The History of UK Hallmarking

Rings With Hallmark showing

Gold, silver, platinum, and, recently, palladium, are usually all hallmarked regardless of what region the metals come from

What Is Hallmarking?

While the word hallmark brings visions of greeting cards to most people’s minds, the term, in fact, was originally used to describe the practice of marking a piece of jewellery, or other item made of precious metal, with a stamp or series of stamps.

The precise method of hallmarking and the meanings of the markings themselves may vary from country to country, there are all simply a method of designating the various characteristics of the item such as composition, origin, and the year the item was made in.

Origins of UK Hallmarking

The concept of hallmarking itself dates back to nearly 400 AD and was discovered on silver objects in Byzantine. Hallmarking, especially with regards to silver, diamonds, gold, and platinum, wasn’t initiated until the 1300s in the UK.

History has revealed that King Edward I put a law, or statute, in place that required the testing of all silver items to ensure they met the proper standards. He then designated several expert jewellers of the time, also referred to as guardians of the craft, that were responsible for testing the silver to verify a 92.5{b73dba2f17de0d6747e2a4e2a5d8cd71a65ae593e6462933d3c03b3044ece260} pure silver content. Once this percentage had been verified, the item would be marked with a stamp depicting the head of a leopard.

King Edward III followed suit in 1327 by granting a royal charter to the Goldsmith’s Company, formally known as the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. During these times, a royal charter was required before a group could officially be considered a company. The company was centrally run out of Goldsmith’s Hall in London.

It is said that this location is where the term ‘hallmark’ originated from. The term hallmark, however, was not officially recorded until 1721 and didn’t truly gain popularity until 1864 when it became an official denotation of quality.

Hallmarking Systems in the UK

In 1973, the Hallmarking Act officially brought England into the Vienna Convention making it subject to the European nation’s standards of denoting the quality of precious metals with a standard set of hallmarks.

The hallmarks required for gold, silver, and platinum denoted several pieces of information including the piece’s creator, also known as the sponsor, the assay office, or location where the item was tested, and the composition of the metal. Typical jewellery grade silver is often marked with the numbers 925. This number denotes that for ever 1000 parts of metal in the jewellery item, 925 of those parts are pure silver.

Similarly, gold composition in jewellery is designated with 10kt, 14kt, 18kt, or 24kt, all marks indicating the actual percentage of pure gold in the composition of the jewellery. 10kt is the lowest concentration found in jewellery quality gold and indicates a 41.7{b73dba2f17de0d6747e2a4e2a5d8cd71a65ae593e6462933d3c03b3044ece260} of pure gold. 24kt is the highest and denotes 100{b73dba2f17de0d6747e2a4e2a5d8cd71a65ae593e6462933d3c03b3044ece260} pure gold composition.

Any precious metals in the UK made between 1999 and 2000 were also marked with a millennium mark to commemorate the occasion. These were the only two years that mark was allowed to be used. Certain symbols, including roses, castles, anchors, or lion’s heads, are sometimes used to designate which office the item was assessed in.

A Fascinating History

With the rise in vintage jewellery demand over the past several years increasing, there are numerous books that have been published and websites created which are dedicated solely to the history of the hallmarking process and hallmarks used over the years in the UK and around the world.

Next time you are out shopping for gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, take the extra time to examine the items hallmark. It is not only interesting to research the various hallmarks that can be found on vintage jewellery out of the UK, but it can also help ensure that the piece you are buying is the proper quality and composition that you are seeking.

 

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