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Birmingham silversmiths revolt as city's famous anchor hallmark to be used in India

Directors of 15 silver and jewellery businesses in the region said the move threatened jobs in a cherished sector for the city by diluting centuries of heritage

The anchor hallmark has been used in Birmingham for nearly 250 years
The anchor hallmark has been used in Birmingham for nearly 250 years

Bosses say Birmingham’s historic silver trade is being sold down the river after it emerged a symbol of Birmingham’s jewellery heritage for nearly 250 years would now be used in India.

The anchor hallmark has been pressed onto Birmingham silverware since 1773 but will now be used on silver made and processed on the subcontinent after Birmingham Assay Office announced it was opening a Mumbai base.

Directors of 15 silver and jewellery businesses in the region said the move threatened jobs in a cherished sector for the city.

They claim the move would harm the authenticity of Birmingham-made products, which benefit from a trade which pre-dates the industrial revolution.

Martin McDonagh, director of city silverware firm Heritage Collection, said: “This is scandalous. It is incredible they would sell companies down the river like this.

“What does this mean for the Jewellery Quarter? For years, that anchor has meant something about Birmingham – now it doesn’t mean anything.

Martin McDonagh of Heritage Collection
Martin McDonagh of Heritage Collection

“To have an office in India is one thing but to be using the anchor in India is beyond the pale. There is no doubt this will have repercussions for the jewellery industry in this city.”

He added: “There are small jewellers who are already suffering immensely and this is just another blow.

“Birmingham has been sold down the river and it’s not coming from overseas – it’s our own Assay Office.”

Birmingham’s Assay Office was founded by industrialist Matthew Boulton in 1773 to provide testing and hallmarking of gold, silver, platinum and palladium items.

The anchor has been used to denote Birmingham manufacturing since then, like the leopard’s head for London and three wheatsheafs and sword for Chester.

The Assay Office announced the Mumbai base this month but it is the use of the precious anchor hallmark which has angered businesses.

Directors of 15 local silverware businesses, including LJ Millington, The Harwicke Collection and BDG Manufacturers, have written to the Birmingham Post to oppose the proposals.

They claim it is a “misuse” of the city name evoking legends like Boulton.

They state: “No one – except for the Assay Office – will know if a piece has been genuinely made in Birmingham or made in India if this is allowed to happen.

“No one has the right to use or misuse our city name, especially given the world recognition of Birmingham’s history with the likes of Matthew Boulton, etc.

“Birmingham’s name should be cherished and revered and not hijacked and used for any person or company’s personal gain.”

The Assay Office’s announcement about Mumbai comes just months after it relocated across the Jewellery Quarter, leaving a home of 137 years, in a multimillion pound move.

The prominent new facility is almost 65,000 sq ft over three floors, including a mezzanine.

It saw the four operational divisions – hallmarking, analysis, the gem lab and valuations – re-housed.

Assay Office chairman Kate Hartigan said the anchor mark was a Birmingham hallmark and not an origin of manufacture mark.

She said the anchor had never denoted a location of manufacture and it was already common for it to be used on imported jewellery.

She added: “The anchor is and has always been used on imported products, whether that is marked here in the UK or offshore. We are proud of the fact that we will be using the Birmingham mark globally and raising this city’s profile and the quality it stands for on a global scale.

“We are also responding directly to requests from other customers who are very keen 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.

“Other UK assay offices have already responded to this demand, we are the last to do so.”

She said the Assay Office had arranged a meeting with local jewellery manufacturers.

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