Gold quality stamps and hallmarks have been used for centuries to affirmatively identify the type of gold used in the given jewellery as well as who tested or confirmed the quality of gold involved as well. Eventually, these markings where then modified to identify a given goldsmith involved in the manufacturing as a branding stamp. Why have these marking continued into modern times with all the paperwork available and ability to digitally record data by the millions of records with computers? The reason is simple. How easy can the average person tell one gold jewellery item from another? Some think that the colour of the gold makes a difference that can be used as a metric but in reality most people just examining by eyesight alone cannot tell the difference between a 14 karat gold ring and a 24 karat gold ring shaped the same. And that reason by itself has been more than enough to maintain the hallmark and stamp system that has existed for so many years.
An 800-Year Old Standards Protection
The use of gold hallmarks is definitely not new. In fact, the very first usage of gold jewellery hallmarks dates back to the 1200s. Hallmarking was invented to both identify the purity of the gold involved in a jewellery item as well as to identify who rated the piece and whether they could be trusted as a tester. Both were invaluable in a time when gold was regularly used for premium jewellery, coins and value protection. During the period of Edward I in England and Louis IX in France craft guilds were the dominant skilled-manufacturing force in Europe, and they were not without their local politics. To insure that what was produced by the guilds was indeed the advertised quality, state government assayers came into being as an objective regulator of sorts over guild products made with precious metals. Soon after, the goldsmith’s mark was also added as a known brand. The symbol-based system was so successful, it became a required prerequisite for any gold merchants who were going to sell a gold product in the regulated community.
A century later, Edward III was recorded awarding the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths a royal charter for their work and skill as well as brand protection, a form of early monopoly of the jewellery market. It was from this royal charter and the Goldsmiths’ existence in Goldsmiths’ Hall that the term “hallmark” originated.
Modern Times, Old Practices
Fast forward to modern times, and gold items sold in the United Kingdom are regularly hallmarked, the only exception being products that individually weigh under 1 gram. The U.K.’s model has not been universal, however. Different countries have different hallmarking systems, and so the stamps on the jewellery involved vary depending where there were created geographically.
The U.K. products are stamped from one of four assay locations. London is the most famous but the three others are in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield. Across the pond, however, the U.S. system is far looser and allows documentation separate from the jewellery itself, i.e. paperwork. Where a U.S. jewellery piece is marked, it must have both the quality mark and trademark stamp next to each other. China and India have no required system, and hallmark stamping in both countries is entirely a voluntary act. No surprise, the variation leads to a lot of doubt and extra testing on products from these countries. In Italy, on the other hand, gold jewellery markings include a stamp for the given manufacturer’s name as well as a grade of quality. Common gold names include Arezzo and Valenza, for example. Amazingly, hallmark stamping in Switzerland is entirely voluntary unless the gold is in the form of a metal watch case. The above said, Europe came together in 1972 and tried to standardize hallmarking via a convention agreement better known today as the Vienna System. It has been renamed the Common Control Mark or CCM, but the standards were originally spelled out by the Vienna Convention on the Control of the Fineness and the Hallmarking of Precious Metal Objects.
The Commonness of Marked Gold Jewellery
It is rare today to find gold jewellery sold in major markets without some kind of stamp, etching or hallmark for indication of quality and make. While these markings might be very hard for the average person to see or make out, experts know exactly what to look for right away. That said, there is still a lot of a variation in the stamps used, which still creates confusion in typing of a piece, even for a jewellery buyer. Fortunately, the large majority of items fall in line with the standards most manufacturers follow.
The first big stamp to look for is the purity grade. This one matters the most to a gold buyer Auckland expert. While it can be different forms, the stamp indicates the type of gold used in the jewellery, ranging from 10 karat to 24 karat gold. The marking will either be an obscure 3-digit numeric set, such as 585, or it could be an obvious tell such as 14k for 14 karat. The 3-digit reference ties in with a common standards chart where number sets dictate the percentage of gold involved. 999, for example, is the purist amount, essentially 24 karat gold with a 99.9999% purity. On the other hand, 750 is indicative of a 75% purity level, better known to most as 18 karat gold. The 3-digit stamp sequence generally gets identified as follows:
- 999.9 or 999 – 24 karat gold
- 990 – 23 karats
- 916, 917 – 22 karat gold
- 833 – 20 karats
- 750 – 18 karats
- 625 – 15 karat gold
- 585, 583, 575 – 14 karats
- 417 – 10 karat gold (typically the lowest one will find in U.S. markets)
- 375 – 9 karats
- 333 – 8 karat gold (typically the lowest one will find in German markets)
Many times jewellery made with precious metals like gold will also have additional markings to help specify the content. This is common where the jewellery item is made with a combination of metals versus a high content value of just gold. For instance, “GF” will be used for gold filled and “GP” will signify gold-plated manufacturing. An immediate rejection from a jewellery buyer Auckland expert may be due to spotting these symbols right away. There may also be the addition of a single-digit number on rings to help identify quickly the ring size instead of having to measure on a ring-stick.
