UK Hallmarking Explained
What is a UK hallmark?
Silver, palladium, gold and platinum ('precious metals') are normally alloyed with other metals in order to improve their strength, durability and colour etc. A hallmark is a legal requirement which guarantees the purity (fineness) of the precious metal. It consists of three symbols:
- the maker's or sponsor's mark: this is a unique mark and the maker/sponsor must be registered with an assay office.
- metal purity mark: this indicates that the metal content of the item is not less than the fineness indicated.
- assay office mark: this indicates the Assay Office at which the item was tested and marked (there are only four assay offices in the UK: London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield, and each have their own mark)
- (optional) a year mark: a letter indicating the year in which the item was hallmarked. This can be particularly sentimental if you are gifting a piece to represent a significant year.
The traditional method to apply a hallmark is to strike the item with a punch, however, technology now means the marks can also be applied using a laser. A hallmark is not a single fineness mark on an article, eg a ring with a single 925 stamp, anyone can stamp these marks on any article and they do not indicate an officially recognised guarantee of the fineness of the metal.
Other countries will have different rules and not all countries have official hallmarking schemes, eg USA.
DID YOU KNOW? The term "hallmark" originated from when craftspeople were required to bring their goods to the Goldsmiths' Hall in London to be assayed and marked.
Which articles need to be hallmarked?
It is a legal requirement for any item sold in the UK (regardless of where it was manufactured) described as being made of gold, silver, palladium or platinum (subject to certain exemptions) to have a UK recognised hallmark. Items below the following weights are exempt:
- Silver: 7.78 grams
- Palladium: 1 gram
- Gold: 1 gram
- Platinum: 0.5 grams
A pre-1950 item may be described as a precious without a hallmark if the seller can prove it is of minimum fineness and was made before 1950.
Items made of gold plated base metals cannot be hallmarked (including gold filled items). A gold plated silver item can only be given the silver hallmark.