In the UK, we have regulations that mean that any jewellery made in the UK or brought in to the UK have to be hallmarked. The hallmark is effectively the passport for each piece of jewellery. Hallmarking allows for a piece of jewellery to be assessed and its history better understood. The Hallmarking Act of 1973 sets out the regulations, which are still in use today.
The UK hallmark includes 3 compulsory marks, and other marks that are optional.
The compulsory marks are: the makers mark, the assay office mark and the standard mark.
The makers mark, is the unique mark of the company or individual who sends the jewellery to the assay office for hallmarking, this is usually the initials of the company or individual, i.e A B & Co.. The persons responsible for sending the items to the assay office are considered the 'Sponsor'.
The assay office mark is the mark for the assay office the jewellery was hallmarked at, for example Birmingham's assay office mark is the anchor, London's assay office mark is the leopard's head.
The standard mark states the fineness of the metal, this states the purity of the precious metal content as parts per 1000. Therefore, the fineness mark for 9ct is 375 and 18ct is 750.
Previously, the date letter was compulsory, whereas today it is part of the voluntary additions to the hallmark. The date letter indicates the year in which the item was hallmarked. Each year is assigned a letter from the alphabet, each year follows on from the previous in alphabetical order. Each rotation of the alphabet (every 25 years as i or j is omitted each time) is in a specific font. Every item hallmarked in any of the 4 UK assay offices will bear the date letter for that specific year (if the sponsor requests the date letter). The date letter allows any piece to be easily dated and helps with the provenance of the item.
Other voluntary marks include, tradition marks, which are a series of different marks one each for gold, silver (Sterling & Britannia), platinum and palladium. They were more commonly used previous to the Hallmarking Act of 1973, nowadays they are still used but less common. Commemorative marks are used to mark specific moments in history. Such as, to commemorate the Queen's golden jubilee and the millennium. Therefore, jewellery bearing such marks, are more easily identifiable and often these marks are seen on commemorative jewellery.
The final voluntary mark is the International Convention mark. This mark is recognised by all countries, which are signed to the convention. The UK became a signatory in 1972, which means that any of the assay offices in the UK can apply the convention mark. The mark is a set of scales with the standard written between them. For example, for 9ct gold is would have the scales with 375 written between them.
Sometimes it is best to view them under magnification. It can be very interesting to learn more about where and when the items were manufactured and by whom. Should you wish to learn more about your jewellery and its hallmarks, feel free to pop and we can take a look for you.