Today’s blog is all about hallmarking. I’m sure most of you have seen those tiny little imprints on the inside of your ring bands – they’re the hallmarks and they have a purpose!
Hallmarking was first introduced in 1300 under Edward I – and the basic concept hasn’t really changed today. Can you tell by simply looking at a piece of jewellery whether it’s made of gold, or silver? Could you be sure that the gold piece was 18C or only 9C? And is that lovely piece of silver really sterling silver or only silver plated?
Hallmarking is there for the protection of customers. A hallmark can only be applied if the assay office have tested the piece to check that it is indeed made of what you’re claiming it to be made of. There is a legal requirement for hallmarking too! I’m going to talk about silver from now on as that is what I work with, but the hallmarking act applies to all precious metals.
Any piece of silver over 7.78grams MUST be hallmarked before sale if it is to be advertised and sold as being silver rather than white metal. Up until recently all my pieces came in under this weight so I didn’t need to comply, but lately I have been working on several larger pieces that needed to be hallmarked so I took the plunge and registered with the Birmingham Assay Office for my very own sponsor’s mark and recently received back my first batch of hallmarked items.
You’ll forgive me if I do a little excited dance here – it really is quite something to see your own mark applied to a piece of work! So my first batch of hallmarking came back marked like this:
It really is quite small and the camera hasn’t picked up the detail very well so I’ve done a little sketch for you all to see (don’t laugh!)
For any of you who don’t know (and that included me until quite recently) a legal hallmark is made up of three parts. The sponsor’s mark, the fineness (or purity) mark and the assay office mark. The sponsor’s mark is a design containing the sponsor (or maker’s) initials which is registered with one of the four UK assay offices. It’s a bit like an artist signing a painting – any piece can be traced back to the maker from this mark. The fineness mark tells you what your piece is made of. For silver this can be 800, 925, 958 or 999. This tells you how pure the silver is; for example 999 is 99.9% silver and is known as fine silver, whereas 925 is only 92.5% silver and known as sterling silver. The assay office mark tells you which of the assay offices have tested and marked the piece.
So here’s how it all works! I make my piece of jewellery and carefully pack it up ready to send to the Assay Office, filling in all the paperwork required and putting it into the parcel. I then post the package at my local post office. When the packet arrives at the Assay Office, it is checked in, tested and stamped before being re-packed and sent back to me.
Hallmarking isn’t an option for those of us making and selling our jewellery, it is a legal requiement, but that doesn’t stop people from flouting the regulation. So next time you are buying jewellery, ask the seller about hallmarking or look for the Dealer’s Notice in their shop or on their website. This is what you’re looking for:
And you can see it on my own website at www.moonriverjewellery.co.uk/hallmarking
Hallmarking does add a cost to my jewellery, but I feel happier knowing that I am complying with the law. All of my heavier pieces will now be sent off to the Birmingham Assay Office for hallmarking and some of my smaller pieces as well.
You can find out more about hallmarking from the British Hallmarking Council at http://www.bis.gov.uk/britishhallmarkingcouncil/about/explained