A Brief History of Jewellery Hallmarking

Want to learn more about the origins of gold and silver hallmarks? Discover more about the history of hallmarking including, how it all started, why it’s considered important, and how to hallmark your own jewellery with our step by step guide.

hallmarking guide

Check out our guide on how to hallmark jewellery. 

assay office marks

Assay Office Marks (image source: The Assay Office)

Where do jewellery hallmarks come from?

The origins of jewellery hallmarking can be traced as far back as 1238 A.D when the first standards of gold and silver quality were officially laid down. However, the true beginning of hallmarking as we know it today dates from 1300 A.D. and was introduced by a statute of Edward I, where it was decreed that no piece of silver ‘was to depart out of the hands of the workers’ until it had been assayed (tested) and marked with a leopard’s head.

How were fineness standards set for silver and gold?

It was at this very early stage that the standard of acceptable fineness for silver was set at 92.5 per cent (sterling) which was the same as coinage, and still remains to this very day. On the other hand, the first acceptable standard for gold is much more difficult to establish, but is thought to be about 20 parts pure out of 24 which is about 83%. The enforcement of these new rules for silver was put into the hands of the ‘Guardians of the Craft’, who had to go out into the workplace and ensure that all goldsmiths were abiding by the new laws – which can’t have been an easy task. In 1327, Edward III granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, which marked the beginning of the company’s formal existence in Goldsmiths’ Hall, and this is where the word ‘hallmark’ comes from, and the beginning of jewellery hallmarking was formed.

How does jewellery hallmarking work today?

Today, jewellery hallmarking, alongside all hallmarking is governed by the Hallmarking Act of 1973. This 39 page document outlines the current British legislation covering all items made from precious metal. Although the Act has had to undergo several amendments to incorporate new metal innovations such as Palladium (2009) and the marking of mixed, plated and bonded materials (2007), the fundamental ‘bones’ of the legislation remain unchanged and stipulate that:

“All items being sold as gold, silver, platinum or palladium in the UK must be hallmarked to confirm that they meet the legal standard.” – Birmingham Assay Office

Why is it important to use gold and silver hallmarks?

The Hallmarking Act basically protects manufacturers and designers against inferior metal standards, and is your customer’s guarantee that what they are buying is genuine and of a specified purity. This act ensured that hallmark jewellers protected their work, and to hallmark jewellery was to put a stamp of the designer’s name on to their own piece of art. UK hallmarking regulations are some of the strictest in the world, and we are one of only a few countries that have compulsory statutory hallmarking.

The only exceptions to these rules are items which fall below a certain weight, and they can be sold unmarked. The weight thresholds are as follows:

“1 gram for gold, 7.78 grams for silver, 0.5 grams for platinum and 1 gram for palladium”– Birmingham Assay Office

Anatomy of a Ring

Anatomy of a Hallmark (image source: Birmingham Assay Office)

The regulations regarding the number of hallmarks applied to each piece of jewellery have also been subject to much change over the decades. Today it is no longer compulsory to have a pictorial fineness mark (a numerical fineness mark will suffice), when you hallmark jewellery or generally hallmark, neither do you have to present a date letter. This was initially introduced to England in 1478 when the first Assay Office was established in Goldsmiths Hall. Instead, these are now optional and can be requested for larger items where space is not limited and the hallmark can enjoy a prime position.

How to hallmark jewellery as a professional

It is, however, important to remember that an English jewellery hallmark is not legal unless it contains a sponsor’s mark for the makers’ accountability, a standard mark, or guarantee of purity and finally the Assay Office mark to prove it has been tested by an official third party organisation.

The jewellery marketplace has become flooded with many imported goods from overseas, ready for hallmark jewellers to hallmark gold, create sterling silver hallmarks and put their own stamp on their jewellery. Yet, most will simply have a standard mark and maybe a country of origin stamped on at best. In reality this is no guarantee of quality or purity, as these marks are simply put on by the maker and not verified by an official body.

Guide to jewellery hallmarking for beginners

We are very lucky in England to have one of the best and most comprehensive hallmarking systems in the world, resulting in the ability of learning how to hallmark jewellery successfully. Although from a maker’s perspective it can be, at times, a little difficult and costly to navigate, it really marks a true indication of British quality of which we should all be very thankful and proud. We are now able to effectively hallmark gold jewellery, create sterling silver hallmarks and jewellers can create their own mark representative of their jewellery line.

Want to make sure that you’re presenting the quality of your precious metal work with the right jewellery hallmarks? Use our guide on how to hallmark your jewellery. With a full step by step guide of what to expect with our gold and silver hallmarks guide, you’ll be able to present the quality of your work to our customers in no time at all.

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