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How to read a British hallmark stamp on gold and silver jewellery

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.

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

ABOVE: types of jewelers loupes.

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!

  1. 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!

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

ABOVE: a set of tiny British hallmarks on the clasp of a 9k rose gold bracelet.

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
  • Palladium is represented by Pallas Athene’ ie, the head of Athene, the Greek Goddess of War (whom palladium was named after).
Info guide and tips on how to identify 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. Please always confirm with any business, jewellers or pawnbrokers (both real world and internet) that the item you wish to purchase is fully British hallmarked.


Avoid sellers who refuse to do this, or claim a UK hallmark isn’t necessary. 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.

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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.

Learning About Fake Gold and Hallmarks

One of the biggest jewelry problems I’m hearing about at the moment is buyers purchasing fake gold over the internet, at markets/ fairs and even occasionally in shops.  Here are some helpful tips to consider when purchasing gold in the United Kingdom:

1. If it’s too good to be true it usually is!

2.  Only buy gold that has been hallmarked at a British Assay Office. This means the gold has been tested and is real.

3. If buying from a ‘real world’ market stall, fair or shop don’t assume the jewellery item you are seeing is gold (even if it looks gold and is with other labelled gold items). An unscrupulous trick is to place a few non-hallmarked fake gold tone rings on a ring display pad mixed with real British hallmarked gold. 

These ‘jewelers’ will label a ring as simply (eg) GARNET ETERNITY RING, and place it on a display pad with other rings labelled ‘9ct topaz gold ring’. Now, the ‘garnet eternity ring’ does have a real garnet in it, and looks gold. And the seller will charge the same price for it as the surrounding rings, which are genuine hallmarked gold, so buyers simply assume it’s another solid gold ring on a pad of other gold rings. But its not.

Notice the wording – no mention is made of gold. It’s actually a dirt cheap garnet stone in a goldtone pot metal ring, and because the seller hasn’t described this particular garnet ring as gold (remember, they simply labelled it ‘Garnet Eternity Ring’) they’re not breaking any law, as far as I know. Do this with 4 costume jewellery rings on one display pad with 16 other real gold rings, and that’s a nice extra profit for dodgy sellers.

 

4. Gold jewellery in the UK comes in 4 finesses: 9ct (375)…….14ct (585)…….18ct (750)……22ct (916). All non-antique gold over 1 gram must carry a British Assay Office Hallmark. A simple (for example) ‘750’ or ’18k’ stamp on its own is not a proper hallmark, and is not allowed to be called gold or sold as gold in the UK.

 

How to id tips genuine gold tell it's not fake

ABOVE: This ring has a simple ‘9ct’ stamp. It is not hallmarked, and therefore cannot be legally called 9ct gold or sold as gold (unless it is a genuine antique, which is where things get complicated and I suggest you seek expert advise).


How to id tips genuine gold tell it's not fake

ABOVE: a proper set of British hallmarks, which means this ring can legally be sold as/ called 9ct gold.

5. 10k Gold is not a legally recognized finesse in the UK. The precious metal laws are tough here and so are the punishments – don’t describe any jewellery to sell as ’10k gold’ if you are based in the UK.

 

If in doubt, always ask a seller about the hallmarks on a piece of fine jewellery.