Metal hallmarks – what do they mean?
Metal hallmarking was introduced into law back in 1973 under the Hallmarking Act as part of the UK government’s commitment to protecting the buyers of precious metals like gold, silver, platinum and palladium.
Hallmarks have been used as a method of identifying the purity of metal and guaranteeing its fineness and authenticity ever since.
Where does hallmarking come from?
Despite becoming official in the 1970s, hallmarking has a long and complex history here in the UK. The concept of hallmarking was first introduced in 1238 by Henry III but it was Edward I’s ‘Guardians of Craft’ that were charged with upholding the earliest hallmarking statute almost six decades later as The Goldsmiths’ Company details:
“The ‘Guardians of the craft’ were to go from ‘shop to shop’ to assay work and apply the leopard’s head mark. Silver had to be of sterling standard (92.5% pure silver) and gold had to be of the ‘touch of Paris’ (19.2 carats). Goldsmiths outside London were also supposed to keep to the same standards.”
His successor Edward III went one step further to strengthen the use of hallmarking throughout the British jewellery trade. He established the Maker’s mark, which was applied to genuine pieces alongside the previously introduced leopard’s head mark. Each goldsmith still has their own mark to distinguish their jewellery pieces and ensure provenance.
What metal hallmarks are used today?
The leopard’s head is still used as a hallmark today as the official marks of precious metals made in London. Other Assay Office Marks include a castle for pieces made in Edinburgh, an anchor for those originating from Birmingham, and a rose and crown for gold and silver assayed and marked in Sheffield.
The Sponsor’s or Maker’s Mark is still used alongside the Assay Mark to indicate the individual or firm that was responsible for manufacturing the piece.
It’s not just major jewellery brands that leave their mark. Independent craftspeople and hobbyists who craft jewellery can also register their own Sponsor’s Mark and apply it to their pieces. The Sponsor’s Mark is usually represented by a combination of at least two letters surrounded by a shaped ‘shield’.
My piece is marked with numbers, what does this mean?
Alongside the Sponsor’s Mark and Assay Mark, you’ll find the Standard Mark, which is represented by a set of numbers usually housed within a shaped shield.
These numbers relate to the standard or purity of the metal, whilst the shape of the shield refers to the metal type. The numbers ‘925’ in an oval shield for instance are used to mark sterling silver, whereas ‘375’ in an oblong shield with chamfered corners means the metal is 9-carat yellow, white or rose gold.
A five-sided, house-shaped shield is used to mark platinum pieces, whilst three adjoining circles authenticate palladium pieces manufactured after 2010.
Are all precious metals hallmarked?
Whether the metal is hallmarked comes down to its weight and fineness. Gold or palladium weighing less than 1 gram is generally not hallmarked. Neither is silver weighing less than 7.78 grams or platinum less than 0.5 grams.
Unlike the Assay, Standard or Sponsor’s Mark, some hallmarks are deemed as voluntary with dates, traditional pictorial marks and commemorative marks all optional.
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