Hallmarked Silver Jewellery

by : Catherine D'Arcy

British Hallmarking dates back 700 years and represents the earliest form of consumer protection.

The Hallmark shows that jewellery & other articles made from precious metals (Gold, silver & platinum) have been independently tested by an Assay Office. This guarantees that the article conforms to a specified legal standard of purity.

Why Hallmark?

Precious metals used in jewellery and giftware manufacture are always used as an alloy. The precious metal must be mixed with other metals to give it the necessary flexibility and strength to produce a desirable and durable article.

Even the most experienced jeweller or chemist cannot tell how much precious metal there is in an alloy, just by looking at it. Due to the high price of precious metals, this offers a huge opportunity for fraud and there has therefore always been a need to protect the public, and honest suppliers, from those who are tempted to cheat them.

Therefore all items being sold as gold, silver or platinum in the UK must be hallmarked to confirm that they meet the legal standard. This cannot be done by the manufacturer or importer; goods must be submitted to one of the four UK Assay Offices, or an Assay Office belonging to the International Convention, (link to Convention Marks).

The only items which are exempt are those which are under the legal weight threshold, 1 gram for gold, 0.5 grams for platinum and 7.78 grams for silver.

When an item is received at an Assay office it goes through three processes:

SAMPLING to remove a tiny piece of the precious metal for testing

ASSAYING to determine whether the precious metal content of the alloy meets the required standard

HALLMARKING to apply the appropriate mark to the article to confirm the quality.

Silver is assayed differently from Gold. While gold is assayed by a fire refining process, silver is chemically tested by potentiometer titration.

There were originally two standards of silver - 925 parts in 1000 (Sterling) and 958 parts in 1000 (Britannia). To these have now been added 999 and 800.

Modifications to the 1973 Hallmarking Act, effective from 1st January 1999, have changed the way articles made of precious metals are hallmarked. The UK hallmark now comprises a minimum of three compulsory symbols.

Sponsor's or maker's mark

This indicates the maker or sponsor of the article. In Britain, this mark consists of at least two letters within a shield, and no two marks are the same.

Corazon Latino has its own unique sponsors mark. Look closely you can see a tiny CL in a 4 leafed clover shaped shield.

Metal and fineness (purity) mark
This indicates the precious metal content of the article, and that it is not less than the fineness indicated. This number is contained in a shield, the shape of which depicts the precious metal.

Assay Office mark
This indicates the particular Assay Office at which the article was tested and marked.

There are four assay offices in the UK - Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, and Sheffield and each bear a different mark. When this is applied to the object it shows that the metal has been tested and where it was tested. The hallmark will also help track the object back in history so antiques can be properly verified.

Since 1478, the hallmark has included a distinctive date letter indicating the year of hallmarking. The date mark is a Letter, lower case or Capital in a shield or box.

The final mark is the Fineness symbol. This is a traditional symbol denoting the fineness of the metal. It is a lion for silver and a crown for gold.

The law!

Subject to certain exemptions it is an offence for any person in the course of trade or business -

(a) to apply to an unhallmarked article a description indicating that it is wholly or partly made of gold, silver or platinum; or

(b) To supply or offer to supply an unhallmarked article to which such a description is applied.

It will be noted that any article can be sold whatever amount of gold, silver or platinum it contains. But it must NOT BE DESCRIBED as gold, silver or platinum unless it is hallmarked or unless it is exempt;

The authorised standards of fineness (that is the number of parts by weight of fine gold, silver or platinum in 1.000 parts by weight of alloy) are as follows:

For Gold: 916 6 (22 carat), 750 (18 carat), 585 (14 carat) and 375 (9 carat)
For Silver: 999, 958 4 (Britannia), 925 (Sterling) and 800
For Platinum: 950

If the metal in an article is of a fineness lower than the minimum standard of fineness shown above for that metal the article cannot be hallmarked.

Imported articles are also required to be hallmarked. It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that articles are sent for hallmarking. It is illegal to sell them without a UK or approved European Hallmark. 925 is NOT enough on silver jewellery !

For any offence under this Act the penalties are, in the case of summary conviction, a fine not exceeding ?2,000 or, on conviction on indictment, an unlimited fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both, except in the case of forgery or counterfeiting in which case the term of imprisonment is one not exceeding ten years.

For more information about Hallmarking and the law, contact your local assay office.