The hallmarking of silver comes at a time when the overall acceptance of hallmarked gold jewellery of various caratage (introduced in April 2000) is minuscule. Of over 3,00,000 jewellery establishments in the country, hardly around 500 establishments have formally accepted to sell hallmarked gold jewellery. One of the basic reasons for this non-acceptance of hallmarking is its voluntary nature. The other is the 15-20 per cent higher price for the hallmarked jewellery.
What is more, the issue of purity for silverware and jewellery is uniquely an Indian phenomenon and is not so much of importance in the international market as in India, primarily because in the international market silver is more used as an industrial metal used more in electronics, photo chemicals industry and the like and is not so much in jewellery.
Against this, in India more than 75 per cent of bullion jewellery and products sold comprises of silver and this percentage is higher with its use as industrial proudct is taken into consideration. Given the huge demand for silver jewellery from the rural community as for silverware, coins, statues from the urban population, around 3,000-3,300 tonne of silver is being imported each year. Despite this, the quality of silver jewellery, utensils, statues and coins is not what one is being charged from the customers, which a section of traders say is nothing less than gross, daylight cheating of customers who buys these products. Mr Suresh P Sonawalla of National Refineries (one of the leading silver refineries in the country) said, The average purity of silver has declined from over 80-85 per cent in mid 70s to around 30 per cent currently.
Hallmarking of silver products is feasible and could be successful in India only if it is made mandatory, not otherwise, said Mr Sonawala. This is because the wholesalers and middlemen and the jewellers are more interested in increasing their margins which needs to be curbed at the earliest in the overall interests of the country and its buyers.
Further, Mr Sonawala said there is a huge scope of improving exports of silver products, but this could be possible only if the government makes hallmarking mandatory and not otherwise.
According to traders, the contents or purity of silver in the silver products sold in the country is anywhere between a low of around 10 per cent to a high of 80 per cent but never beyond this, said a leading bullion trader. It is only the handful reputed jewellers who would sell relatively pure silver. Majority of the jewellers who thrive across the nation sell highly impure silver products, a large portion of which is being bought for the purpose of gifts and therefore, the buyers indifference towards the aspect of impure silver being traded. This has emboldened and encouraged the wholesalers, middlemen and jewellers to increasingly push bogus silver products to the gullible, indifferent customers.
It is not that the manufacturers of silver products cannot make good sterling silver products with their own marking, but they are not interested as the customers themselves are greedy, not too concerned about the purity of the products as these are more for gifts and not personal use. Those who do want good quality silver products, do not get except from select sellers. Majority of the silver products that are available in the market contain large portions of copper, lined up with a white metal called cadmium (available at around Rs 200 per kg) whereafter the silver plated products are being palmed off as silver goods.
All this could change and one could actually be able to buy sterling silver products with the introduction of hallmarking from April 2003. But it remains to be seen whether and to what extent would the relatively indifferent buyer be interested in buying such a premium product.