Hallmarking under King Edward I
The history of hallmarking in Britain dates back to 1300, where a statute of King Edward I established the testing and marking of precious metals including gold, silver, platinum & palladium. Yes the same King Edward Longshanks that was played by Patrick McGoohan in the movie that we all love for its cinematic brilliance, or hate for it’s historic inaccuracies, Braveheart!
British Hallmarks – the oldest form of Consumer Protection
Back to Hallmarking, the original aim of the system was to protect the public against fraud and also the trader against unfair competition. Hallmarking is one of the oldest forms of consumer protection.
When jewellery is manufactured, it is not used in it’s pure form. This is because in pure form, gold, silver, platinum and palladium are too soft and will damage easily. In order to make the jewellery stronger, more harder wearing and of different colours, the gold or other precious metal is alloyed with another metal like nickel, copper or other metal.
Due to the high value and demand for precious metals, you can imagine how significant profits can be made by unscrupulous traders reducing the precious metal content of a jewellery item at manufacturing stage. Alternatively, base metals can be and are often plated with precious metals. For example, Copper jewellery plated with a thin layer of gold could make the item look like it is made of solid gold or a gold alloy. Until the plating wears, it is almost impossible for experts to determine the quality or standard of the item unless the plating wears down, or the item is damaged to see what’s underneath.
British Hallmarks from 1300 to 1478
The Statute of 1300 under Edward I, permitted Wardens of the Company of Goldsmiths in London to visit jewellery manufacturers in order to assay silver and gold. At that time, only silver which met the required standards was marked with the symbol of a Leopard’s head. This is still the same symbol for the London Assay office today. Soon, Gold was also marked in the same way as silver.
In 1363, the manufacturers marks were introduced to the hallmark. Initially, this was a pictorial mark, however as literacy rates increased, the maker / manufacturer’s initials started to be used.
This continued for over 100 years until 1478, when the Wardens of Goldsmiths set up an office and payed an assayer to test and mark items which were submitted to them. The date letter was then introduced which would make successive assayers accountable for their work.
The British Hallmarking Act 1973 (amended 1998)
Under the UK Hallmarking Act of 1973 (amended 1998) it is illegal to offer items for sale described as gold, silver or platinum unless they have been tested and hallmarked by a UK Assay Office.
An item is exempt from hallmarking if:
- The item weighs less than 1.00 gram in Gold
- The item weighs less than 7.78 grams in Silver
- The item weighs less than 0.50 grams Platinum
There is no weight exemption in the Republic of Ireland and all items destined for sale there must be hallmarked.
Hallmarking of precious metals is a still legal requirement in the UK.
There are 4 assay offices currently in the UK.
- London – First UK assay office
- Birmingham – Largest assay office in the world
These are the only offices in the United Kingdom who are allowed to officially hallmark precious metals.