An Info Guide to British Hallmarks on gold and silver jewellery

Nearly every country has its own systems regarding precious metals. In the UK and many parts of Europe we have detailed hallmarking systems. In other countries (for example the USA) no such systems exists, and a simple ’14K’ or ’18K’ stamp is the norm. This article is a quick-glance new buyers guide to jewellery in the British system only. For further information on hallmarking please contact your local Trading Standards, auctioneers or Assay Office. Please note this guide doesn’t cover bullion or high purity coins or gold objects, just jewellery.

Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks


British hallmarks – the basics


In the United Kingdom we have a system of protection when buying gold, silver, platinum or palladium jewellery called hallmarking. This means that in general, any precious metal to be sold in the UK must be stamped with a series of tiny ‘hallmarks’ somewhere on the item. It is one of the oldest laws in the world regarding consumer protection, dating back to the 14th Century. Hallmarks tell you who made the piece, which Assay Office it was tested at, what purity the metal is (eg – 375/ 9ct gold) and usually what year it was made in (will be represented by an alphabet letter).


Generally speaking, a simple 9k…..375…..14k…..585…..18k…..or 750 stamp on its own is not a legal hallmark in the United Kingdom on modern gold jewellery (unless the gold jewellery is under 1g, which doesn’t need to be hallmarked).  Always ask a seller about its full UK hallmarks (or equivalent if outside the UK) for your own protection. Also, 8k…10k… 21k stamps are not legally recognized in the United Kingdom, and it is against the law to sell jewellery as ‘gold’ with 8k, 10k or 21k stamps (instead it’s called yellow or white metal, depending on the colour).



Purities of precious metals
GOLD: In the UK gold comes in four legal purities for jewellery: ..9ct (375 parts gold to 1000 parts alloy)….14ct (585 parts gold)…..18ct (750parts gold)……22ct (916 parts gold). All modern gold jewelry over 1 gram must be properly hallmarked by an Assay Office. Occasionally you may see ‘990’ as part of the hallmark; this is also recognized finesse amount, though is rarely used for jewellery, and must be accompanied by the normal Assay Office hallmarks. Any gold jewellery stamped ’10k’ is not legally recognized in the UK.

SILVER: In the UK, silver comes in three legal purities used for jewellery….Britannia (958 parts silver to 1000 parts alloy)……Sterling (925 parts silver to 1000 alloy)…. and 800 (800 parts silver to 1000 parts alloy). All silver over 7.78 grams must be properly fully hallmarked by an Assay Office. Silver under 7.78g doesn’t need to be hallmarked, and may have a simple stamp (eg, ‘925’).

PLATINUM: In the UK, platinum comes in three legal purities used for jewellery:…950….900….850. All platinum over 0.5 grams must be properly hallmarked by an Assay Office.

PALLADIUM: In the UK, palladium comes in two legal purities used for jewellery…..500….950. All palladium over 1 gram must be properly hallmarked by an Assay Office.

Info guide and tips on how to identify hallmarks on gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks
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.

   

Always try to confirm with any jewellery business, jewellers or pawnbrokers (both real world and internet) that the gold you wish to purchase is fully British hallmarked.  Avoid sellers who refuse to do this, or claim a UK hallmark isn’t necessary (unless the gold is under 1 gram). Also avoid shops that claim 10K gold is legally recognized in the UK – 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.

Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks 

ABOVE: This 9ct gold ring has hallmarks to the back of the band, on its underside. Hallmarks will often be seen as tiny dark squares to the naked eye, like in this photo.



Info guide and tips on how to identify gold and silver jewellery jewelry hallmarks
ABOVE: A simple ‘number’ stamp like this is not a legally recognized hallmark in the United Kingdom, with the exception of a proven antique. This is a big area of fake gold jewellery, with sellers claiming a stamp like this on their modern gold jewellery is a hallmark – it isn’t.

 

 

A note about 12ct gold and 15ct gold jewellery
There used to be other recognized purities of gold on old vintage jewellery, namely 12ct and 15ct gold. In 1932 12ct and 15ct gold was replaced by a new 14ct gold purity. As long as 12ct or 15ct jewellery are stamped on pre-1932 jewellery the hallmarked is legal. It is not legal on post 1932 jewellery. 

Also, if you come across an item of gold jewellery which is stamped ’12ct or ’12k’ you need to check if there is are any initials nearby that look like ‘RG’ or ‘GF‘. This means the jewellery is actually Rolled Gold or Gold Filled, which are both a type of gold plating and not solid gold. Again, ask the seller to photograph or list all the hallmarks if necessary.



Now it gets complicated!  Antique jewellery made from precious metals

The hallmarking rules for old vintage and antique jewellery can be quite different to modern precious metal jewellery, and hallmarks are possibly not always needed if it is a proven antique or made before a certain date. I strongly recommend that you seek the advise of a professional jeweller, dealer or auction house if you believe you have a valuable un-hallmarked item of jewellery and they can help you further.

Many antique gold or antique silver items for sale by dealers are offered as un-hallmarked ‘acid tested’. This ‘acid test’ is often poorly carried out and can badly damage jewellery, lowering the value of a piece. Also, antique jewellery was often very heavily gold plated, meaning the many acid tests won’t be able to give reliable results anyway. If a seller has acid tested a piece then have a friendly chat to them as to how and why they’ve come to the conclusion the item is antique to begin with. Nicely ask them to photograph the area it was tested (to see the possible damage),  and finally make sure they offer a full money back guarantee if the jewellery is not as described on further investigation. If the seller refuses any of these requests then simply avoid them. Genuine sellers are always happy to help any way they can, and will not take offense to questions if asked in a kind, genuinely enquiringly and friendly manner.


