You can't have jewellery without hallmarking, it plays such an integral part in assisting with dating our treasures and guaranteeing the metal finesse. Lets dive into what exactly a hallmark is, what it can tell you and how to read them.
Did you know that in the UK it is a legal requirement that any gold jewellery being sold, must be stamped with an official hallmark from one of the four Assay offices?
The UK’s Hallmarking Act of 1973 makes it an offence to sell gold jewellery without one of the four hallmarks. It is one of a few countries that make hallmarking compulsory, applying this law to trading and supplying metals that are being described as a precious metal. Any manufactured items containing more than 1 gram of gold must be hallmarked.
THE ASSAY OFFICES
The four Assay offices are in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, and Sheffield, with the London office opening in 1327. Previous historic offices which have now closed, include Chester, Exeter, Glasgow, Newcastle, Norwich and York.
Hallmarking is one of the earliest forms of consumer protection. It is a
guarantee that the item has been independently tested to meet the legal standards of purity. A hallmark will be stamped on an inconspicuous part of a piece of jewellery, for example the inside of a ring band, so that it does not interfere or distract from the design and function of the piece.
In total there are 5 Full Traditional Hallmarks :
- Sponsor's mark
-Traditional finesse mark
-Millesimal finesse mark
-Assay office mark
-Date letter mark
This is also known as the Maker’s Mark. This is the registered mark of the company/designer of the item. It is usually in the shape of a shield and includes 2-5 initials. Each sponsors/marker’s mark is unique to make them easily identifiable.
TRADITIONAL FINESSE MARK
This is optional and not a requirement, but it usually applied as a standard by the Goldsmith’s Company Assay Office. This mark was used prior to 1999, mainly to show the fineness of gold, silver and platinum using a traditional symbol, such as crowns, lions and orbs.
MILLESIMAL FINESSE MARK
This tells you the quality of precious metal that has been used in the piece of jewellery. It is a numerical format, made compulsory to include from 1999. The numbers are placed inside a shield, the shape indicates the metal type, whilst the numbers represent the content of the metal. A familiar and widely recognisable Millesimal Fineness Mark is an oval with the numbers 925 inside, which classifies sterling silver.
ASSAY OFFICE MARK
This mark identifies which office tested and hallmarked the item. Each of the four Assay offices mentioned above have their own hallmark.
DATE LETTER MARK
Another non-compulsory mark which is used to date the item. The font, case and
shield shape change annually on January 1st so that each year is easily recognised, with the stamps being destroyed at the end of the year so that they cannot be used to incorrectly date a piece of jewellery.
There are also many forms of commemorative marks, which are sometimes used to mark special occasions. The Queen’s coronation and jubilee’s have their own hallmark as well as a unique mark to celebrate the new millennium. In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II will become the first monarch to ever receive a commemorative hallmark to hail her seventy years at the throne. Jewellers, silversmiths, and retailers can request that the Assay offices applies this hallmark.
WHAT IF THERE IS NO HALLMARK?
Often antique jewellery will not carry a full UK hallmark, or even any sort of mark at all and this is quite usual for the era and ages of the items.
Compulsory hallmarking came into effect during the 20th century and items pre 1950 are exempt from hallmarking. Experienced dealers rarely rely on a hallmark alone to date a piece of antique jewellery, it assists but is not essential.
If there is no hallmark, the metal finesse can still be determined by testing the gold to determine the carat. There may be a stamp denoting at minimum the expected gold carat, an experienced jeweller will still test to confirm this.
You can never guarantee how hallmarks will appear when sourcing for second-hand vintage and antique jewels, we always try our best to identify every mark that has been stamped onto a piece of jewellery.
Part of the allure of deciphering hallmarks on pieces of antique and vintage jewellery is the history behind an item, wondering who owned it and where it may have been worn. Hallmarks offer an excellent and reliable clue which only fuels our intrigue further.