Ever wondered what the markings on your jewelry or silverware mean? Or maybe you liked a ring in an antique store but couldn’t tell if it was real gold or just gold plated? Understanding hallmarks and their symbols is important when you are buying precious metals and want a certification of purity.
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What Is A Hallmark?
A hallmark is a set of distinguishing marks branded on precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium to verify their purity and genuineness. Traditionally applied by hand, hallmarks are currently also applied with lasers.
Branding or hallmarking jewelry, gold, and silverware has been a legally required practice in the UK for over 700 years, where independent assaying offices test and categorize items made from precious metals.
While hallmarking laws are not the same in every country, most nations follow a standard hallmarking practice that, at a minimum, confirms the purity of the metal used, as well as the maker’s mark.
Check out the hallmark of the Italian brand Fope available through the British Diamond Company with free delivery in the UK. It features a stunning 18ct yellow gold band with Fope’s signature weave design. It is adorned with 0.13 cts of sparkling brilliant cut diamonds.
Why Is Jewelry Hallmarked?
Jewelry is hallmarked to protect both consumers and jewelers from purchasing pieces that may not be worth the price. Typical locations for jewelry hallmarks are on the inside of a ring or a tag on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet.
Bear in mind that precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are not normally used in their purest form to create jewelry. This is mainly because precious metals are too soft and malleable to be crafted or molded into specific shapes. For more strength and durability they are therefore alloyed with stronger, but less precious metals like copper, nickel, zinc, iron, or titanium.
Since it is impossible to tell what percentage of precious metals have been combined with base metals by touch, weight, or the naked eye, hallmarking began as one of the first consumer protection laws in the world.
Check out this engraved signet ring handcrafted from Sterling Silver and embellished with a tiger-eye inlay. It is part of the Thomas Sabo collection and using the code TS20 gives you the right to a 20% discount.
The History of Hallmarks
Hallmarking was first introduced in Europe as early as the 1300s. Some attribute the start of hallmarking to Edward I of England, while other historians credit the origins to King Louis IX of France.
Whomever it was that initiated the process, the examination and assaying of precious items served to prevent goldsmiths and silversmiths of the time from selling fake pieces.
Back then, each piece made from gold or silver was examined by assayers for authenticity. Specific marks were assigned for each gold or silversmith, as well as marks for the dates of production before a piece was cleared for public sale.
However, even though hallmarking has existed in some European countries for hundreds of years, it was 1972 before the majority of European nations came together to form a central hallmarking system.
This system is called the Vienna System and it uses the Common Control Mark (CCM) for hallmarking. Similar hallmarking systems have since been established in Canada, Australia, and most recently in America.
In many other countries, where hallmarking jewelry is not compulsory, the British Assay Offices can still be used to hallmark products that are to be sold worldwide.
For instance, this 14k white gold stacking-style ring is a simple example but comes in at a very clever price.
Hallmarking In The UK & How Assaying Offices Work
Hallmarking in the UK is performed at an assay office. The four UK assay offices are located in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Edinburgh. Each office has a unique mark that is stamped onto items as part of an official hallmark.
To hallmark an item made from precious metals, it is first tested by the assay office to guarantee the legal percentage of purity has been met. The assaying office then stamps a set of registered marks on the item to certify information such as the maker’s mark, where it was hallmarked, and a standard mark showing the type of metal used as well as its fineness.
If your jewelry has been hallmarked in the UK, it will include one of the following British assay office marks:
Which Precious Metals Are Hallmarked?
Gold, silver, platinum, and more recently palladium, are required by law to be hallmarked in the UK. Each metal has a specific hallmark requirement, which typically includes the maker’s mark, the assay office mark, and the purity or fineness of each precious metal.
Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are also required to meet a minimum percentage of purity to adhere to hallmarking laws. This ensures that jewelers and their customers understand the quality and legitimacy of what they are purchasing.
The purity of each precious metal is determined by its fineness in parts per thousand. For example, silver jewelry must contain a minimum of 925 parts of silver to be hallmarked, whereas platinum must contain a minimum of 850 parts.
Can Jewelry with More Than One Precious Metal Be Hallmarked?
Yes, according to an amendment to the UK Hallmarking Act in 2007, jewelry or items made from more than one precious metal can be hallmarked if certain conditions are met.
The assay office would first assess the item and ensure that the precious metals are visually distinguishable to the naked eye. In addition, each precious metal must meet the minimum legal standard of purity for that particular metal.
If these criteria are met, the main hallmark for the piece, consisting of the maker’s mark, assay office mark, and metal fineness mark, is stamped on the precious metal of the least value. And a minor fineness mark is struck on the precious metal of higher value.
How To Recognize Legitimate Jewelry Hallmarks
Legitimate jewelry hallmarks in the UK, whether for gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, consist of three obligatory stamps.
- The Maker’s Mark,
- The Assay Office Mark
- The Metal & Fineness Mark (also called the Standard Mark)
Essentially, these marks serve to answer the questions, who, where, and what about a piece of jewelry?
The Who refers to the maker or sponsor of the piece that is being hallmarked. It is confirmed with the maker’s mark, which shows the maker’s initials within a shape that is chosen by the maker. To decipher one maker’s mark from another, they are individually registered with the hallmark guide.
