Hallmarking is the Oldest Form of Consumer Protection
Regardless of where the sale occurs, on or offline, If you are sold an item of jewellery made with and described as gold, silver, platinum or palladium over the minimum weight and it is not hallmarked, then the seller is breaking the law. Only jewellery that carries an officially registered British or international hallmark can be sold in the UK.
Fake products are on the increase and one of the most common areas for the fakers to operate in is jewellery manufacture. However, we do have a system in place to protect the consumer that has been in operation in the UK for over 700 years; hallmarking.
Ask any person in the sreet though if they can identify a genuine hallmark and many will struggle, often confusing a simple '18K' or '925' stamp as an official mark when in fact, it isn't.
'925' on an item of jewellery is generally regarded as meaning that it's made from Silver and, a lot of the time, it could be. The threshold weight for an item to require hallmarking is 7.78 grammes; anything below that weight is exempt from marking and this is why the '925' stamp is so widely used. A maker is freely allowed to mark anything on their jewellery and '925' has been accepted as the norm to specify that it's Silver however, be aware that rogue makers will also stamp '925' on to base metal pieces that have been plated to look like Silver.
On the other hand, the threshold for Gold and Palladium items is 1 gramme before it is required to be hallmarked and 0.5 gramme for Platinum.
Precious Metal Hallmarking Thresholds at a Glance
- Gold: 1 gram
- Silver: 7.78 grams
- Platinum: 0.5 gram
- Palladium: 1 gram
What is a Hallmark?
A Hallmark is, in effect, a seal of authenticity to confirm the purity of the metal and that it is what it's being described and sold as. It is usually struck as a stamp on the inside (or sometimes outside as a feature) of a ring or in an inconspicuous position on an item of jewellery or Silverware. More recently, technololgy allows the hallmark to be applied through the use of lasers to burn the mark into the metal.
A lesser known advantage of laser is that increased security features can be used in the mark due to the finer detail that can be achieved from the high resolution machinery. These security features are harder for a counterfeiter to replicate as they are only known to the Assay Offices.
Assaying, or testing the metal for purity, is performed in one of the four Assay Offices in the UK, London (the oldest), Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh or through various satellite operations under licence from the main four offices. Later methods to test precious metal include Spectral Analysis and microbeam XRF (X-ray fluorescence) technology.
XRF assays are known for being fast and accurate tests that do not damage the metal being tested. Essentially, a metal sample is bathed in X-rays. The metal then emits light (fluorescence) at an energy level specific to its atomic structure. This energy level is measured by the XRF machine and purity of the metal is determined. An XRF is so thorough it can also measure the percentage of impurities at the same time.
Only jewellery that carries an officially registered British or international hallmark can be sold in the UK and it's a criminal offence to misrepresent, remove, copy or interfere with a hallmark.
A Full UK Hallmark Tells You:
- Who submitted the article for hallmarking (sponsor’s mark)
- What the final metal is made of (Metal fineness mark)
- Where the article was hallmarked (Assay office town mark)
- When the article was hallmarked (date letter) is optional
What is a Hallmark?