In the UK, it is perfectly legal to sell jewellery without a hallmark, but, with a very few exceptions, gold, silver, platinum and palladium must all be hallmarked if they are sold as genuine, precious metals.
What exactly is a hallmark?
A hallmark is basically a shorthand way of indicating who tested the piece of metal, on behalf of whom and what their conclusion was. This information is conveyed by means of three stamps:
- the Assay office’s mark
- the sponsor’s mark, and
- the fineness mark
The Assay office’s mark
There are currently only four assay offices for the whole of the UK and they are in London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Each has its own, individual mark, which is placed on each item of metal it examines.
The sponsor’s mark
The sponsor is simply the person or organisation who/which sends the item for hallmarking. Each sponsor must have an individual sponsor mark which is applied by means of a punch designated for their use. Therefore there must be at least one physical punch created for each sponsor. The sponsor can have a certain degree of control over their assigned sponsor mark, but the design has to stay within the guidance set by the assay office.
The fineness mark
Essentially, this mark indicates the percentage of the precious metal used in the overall alloy, although it is actually expressed as parts per thousand rather than parts per hundred. For example .925 silver (often called Sterling silver) has 925 parts of silver per thousand parts of alloy.
The hallmarking process
In principle, anyone can have an item of metal hallmarked, although in practice, it is most common for people working with precious metals as part of their trade, particularly jewellers.
Follow these steps:
- Send your pieces off to your nearest Assay office to be evaluated, who will:
- Test your work and give it the right purity mark
- Add your unique sponsor’s mark
- Add the mark that indicates which Assay Office evaluated the piece
- Not yet got your own sponsor mark? Register your design with the Assay office for approval
Sadly, at this point in time, the Assay offices all work independently of each other (to the same standards), meaning you cannot simply register at one Assay office and then send your metal to another office. You have to register with each office on an individual basis and pay a registration fee each time.
Once you have completed this process, you simply send in your metal items, pay the fee and wait for the job to be done.
- Having precious metal hallmarked means getting it from A to B; the shorter the distance your precious metal has to travel, the less time it has to be stolen in transit (and depending on your transport method, the cheaper it can be).
- Ensure that you thoroughly understand your chosen Assay office’s pricing system. Although this will usually be based on a per-item charging system, there is often a minimum fee which will be applied and batches in excess of a certain number of items may be charged at a higher rate. It’s also worth remembering that “per item” means exactly that, for example a pair of earrings counts as two items, not one.
Author: Tom Ginever, Jollys Jewellers
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.