Hallmarking is used to identify precious metals, in 1300 Edward I ordered his civil servants to set out a statute to set standards to combat this problem, and British Hallmarking law was born. Hallmarking was introduced to protect the public against fraud as well as the trader, and was used as a type of consumer protection. Initially it was only silver that was hallmarked by the London assay office, with the leopards head, the item had to be tested first to make sure that it was of the right standard before it received this stamp. Now silver, gold, platinum, and palladium all receive hallmarks. Hallmarks are also used to find out about the item of jewellery, they can tell you a large amount of information including where the item was hallmarked, the year that it was hallmarked, who sponsored the hallmark, as well as the type of metal.
Most, but not every country uses a form of hallmarking, and the ones that do don't always have such a strict and complex system as Britain, so as a consumer buying British hallmarked goods, guarantees the piece complies to a high standard of purity, as British hallmarking laws are long standing and are very strict.
The hallmarking procedure, consists of testing the metal, this can be done in different ways, sometimes a sample of the metal, which is less that 100 milligrams is removed to be tested, alternatively an item can be tested by using an X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy and depending on the results of these tests the assay office is able to tell the type and fineness of the item of metal. The item is then stamped; there are two different methods for stamping an item of jewellery, it can be stamped by a machine called a hydro-pneumatic press or by hand, using a stamp and a hammer. Or an item can be laser hallmarked, this is a where a laser machine is programmed to engrave the marks.
Hallmarks are very interesting, and can tell us a lot of information about an item of jewellery; they act as a form of recording information. The hallmarks will show when it was hallmarked, where it was hallmarked, what metal the item is, the purity of that metal and lastly the registered company that sponsored its hallmarking.
There have been many different assay offices within the UK, including Chester, Exeter, and Norwich throughout the years. However, today there are currently four different assay offices within the Britain, this is where the metal is tested and hallmarked. There is an office in London, the symbol that represents the London assay office is a leopard’s head, whereas the assay office in Birmingham, has the symbol on an anchor to show that the item has been hallmarked there. There is also an assay office in Sheffield, if an item has been hallmarked there, then there will be the symbol of a rose, and lastly items can also be hallmarked in Edinburgh, and the symbol for this is a castle.
The sponsor mark is the registered mark of the company that has submitted the item to be hallmarked. At Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design, our sponsor mark is the initials HK, within the outline of a square box. Every sponsor has a different mark that has been registered with the assay office allowing for items to be traced.
Items are also marked with a fineness mark, which shows what type of metal the item is and the purity of the metal.
There are many other additional marks that can be added to an item when hallmarking, these can tell you a lot of information about the item, when it was hallmarked, even who was in reign at the time the item was hallmarked. Hallmarks help not only identify an item of jewellery, but also tell the story of the piece.
To learn more about metals types click here