And finally…..

The law on precious metals is called the UK Hallmarks Act 1973 (with amendments). Breaking this law it is a criminal offense, punishable with a heavy fine or even jail. If you believe a shop has broken this law you should contact your local trading standards office. Anyone who sells precious metals (including fine jewellery) must also have a Dealers Notice on display – these are prominently displayed posters which have hallmarking information on them.

 

This article is for general information purposes only, and not be be used for or as any kind of legal advise. While every attempt has been made to verify the information provided in this report, the author cannot assume any responsibility for errors, inaccuracies or omissions. If any type of advice is needed (legal or otherwise), the services of a fully qualified professional should always be sought, such as Trading Standards, a professional auctioneers or a UK Assay Office. This article is not intended for use as a source of advice. 

Rose gold jewellery returns..

Vintage 9k 9ct rose pink gold chain bracelet jewelry hallmarked
9k rose gold triple chain bracelet

Also known as pink gold, rose gold jewellery has made a subtle comeback over the past few years, and it’s popularity is set to soar as people re-discover its breathtaking beauty.

Vintage black enamel rose pink gold chain bracelet jewelry
Vintage 1970s rose gold and black enamel chunky chain bracelet

Solid gold is soft yellow metal, so all gold jewellery has to be alloyed (ie, mixed with other metals) to strengthen it for normal use (you can find out more about gold colour alloys here). Rose gold is made by mixing pure gold with copper; the more copper used, the stronger the pink colour.  All colours of gold (even the fancy ones such as green gold, blue gold and purple gold) come in the normal finesse’s – 9k, 14k, 18k and rare 22k gold, which is known as crown gold.

While rose gold has never completely disappeared from the fine jewellery world, it does have a habit of coming into fashion and then falling out again. It was at its most popular during the Victorian era (where it was sometimes known as Russian Gold due to the influential Russian aristocracies love of it), but then was gradually replaced with a trend of white gold/ white precious metals by the 1920s. Though produced throughout the 20th century, rose gold never seemed to catch on in quite the same way again.A look at the latest fine jewelers collections reveals interesting amounts of rose gold in their creations. It began with rose gold accents in watches a few years ago, and seems to have gradually filtered into the rest of the jewelers designs. Will it be a fad? Or is rose gold back to stay?

Vintage Russian white yellow rose pink gold chain bracelet bangle tri color band jewelry
Russian style tri-colour bangle, made with white, yellow and pink gold tone metal.

Vintage 1980s rose gold pink drop earrings clip on jewelry
Vintage rose gold clip on chain drop earrings

Blue John…..England’s very own gemstone!

Blue john gemstone England earrings info jewelry

In the United Kingdom, people are often surprised to learn that we have an abundance of minerals and gemstones right here at home. Agates are found in Scotland (renowned for their variety and colours), we  have varieties of quartz such amethyst and citrine, and jasper can be found here too. Take a walk along the beaches to the east of the country, and you may even be lucky enough to discover a washed up piece of amber!

The UK is also home to a unique type of fluorite, known as Blue John. Derbyshire in England is the home of this striking gemstone, and it’s only extracted in small quantities each year.

What gives Blue John its uniqueness in the gemstone world is the sublime colouring, which is a distinctive blue-purple, with areas of bright cream and yellow flashing through its veins. This creates a stunning visual effect, and is what makes Blue John so desirable to gem connoisseurs around the world.

vintage blue john quartz silver drop earrings
Blue John & sterling silver earrings

Like many gemstones, Blue John can be cut and made into jewellery. It can also be made into other objects too, such as vases, bowls and paperweights.

Recently, a newly discovered gemstone seam in China has revealed fluorite with a similar characteristics to Blue John. However, only the distinctive purple-blue-yellow fluorite mined in Derbyshire can correctly be known as Blue John.

Once you see this wonderful gemstone in real life, you’ll never forget it vivid colouring and beautiful banded patterns – it’s a real gem in ever sense of the word!

 

Further reading:

Blue John article on Wikipedia

Check out my Pinterest board featuring Blue John

 

Palladium metal – the new platinum?

We all know the big three in fine jewellery – gold, silver and platinum.

But now there’s a new kid in town. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this up and coming precious metal over the next few years.

The name?

Palladium

So what exactly is this metal, and why is has it caused so much excitement in the fine jewellery world?

Palladium  is a member of the platinum family, and just like platinum, it’s a white metal. Palladium doesn’t tarnish, is harder than gold/ silver, does not need over-plating (unlike white gold always which needs platinum and rhodium plating to give it that perfect finish) and it’ completely hypo-allergenic.

Palladium is also cheaper to buy in than platinum, and because it is less dense,  it is easier to work and experiment with;  it’s becoming an increasingly favoured choice for many of the worlds top fine jewellery designers.

It is also rarer than gold.

Now, can you begin to see why I’ve a feeling palladium might become the must have precious metal?

Since 2009 the Assay Offices in the United Kingdom have been hallmarking palladium over 1g on a voluntary basis.  As of the 1st of January this year (2010) it’s now compulsory to have all palladium over 1g hallmarked (in accordance with the UK Hallmarking Act 1973).  The finesse amounts are 500, 950, and 999.

You can find out more about Palladium, and how to identify it, by visiting the Birmingham Assay Office website.