How to read a British hallmark – an info guide:
Reading British hallmarks on gold jewellery isn’t as difficult as it first appears. Firstly, you’ll need a couple items.
- A jewellers loupe. This is a type of hand-held powerful magnifying glass. Nowadays you can pick these up for under £3 off Ebay, and it’s worth its weight in gold (pardon the pun). Don’t bother with other types of magnifying glass as they can’t get into those nooks and crannies, nor are they really powerful enough. Aim for between 20x to 30x magnification – any higher and the hallmark starts to distort and blur.
- A proper British hallmarks book. This is a must, and my personal preference is for Bradburys Book Of Hallmarks, which is pocket size and easy to use.
Once you have your jewellers loupe and book of hallmarks (I use Bradbury’s so will go according to this) you can start to identify your jewellery. Let‘s go!
- Hallmarks on jewellery are tiny, and because they aren’t meant to be seen easily (so they don’t detract from the jewellery), they are stamped in an unobtrusive places. Be prepared to do some searching for them! In general, a ring is usually hallmarked on the inside of the band. Necklaces are normally stamped on or near the clasp, or on the pendant part if it has one. Earring hallmarks are often stamped on the piercing wire part, but this isn’t a rule and they can be marked anywhere. On charms they can absolutely anywhere, and it can take some deep investigation to find them; I once came across a highly detailed motorbike charm, and eventually found the hallmark on its license plate!
2.Once you’ve found what looks like your hallmark, hold the jewellers loupe up to you eye, along with the jewellery in your other hand. It will need a bit of practice to get the image clear, and may mean twisting your arms and head to get the magnified vision clear enough to see. Good lighting is a must too.
3. Once you can see your hallmarks, try and work out what they look like. This is the part that takes a lot practice, and can be done in a variety of ways. My advise would to be to firstly figure out the Assay Office stamp. The Assay Office is the institution which ‘Assayed’ (ie hallmarked) the precious metal, and is represented by a simple symbol. The most common ones are:
- Sheffield (a round rose symbol)
- London ( a leopards face symbol)
- Birmingham (an anchor)
- Edinburgh (a castle)
(There are many other British Assay Office stamps/ symbols which can be found on antique jewellery. These offices no longer exist but are still recognized by UK Law, including Chester, York and Glasgow. Bradburys Hallmark book has much more info about all British hallmarks, along with detailed images and symbols of all the Assay hallmarks).
You can see what hallmarks look like on this latest Jewellers Dealers Notice (this link opens a PDF file and is from the Sheffield Assay Office).
4. Say for example, you see an anchor symbol – this is the Assay Office mark for Birmingham. Look in your Bradbury hallmarks book and find the chapter headed ‘Birmingham‘. You’ll see pages of hallmark lists that look bewildering, but trust me, they’re easy to use with a bit of practice.
5. Now you’ve found the Birmingham section, bookmark this, go back to your jewellery and take a look at the letter stamp. Memorize this as much as possible, and go back to the Birmingham section of your hallmark book and search through the hallmarks, seeing which typeset letter looks like the one on your jewellery. As a general rule, work backwards from modern times to older. To find out the finesse (ie type of gold) of the jewellery, look for a stamp with numbers in it. In this rings case, it’s ’375′, meaning the ring is 9ct (9k) gold.
Gold finesses on British gold jewellery are:
9ct gold: 375
14ct gold: 585
18ct gold: 750
22ct gold: 916
You may occasionally come across 12ct and 15ct British hallmarks on genuine antique jewellery; this is where hallmarks can get complicated, so for the beginner it’s best to get proper advise concerning this from a professional such as an auctioneers.
6. Finally, you’ll always see some kind of initials on a proper British hallmark. These are the Makers Marks, which means the person or company who actually made the jewellery, and is a requirement of British Law. There are now many websites dedicated to exploring Makers Marks, so a quick Google should help you on your way in this area.
(On some older gold jewellery, you may also come across a crown symbol, called the Crown Standard. This stamp meant that the item was gold, though along with the date letter, it’s now optional on modern jewellery).
And that’s how you read a basic gold British hallmark. You can use this exact method given here for reading silver, the only differences being that the Standards are different:
- Gold is represented by a crown
- Platinum is represented by an Orb
- Sterling Silver(925) is represented by a lion
- Britannia Silver (958) is rare, and is represented by the lady ‘Britannia‘
ABOVE: A well detailed set of Sterling silver British hallmarks on a silver pendant. From the top; the makers initials, below this is a leopards head (meaning it was tested/ assayed in London), then below is the Lion Passant (meaning the item is 925 Sterling Silver), then the italic letter ‘C’, meaning the year it was made was 1977, and finally a special mark bearing the Queen’s head; 1977 was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, so Assay Office’s created a special stamp to celebrate this.
Avoid shops that claim 10K gold is legally recognized in the United kingdom – it isn’t, and if you decide to sell your 10K stamped jewellery item at a later date you will legally have to describe as either white or yellow metal, not gold. You’d be surprised how many sellers and shops don’t know or care about hallmarking law, and will tell you anything so they can simply sell the item. This goes for for both ‘real life’ shops and internet shops.