement in the UK for all silver items over 7.78 grams (excluding silver-plated items) to be hallmarked. British standard hallmarks and International Convention marks are both accepted. Though not common in the UK, the growing global jewellery marketplace means 800 silver is beginning to appear in the UK, and 800 fineness should therefore be marked accordingly. UK hallmarks must include a maker, assay office and fineness mark.

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A set of various 800 silver marks. .

Traditional UK hallmarks would also have a date mark, indicated by a letter, though this is no longer compulsory. Makers and assay offices also have their own individual symbols. The fineness is shown in figures contained in an oval, with the oval being the specific symbol for silver. Different shapes are used to denote other precious metals.

An 1884 German law made 800 fineness the minimum accepted national standard for products claiming to be silver. They were hallmarked with a crown and crescent moon, a maker's mark, and a decimal fineness mark. Italian silverware was also often made of 800 silver, but the deregulated nature of Italy at that time meant there were few rules for hallmarking, and many silversmiths didn’t submit to official assays. Italian silver is therefore often stamped with “800” unofficially, in varying sizes and shapes.

As a result of its European origins, 800 silver is therefore sometimes referred to as continental silver. This differentiates it from 925 fineness, Sterling silver, which has long been the UK standard.

Instead of the numerals, there were symbols which denoted the fineness. For example, a lion denoted 925 fineness, and unsurprisingly, the lady Britannia denoted 958 fineness, Britannia silver. The mark for 800 silver assayed by a UK office would simply be 800 within an oval.

Other nations have their own legally required hallmarks, and some have no legal requirement whatsoever. Using the international common control stamp would see a mark of 800 within scales. The United States simply requires American silver to carry a maker’s mark. It is left to the discretion of the maker whether to also include a fineness mark.
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Common uses of 800 silver
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800 silver is a little more durable than higher purity silver pieces. In earlier times, this made it a common purity when producing spoons, knives, and other flatware. It can therefore occasionally be found in small collections of antique silver and objects of vertu.

800 silver was also commonly used for coinage. For example, Canadian silver common currency coins were minted in 925 fineness Sterling silver up until 1919, after which they were minted in 800 silver. This continued to be used in Canada until 1967, when base metal coinage was introduced instead.
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  • 800 silver is an alloy of 800 parts silver to 200 parts base metal
  • 800 silver is not commonly used today
  • 800 silver was historically more used in Germany, Italy and the US