‘Hallmark’ is a word you may often see in our descriptions but not know what it means. We wanted to help explain what a hallmark is and how you can learn to read them yourself.
WHAT IS A HALLMARK?
Until 1998, a Hallmark consisted of four COMPULSORY MARKS. Since 1998 the date letter has become optional but the other three symbols remain compulsory. The symbols give the following information:
- who made the piece
- what is its guaranteed standard of fineness
- the Assay Office at which the piece was tested and marked
- the year in which the article was tested and marked
THE MAKERS MARK OR SPONSOR’S MARK
This is the unique mark of the company or person responsible for sending the piece for hallmarking. The sponsor may be the manufacturer, importer, wholesaler, retailer or an individual. To obtain a sponsor’s mark you must register with an assay office. In Antique and Vintage jewellery, the Sponsors mark is often the maker of the ring and if the date letter is worn or not present this can also help you gauge an approximate date for the piece.
THE STANDARD MARK
This shows the fineness of the metal – i.e. purity of the precious metal content in parts per 1000 in relation to the standard recognised in the UK. For example, 750 parts per 1000 by weight is equivalent to the old 18 carat gold standard. The alloy must be at least 750 parts per 1000 to be marked as such.
THE ASSAY OFFICE MARK
This symbol shows which Assay Office tested and marked the item. The Anchor is the symbol of Assay Office Birmingham, this is the most common assay office mark in the UK.
In antique and vintage jewellery, you may also see other assay office marks which are now closed. For example, many Victorian – Edwardian pieces are hallmarked for Chester but this assay office closed in 1962.
You can read the full list of historic assay offices here – https://theassayoffice.com/help-with-hallmarks/current-and-historic-assay-offices
In 1998 the date letter hallmark become optional rather than compulsory, this can now make it difficult to exactly date pre-owned or modern pieces which don’t come direct from the manufacturer.
It is important to note that each assay office can have a different set of letting for each date letter. Make sure you are searching for the correct assay office along with the correct date letter.
Here is an example of what date letters look like:
You can see all of the assay office date letters here – https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/index.html
These are traditional standard marks that can still be used today.
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION MARKS
Since 1972 the UK has been a signatory to the international convention on hallmarks. This means that UK Assay Offices can apply the common control mark which will then be recognised by all member countries in the convention. Conversely, convention hallmarks that have been applied in other member countries are recognised in the UK.
This is why you often see the fineness mark written twice, once on its own and once inside a pair of scales.
PRE 1950S EXEMPTION
Not all pieces of antique and vintage jewellery are fully hallmarked or even hallmarked at all. This is because it was not compulsory to hallmark all precious metal pieces until 1973.
Pieces which should have been hallmarked when they were made, but bear no hallmark, are now treated as exempt if they were manufactured before a specific date. Since 1999, the date has been 1920, but the amended legislation alters this date to 1950. Therefore, any pre-1950 item may now be described and sold as precious metal, if the seller can prove that it is of minimum fineness and was manufactured before 1950.
If you require any further help with your hallmarks, we recommend taking a look at these websites and also the book linked below.
If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will help wherever we can.