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Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Do you know what is meant when you hear the word hallmarking? If you don’t you are not alone. However, if you are buying precious metal jewellery it is something you really need to be aware of.

Here's what you need to know

So, what are hallmarks?

Hallmarks are a series of either struck or lasered marks applied to precious metals certifying the metal is in fact the precious metal it is being sold as.

In this country, Scotland, and also the rest of the UK, by law and in accordance with the Hallmarking Act of 1973 if you are selling precious metal jewellery it must be sent to an assay office to be tested to verify it is the quality of metal the jeweller is saying it is. The only exception to this rule is with items weighing less than 7.78g for silver, 1g for gold and palladium, and 0.5g for platinum these do not need to be hallmarked.

Unfortunately, a lot of jewellery out there is either not hallmarked mainly due to it costing the jeweller money to have it tested and marked, or it might not actually be precious metal and is actually some sort of base metal made to look like silver or gold. Many items on the high street and online fall into this category and this includes designer brands…. I won’t mention them by name but it is all the usual suspects! Many items are actually brass but described as gold which is actually illegal.

The problem with Hallmarking is it isn’t properly enforced despite carrying a hefty fine of up to £5,000 per article for breeching this law.

In my own opinion I think all precious metals should be hallmarked. Yes, it is an added cost but for me I think it gives my customers peace of mind. Also, as part of the hallmarking process one of the marks applied is a maker’s mark. A maker’s mark is unique to that jeweller or business who made the item and is registered with the maker’s chosen assay office, for instance I am registered with the Edinburgh Assay office. This mark is also fully traceable which means the item can be traced back to the person or business who made it. Pretty cool eh?

I look at the maker’s mark as similar to that of an artist signing their work. So why wouldn’t I sign my work?

The process of sending jewellery items to be hallmarked is called assaying. Every time a piece is sent in it is tested by the assay office to see if it is the metal the jeweller thinks it is. If this matches what the jeweller claims it to be the the item or items are then either struck or laser marked with at least the following marks : Makers mark, Traditional Fineness mark, Metal Fineness mark, Assay office mark and date letter.

Below is an example of these hallmarks applied to a wedding ring I made.

In the unfortunate event that the metal is of lesser value than what the jeweller is saying it is the Assay Office has the right to destroy the item, and yes this actually happens. This can happen when remodelling client’s old jewellery particularly if there are no hallmarks on it. Perhaps the jeweller looks at the items and a few have the same hallmark but one doesn’t but still looks the same colour as the other two. The jeweller may take the chance and just melt these all down together to make the new item. However, when this item is sent off to be hallmarked the whole value in regards to carats of gold will be completely altered and the piece cannot be hallmarked unless it meets the strict criteria of metal fineness. For example, a 9ct gold ring in this country is stamped with metal fineness of 375. This means 375 parts of this out of 1000 are pure gold. If the item is tested and it is coming out at 374 it will not pass the assay and cannot be hallmarked. It is then up to that particular assay office as to what they do with it.

Please bear in mind that if there is no Assay office mark but there are other marks such as metal fineness this does not guarantee the metal is what it has been stamped as. In this situation it is a good idea to have it tested to find out what it is especially if the item is going to be remodelled.

Also, the hallmarking system we have in this country does not apply to others. Some countries have strict rules and others don’t. So next time you are abroad and see what is being claimed to be 18ct gold beware as this may not actually be the case. Sure, it might be gold but if tested in this country you might be surprised as to how little is in it. In other words when it comes to jewellery, especially things like gold, and it seems like a massive bargain it’s most likely too good to be true.

If you would like to know more about this here are a couple links which are very good

This is a video by the brilliant Kerry from Gemmology Rocks (also like me a hallmarking advocate!) outlining rules and discussing what is happening, or not for that matter, in the trade regarding Hallmarking

This article is also pretty interesting and explores examples of jewellery that the author has bought and had tested. Some of the results you might find surprising.

Just to finish off I thought I’d share a copy of the hallmarking notice which by law everyone selling precious metals should have displayed in their shop/workshop and/ or online. So have a wee look at the jewellery you are wearing just now and see if there are any hallmarks and check them against this table. Most of all be careful! There are so many fakes out there and hallmarking is there to protect you as a consumer. Buyer be ware!

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