The Process of Hallmarking
In the old days the markings put into a jewellery item were applied with a steel punch. In most cases the jewellery metal was softer, making this application a fairly easy if sensitive process to get the punch applied without damaging the item itself. Today, however, metal punching is extremely rare. Instead, laser etching is used, providing a far more accurate mark and avoiding the risk of impact damage to the jewellery involved.
The modern U.K. hallmark will be made up of four types of marks. These are now, by standard, required, except for the date of manufacturer which ended in 1998. The four marks include:
The manufacturer’s mark
The standard of fineness, otherwise known as purity
The assay office involved that evaluated the item
The date of testing and marking
Other countries vary in how they follow this process or deviate from it.
For consumer buyers, it’s important to both understand how marks are used in their home country as well as how they apply to the jewellery they may come to own or are considering purchasing. These marks can be extremely helpful in protecting a consumer’s investment in the purchase as well as avoiding other-wise lower quality items that don’t match the price being asked for from a seller. Can the marks be duplicated and faked? It’s possible, but anyone selling a fraudulent jewellery item with fake marks and getting caught could end up facing serious prison time for doing so. One item alone can easily put a defendant in the target scope of a major grand theft felony charge given the pricing of fine jewellery these days, making a conviction turn into multiple years of incarceration.
Older gold jewellery will have an assortment of marks that have been applied over the years that no longer apply, but they do tell a story that makes the gold jewellery item unique and special. These items are often handed down from generation to generation, or the become available as antique jewellery.
One of the most notable marks was the Duty mark. This was the proof that a duty or tax had been officially paid for the jewellery product, and it is represented by the head of the sovereign at the time of manufacturer and finish. These symbols lasted in the U.K. from approximately 1784 until Spring 1890. Great Britain needed money in a variety of forms and jewellery was no exception to the taxman. The duty was paid on all gold and silver jewellery that went through an official assay testing and stamping. There were variations as well. Dublin started a bit later with the stamp in 1807 and Glasgow didn’t show up until 1819. Some historian types might be tempted to compare the sovereign’s mark with the reigning British monarch at the time, but they would be disappointed as many times the mark was out of sync with who was the actual royalty.
Another variation of the Duty mark was the Draw Back mark, and it is extremely rare to find today. This stamp was indicative of a Duty returned to the manufacturer for an item that had been previously taxed but was now for some reason exempted or returned. The stamp signified that the tax was refunded, and the Draw Back mark was in play and used from 1784 until only mid 1785. After that date it no longer appeared.
A third unique marking type on precious metal jewellery products was the Import mark. This signified from 1842 until 1998 that gold jewellery item was fabricated outside the United Kingdom and was brought in, duty was paid, and an Import mark was applied. After 1999 the Import mark was removed, but it lasted for years, clearly designating which gold jewellery was non-British versus home-manufactured items. The mark was applied to all major precious metals, with gold and silver products making up the high majority of items stamped.
Odds and Ends
Multiple marks exist in gold jewellery and other forms of fine wear for special events. These are typically tied to special events or once-in-a-lifetime celebrations. Many of the commonwealth countries applied these stamps in recognition of specific events and years of royalty tenure. The most common one seen in gold jewellery include:
The 1935 Silver Jubilee in 1935
The 1953 Coronation in 1953
The 1977 Silver Jubilee in 1977
The 2002 Golden Jubilee
The 2012 Diamond Jubilee
Learning Hallmark Stamps Protects Your Gold Sale
Telling one gold hallmark from another might be a bit confusing at first – after all, there are a number of different hallmarks that might appear on your gold jewellery as noted above, and each of them can be unique. However, it is important to keep in mind that all the tools needed to know your jewellery are in your hands with a bit of learning and education. We’ve made a lot of it easier to reference above. While GoldSmart definitely operates as a business, we want our customers who sell spare gold jewellery to us to be very confident in their accepted offer and educated on how the price was arrived at. We will never try to take advantage of our customers due to a lack of awareness. Simply familiarize yourself with the typical gold hallmarks prior to taking a given piece for sale to a gold buyer. Doing so will go a long ways towards making sure that you feel comfortable with the money that you’re offered!
As always, we’re here to help. Feel free to get in touch at any point!
Until next time,