The Where refers to the location of the assay office where the piece was hallmarked. Each assay office has a unique mark and can also be researched in the hallmark guide.
The What indicates the type of precious metal used and the fineness or purity of the metal. Also referred to as the standard mark, each metal is represented with a different shape encompassing the three numbers that verify the purity of the metal.
That said, depending on the country where your jewelry was made, the necessity of hallmarks may vary, In some nations, genuine gold, silver, platinum, or palladium jewelry is stamped only with the maker’s mark and the millesimal number to indicate metal purity.
What Does A Gold Hallmark Look Like?
The standard mark for gold is a hexagonal shape, encompassing three numbers that indicate the millesimal fineness of the gold, such as 999, 916, 750, 585, or 375. A metal’s millesimal fineness means that if the piece was broken down into 1000 parts, how many of those parts would be pure gold?
In the past, this was also done using caratage i.e. 24k, 22k, 18k, 14k, and 9k. Today, however, most hallmarks use millesimal numbers that correspond with the cartage equivalent. For example, 916 is equal to 22k gold.
A typical UK gold hallmark looks like the following:
Here you can see that the assay office is in Birmingham and the ring is 750 parts pure or 18Ct gold.
Silver Hallmarks Explained
Until 1998, silver hallmarks registered in the UK consisted of four main elements. These were the maker’s or sponsor’s mark, the standard mark, the fineness mark (or lion passant), and the assay office mark.
The maker’s or sponsor’s mark and assay office mark reflect the maker of the piece and the assay office where the piece was hallmarked.
The standard mark, which is oval-shaped for silver, indicates the millesimal fineness with one of the following numbers 999, 958, 925, 800, depending on its purity. (If your silver jewelry does not show a standard mark, it is more than likely silverplated).
In 1998, the date letter, or the year in which the item was tested and hallmarked, became an optional mark that is often included on silver. The best way to discover the date that corresponds to the date letter is to look for the assigned symbol in a hallmark guide.
The traditional mark for sterling silver, which is also sometimes used for current hallmarks, is the lion passant or the lion passant guardant.
Platinum Hallmarks Explained
Previous to 1975, hallmarking was not legally required on platinum items, although some were marked with ‘plat’, ‘pt’, or ‘platinum’. Following new legislation from the Hallmarking Act of 1973, however, hallmarking platinum became mandatory in the UK in 1975.
Current UK laws require a platinum hallmark to consist of three mandatory marks. Just like gold and silver, the three mandatory stamps are the maker’s or sponsor’s mark, the assay office mark, and the metal and fineness stamp (also referred to as the standard mark).
The British standard mark for platinum appears as a five-sided shape similar to a house, with one of the millesimal numbers 999, 950. 900. 850 inside indicating the purity or fineness of the metal.
Three optional stamps for platinum jewelry include the traditional fineness symbol for platinum in the shape of an orb, the date letter, and the international convention mark which looks like a traditional weighing scale.
In January 2010, palladium became the most recently introduced precious metal requiring a hallmark. And just like the other precious metals, the mandatory stamps for palladium hallmarks are the maker’s mark, the assay office mark, and the metal & fineness mark, also known as the standard mark.
Before 2010 many items made with palladium were voluntarily hallmarked with a standard mark shaped like a trapezium and the millesimal numbers of fineness contained within. The three numbers of fineness for palladium hallmarks are 500, 950, and 999.
When hallmarking palladium became compulsory in 2010, the trapezium-shaped standard mark was changed to three oval shapes to easier distinguish palladium from the similar standard mark for platinum.
The American Hallmark Law June 2021
Until 2021, hallmarking was not compulsory in America, and most jewelry was merely identified by the maker’s mark to ‘prove’ it was of good quality. However, because jewelry makers in the US are not required to register their maker’s mark, there was a lack of regulation with this process.
In light of that, many US jewelry designers sent their pieces to be hallmarked in the UK, enabling them to sell their goods in the worldwide market.
In 2020, however, the US parliament passed a law to make hallmarking mandatory. Originally set to come into force on January 15, 2021, the deadline for hallmarking in the US was postponed due to COVID until June 1, 2021.
After June 1, 2021, it is illegal for American jewelers to sell jewelry without a hallmark. Consumers, however, can continue to buy and sell precious metals or jewelry without a hallmark.
Are There Any Exceptions To Hallmark Laws?
In countries where precious metals must be legally hallmarked before they can be sold, there are some exceptions.
For instance, jewelry or items made with precious metals that fall below the stated weight specifications are exempt from hallmarking.
These weights are 1g for gold, 7.78 g for silver, 0.5 g for platinum, and 1 g for palladium. Such as this wonderful gold-plated ring from @Walmart with a colorful cluster of coral, opal, jade, onyx, and tiger’s eye.
A hallmark is a set of specific stamps struck onto four types of precious metals – gold, silver, platinum, and palladium – to verify the purity of the metal. This traditional practice, which originated in Europe hundreds of years ago, serves to protect both consumers and jewelry dealers from buying low-quality pieces at extortionate prices.
Although hallmarking is mandatory in the UK, most of Europe, Australia, Canada, and most recently in America, it is not yet compulsory in many other nations.
If you are thinking of buying high-priced jewelry without a hallmark, you might want to consider having it appraised with a second opinion before parting with your money.
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