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. 

Types of gold plating .. what do those letters on gold tone jewellery mean?

RG…..GF…… gold HGE……Gold bonded……GP…..Vermeil……Gold layered.

Have you ever looked at gold jewellery on a website and come across the above words and initials in the description? Do you wonder what they mean?

identifying initial letter stamps on gold plated jewellery fakes GP HGE tips
Read on for tips on how to identify your gold coloured jewellery!

You’re not alone. I’ve had quite a few emails over the years which have asked for my help in explaining the letters on gold looking jewellery that someone has purchased. Virtually every time I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news; they’ve been conned and their expensive ‘solid 18kgp ring’ is actually gold plated costume jewellery.

Sadly, some unscrupulous sellers give a rather ‘creative’ description of their jewellery for sale, which tries to gloss over the fact that their jewelry is not real – it’s gold plated.

So today, look no further than the Jewellery Muses’ quick glance guide to identifying letter stamps and initials on jewelry which are used to describe gold-tone/ gold-plated metal …

~ RG – means rolled gold.  This is gold sheet (usually 12K or 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal such as brass.  This process gives a longer lasting gold colour than normal gold plating, and is often stamped on jewellery: 1/20 12kt GF or 1/20 14kt RG for example.

vintage rolled gold pink deco glass bead necklace
Many old vintage glass bead necklaces were threaded on rolled gold wire, which is most commonly slightly square shaped and thicker than normal wire. Rolled gold wire also develops a nice patina like normal low grade gold (eg 9k), and is not prone to wear.

~ GF – means gold filled, which is simply another name for rolled gold.  RG and GF are more durable than gold plated metal.

art deco vintage pink glass opal diamante ring
A ‘RG’ stamped rolled gold art deco ring. Note how well it’s lasted; rings are notoriously prone to damage, yet this one is nearly 100 years old and is only now showing signed of wear to the metal. Rolled gold (aka gold filled) metal is a perfect bridge between costume jewellery and more expensive fine solid gold jewellery.

~ GOLD OVERLAY – again means a type of rolled gold; a gold sheet (usually 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal.

~ GP – stands for gold plating, a process which involves spraying a fine layer of gold onto base metal.  GP jewelry tends to lose the gold coating with day to day wear after a while.

vintage 70s toledo damascene pendant jewelry
The back of what was once a brilliant bright gold-plated circa 1980s pendant, which has now faded and worn out

~ HGE – means Heavy Gold Electroplate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.

~ HGP – also see HGE, means a heavier gold plate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.

vintage sapphire glass paste cz ring deco (2) (640x617)
Some rings offered online have  ‘creative’ descriptions, such as ‘For sale: solid 18KHGE white gold and blue sapphire CZ ring‘, a description which in real life means nothing more than a cheap and pretty costume jewellery ring made with a sapphire coloured fake stone and white gold plated metal.

~ LAYERED GOLD – another type of gold plating.

~ GOLD BONDED – another type of gold plating, or occasionally used to describe rolled gold.

~ VERMEIL – this is genuine 925 sterling silver which has been given a thick coating of gold (normally 14k or 18k).  Base metal which has been gold plated cannot by law be described as vermeil, only genuine gold-plated sterling silver can.

vintage shell cameo brooch
If you come across a piece of jewellery that has a ‘925’ stamp on it, but it’s gold coloured, then you have a piece of true vermeil jewellery, like this vermeil frame shell cameo brooch.

~ HAMILTON GOLD – brass toned metal with gold plated finish; generally only used on watches.

~ PINCHBECK GOLD – an early gold imitation, invented in the 18th century and made from an alloy of zinc and copper.  True pinchbeck items are very rare and worth a lot of money.  Nowadays, the term ‘pinchbeck’ generally means any type of antique faux gold.

Antique victorian carved shell cameo brooch jewelry
Many dealers will describe any type of antique gold looking metal as ‘Pinchbeck’, but real genuine pinchbeck is hard to find! Always ask a seller if their pinchbeck is real, or just their general description for gold plate.

~ GOLD TONE / GOLD – COLOUR – jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold.

vintage 80s gold tone snake chain flower necklace drop daggers (3)
A cute gold tone necklace. Gold tone costume jewellery is often described as being made from ‘pot metal’ ‘mixed metal’ or ‘base metal’, which means there is no real gold used in the item (other than perhaps a thin layer of gold-plate)

~ GOLD LEAF – a type of gold plating.

Look out for descriptions such as “fantastic genuine solid 18k HGE gold ring”, or “solid 14KGP gold ring”.  If you see any of these phrases, words or initials in the description of a jewellery item then be aware that the jewellery will not be genuine solid gold.

Two Final Quick Tips:

~ Just because something has a gemstone in it doesn’t mean it will automatically be encased in real gold. Low grade gemstones (or lab created gemstones/lab-diamonds) can be dirt cheap to buy, and might be used to make gold plated jewellery appear more ‘real’.

 

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.

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.