Hallmarks are symbols used to indicate a precious metals quality or fineness. Hallmarks were introduced back in 1300 and were initiated by a Statue of Edward I, which became necessary as precious metals are not used in their purest form but have alloys (other metals) added to them.
The aim of the system was the same back then as it is now, to protect people against deception and traders against unfair competition.
Gold, Silver, Platinum and Palladium all need to be hallmarked as they are alloyed with other metals such as copper and iron. The alloys are needed to make it easier for jewellers to mold the precious metals into different forms.
During the 1300 members of the Company of Goldsmiths in London went out to different workshops in the City to assay items of gold and silver. Silver was marked with a symbol of a leopard’s head and eventually gold started being marked in the same way.
THE HALLMARKING ACT OF 1973
This incorporated a number of separate legislations which had developed over time and combined them under one efficient act which clearly defined the hallmarking requirements in the UK. Items created with precious metals since 1973 need to be hallmarked by law (unless they fall beneath the registered exception weight) . If stores and traders breach this law it can lead to extreme consequences such as fines of up to £5000 for each unmarked item or a maximum of two years in prison. The Act has been amended in a few ways since 1973, one of these amendments includes the recent inclusion of articles of Palladium weighing over 1 gram needing to be hallmarked. These hallmarks are crucial to valuing an item.
See below for the current UK hallmarks: The sponsor’s mark, fineness mark and assay office mark.