Have you ever noticed the tiny stamps of symbols and/or letters on your jewellery and wondered what they are or what they are used for? Sometimes you may even see several stamps that include the maker’s mark, finesse (such as 925 for sterling silver) and the hallmark. The hallmark is different to the others in that only an assay office can place it there. Hallmarking also signals that the precious metals have been tested and meet a required level of purity.
When Did Jewellery Hallmarking Begin?
Jewellery hallmarking can be traced back hundreds of years to around 350 AD where silver bars have been found to be marked under the authority of Emperor Augustinian. Hallmarks in Ireland and the UK started much later after the first attempts at setting standards for gold and silver took place in Brittan, in 1238 AD, under the reign of Henry III. Then, just over 60 years later, in the year 1300, King Edward I introduced a statue where it stated:
“An Act of Parliament, paffed in the 28th year of the reign of King Edward the Firft, whereby it appeared, that no goldsmith is to make any manner of veffel, or other thing, of gold or silver, except it be of good and true allay; and that no manner of veffel of silver is to depart out of the hands of the workers, until it be affayed by the Wardens of the Craft, and marked with the Leopards Head; which wardens are likewife thereby empowered to go from shop to shop, among the goldsmiths to affay their gold.” ref: Journal of the House of Commons, Volume 23.
In other words, every goldsmith must get his precious metals hallmarked with the leopard’s head before it can be sold or passed on. The UK were not the first to “invent” hallmarking as we know it, but rather it was in France, under the reign of King Louis, when Etienne Boileau authored the Goldsmiths Statue of 1260.
Why Is Hallmarking Important?
Hallmarking is an official stamp of quality. Unfortunately rouge goldsmiths and jewellers exist who have tried to pass off fake precious metals (or ones with a lower quality) as being real. Hallmarking is undertaken by an independent body and required by law. It can basically be viewed as Europe’s first attempt at consumer protection because it ensures that the precious metal you’re buying is not fake and of a certain finesse. It also protects legitimate jewellers’ trade from unlawful competitors who may try and pass off low-quality metals as high-quality ones. It is a criminal offence for anyone to alter, remove, deface or counterfeit an original hallmark.
Are There Any Exemptions?
That depends. Some assay offices give exemptions by weight whereas others give none. For example, the UK assay offices don’t require hallmarking on gold if it less than 1 gram – whereas the Irish assay office requires hallmarking regardless of weight.
Hallmarking is important as it guarantees the finesse of the item you’re buying as well as it being real. Visit our workshop in Dublin City Centre should you want to find out more about hallmarking, or to see the difference between a hallmark and a maker’s mark.