What is a hallmark? How do you read silver hallmarks? Does gold plated jewellery has a hallmark? Whether you identifying an old piece of jewellery or looking for quality assurance as you buy a new piece, read this feature first. This article will answer your questions about hallmarks on precious metals.
What does hallmark mean?
A hallmark is a stamp on a piece of precious metal. It is there for the purpose of consumer protection – your assurance of quality.
In the fourteenth century, Edward I decreed that all silver must be of “sterling” standard – a minimum of 925 parts silver per 1000, or 92.5% pure. Gold had to reach the Paris standard (19 carats). He appointed guardians to monitor silver and goldsmiths accordingly.
In 1327, the Goldsmiths’ Company started to put a hallmark on silver and gold from the very first assay office – the London Assay Office. Their stamp depicted a leopard’s head. By 1773, jewellery manufacture had grown substantially. Jewellers in Birmingham and Sheffield wanted to open new assay offices – which the Goldsmiths’ Company opposed. They lost their appeal and the new offices were opened.
In Edinburgh, the hallmark depicted Edinburgh castle; in Birmingham, an anchor; and in Sheffield, a crown.
Several others – such as Exeter, Glasgow and York – opened but later closed, leaving the four main offices to continue handling UK hallmarking.
It is worth noting that many Scottish and Irish silversmiths did not send their pieces to the regional offices for hallmarking. Tey instead marked their jewellery with their own stamps and sometimes the word “Sterling”. Many of these pieces are collectable due to their rarity.
What does hallmarked mean on jewellery?
All jewellery made in the UK – if it contains more than the threshold of precious metal – must now legally be hallmarked.
So take a look for a line of tiny symbols somewhere on your piece of jewellery. This is the hallmark – your assurance that the jewellery reaches an acceptable standard. It tells you (in code) who made it, what it was made from, and where it was checked. It may also carry the year it was made.
If your jewellery is old, you might need to consult an expert to read the hallmarks. There is a huge range of letters and symbols coming from different parts of the UK. While the modern hallmarks are simpler to decode, an old piece of jewellery could carry a long and complicated hallmark.
What jewellery will carry a hallmark?
Jewellery under a minimum weight is exempt from hallmark law. But all jewellery above these weight thresholds (below) must legally be hallmarked with the maker’s mark, the metal and fineness, and the assay office that has certified it.
Gold – 1 gram
Silver – 7.78 grams
Platinum – 0.5 grams
Palladium – 1 gram
How to read silver hallmarks
Silver fineness is measured in parts per thousand. So sterling silver has 925 parts pure silver per thousand; finest silver (used mainly in bullion bars, because it is very soft) has 999. Te accepted silver hallmarks, at time of writing, are:
These numbers will appear within an oval (indicating silver) in modern hallmarking.
What is the 958 Britannia hallmark?
In 1697, parliament raised the silver standard to 958 (Britannia), partly in order to combat the melting of sterling silver coins (which were being repurposed to make jewellery). Coins could no longer be used to make silver jewellery, but silversmiths did not approve of the change – because Britannia silver is softer than sterling. The standard was quite soon revised again, and sterling silver was returned to rule.
Today, the four main assay offices stamp jewellery with their own hallmarks:
London – Leopard
Edinburgh – 3-turret Castle
Sheffield – Rose
Birmingham – Anchor
How to date silver hallmark letters
As well as a symbol for the Assay office and a mark for the Maker, hallmarked silver will also include a date symbol – or row of symbols. Click on the links below to see a chart of the data symbols for your chosen Assay Office.
London silver hallmark letters (dates)
Birmingham silver Hallmark letters (dates)
Sheffield silver hallmark letters (dates)
Edinburgh silver hallmark letters (dates)
Does gold plated jewellery has a hallmark?
Gold plated jewellery is not legally hallmarked.
But real gold jewellery starting at 9ct, and weighing more than 1 gram, should legally be hallmarked.
Te fineness hallmark is the key piece of information for modern jewellery buyers. Gold fineness is measured in parts or carats, and the numbers you will find in a hallmark are:
375 (9 carats)
585 (14 carats)
750 (18 carats)
916 (22 carats)
999 (24 carats)
What do the gold hallmark numbers mean? The numbers indicate parts of pure gold per thousand. So 9-carat gold is 37.5% pure gold, and 24-carat gold has 99.9% pure gold. The gold fineness number will appear inside a symmetrical plaque shape. This is the symbol to indicate gold.
How to identify silver and gold hallmarks
To recap, silver and gold hallmarks usually comprise:
1 – Assay office mark (a single symbol – look for the leopard, castle, crown or anchor).
2 – Maker’s mark (two letters inside a border).
3 – Fineness symbol or number (inside a shape that indicates the type of metal).
4 – Date symbol (pictorial or a letter) – this is now optional in the UK.
If your piece is stamped with a complicated hallmark, we recommend bringing your jewellery in for a professional valuation. We will be able to assess the quality of gemstones and identify the hall-
marks on your gold or silver jewellery.
Need help identifying your silver or gold hallmarks? Contact us to discuss our valuation service.