Something that often comes up when chatting to customers about commissions is whether the piece will be required to have a hallmark and the additional costs this incurs. The usual response I get to this question is a blank face and a confession that they aren’t really sure what that means! I was exactly the same before I started making jewellery, so I thought I would share some answers to the most FAQ I get asked.
What is a Hallmark?
A hallmark is a mark on a piece of metal thats verifies important information about the piece.
A hallmark is made up of 3 main symbols. A markers mark, a fineness mark and an Assay Office mark.
The markers mark is individual to the maker (and one of the coolest things to register for when you start up as a jeweller) and is the first symbol of the mark. It generally is a letter or two inside a shape although sometimes (but less often) it can be a logo.
The fineness mark tells you the minimum precious metal content in parts per thousand. One you might be familiar with is Sterling Silver which is expressed as an oval with 925 inside. The number 925 means that at least 925 out of 1000 parts will be silver. The amount of silver in a piece can be higher (ie more silver/purer) but it won’t be less. There are different shapes of symbol for Silver, Palladium, Gold and Platinum.
The Assay Office mark shows you who it was that tested and marked the metal. There are 4 assay offices in the UK who perform hallmarking; London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield. I am registered with Edinburgh so when I have pieces to be marked, I need to drop them in or send them over to be tested and marked.
When I get my pieces marked, my Makers Mark is a triangle with a KB in it, the fineness mark is usually silver 925 or 999, and the Assay Office Mark is a little castle!
You can get other date stamps, marks if the piece is being sold abroad and certain special commemorative marks, but the three above are the minimum you need to keep an eye out for.
What needs to be Hallmarked?
If someone is selling you a piece of jewellery and describing it as being made from a precious metal it needs to be hallmarked. The only exception is if it falls below the exemption weight. Now for Palladium, Platinum and Gold this is 1g or lower so unless you are buying teeny tiny earrings, you’re more than likely going to see a hallmark on the piece.
For silver though the exemption weight is 7.78g, which is much higher. You can easily find earrings, rings and necklaces which are below this weight and so don’t legally require a Hallmark. However if you are worried you can request that a hallmark is applied. It might incur a cost but if you are willing to pay this for your peace of mind, it is a good idea. If the person you are buying from is registered with an assay office and offer to mark something, or have pieces in their collections that are hallmarked, this is a good sign they are already following the rules.
Why do we bother with Hallmarks?
The problem is that you have no way of knowing what metal you are buying just from looking at it. Lots of metals have that lovely silvery or gold colour and it’s impossible to tell what it is without testing it. You don’t want to pay a premium price for what you think is solid gold when actually it has been mixed with lots of other metals and has a far lower value. Hallmarking is there to protect the consumer and to make sure that you aren’t getting ripped off. Precious metals are expensive and you should be able to invest in these pieces with confidence you can trust what your jeweller is telling you.
What to watch out for?
Sometimes, some makers like to stamp their own work with a .925 stamp and their makers mark. This is perfectly legal, but can be misleading because for someone who isn’t entirely sure what they are looking for, this may look like a genuine hallmark. It isn’t, it’s not been tested independently and is just the maker stamping into the metal themselves. It doesn’t mean they are fibbing, but it also doesn’t mean the metal is what they say it is. So watch out, until you can see one of the marks from the 4 UK Assay offices, it’s not been tested in the UK.
If in doubt, always insist on having a hallmark!
A little tip if you are buying something under the exemption weight; if something seems like a price that is too good to be true, it likely will be. If you see a set of ‘sterling silver stacking rings’ for £5, remind yourself that a jeweller can resell silver to their dealer to recycle, so there is no point selling for less than the silver is worth. It’s not the same as other industries where you need to get rid of last seasons stock. Precious metals hold their value as commodities and can be recycled into other things so there is no need to get rid of stock in that way. You can just melt it down and turn it into something new.
The best rule of thumb is to be a bit savvy and understand the rules. If you’re looking at a big silver signet ring, or a gold chain, ask which of the assay offices it was tested at. And if something is under the threshold weight, think to yourself ‘how long would this have taken to make/how much silver has been used’ and see if that matches with the price.
To see some videos of how much work goes into making a piece of jewellery, why not head over to my Instagram and check out some of my reels showing the behind the scenes processes I use to create my designs.
I hope this information has helped you understand the hallmarking process a bit more so you can make informed decisions when purchasing your jewellery!