Have you ever wondered what those little etches are on your jewellery? Curious to know what the numbers and symbols represent? If you’re looking to decipher the jewellery version of hieroglyphics, then you’ve come to the right place!
This blog post will help explain what a hallmark is, what they all mean and why it is essential to have hallmarks on our jewellery.
Why do we have hallmarks?
There are a few reasons why we have hallmarks, however the overriding factor is because it gives our customers consumer protection. Hallmarks also cover situations such as when a silver item is gold plated, for it will be stamped and verified as silver even though it looks like gold.
Since 1973 it has been a part of UK law for certain precious metals to be stamped with official hallmarks. The metals that this refers to are:
• Palladium (added in 2009)
The hallmark informs us that the metal has been tested and evaluated at an assay office, and certifies both the type of metal and the purity of the metal in the piece of jewellery. This way you can have full assurance that the precious metal you are buying is legitimately that element, and can be confident in the purity of that metal choice as well. These hallmarks help to prevent fraud in the UK jewellery industry through this form of authentication.
How can i see the hallmark?
Hallmarks are often stamped on jewellery in a spot which is not usually visible when worn, such as the inside of a ring or on the back of a pair of earrings. This is so the markings do not deter from the final sheen and overall look of a piece of jewellery.
An example of how hallmarks can look - credit: The Assay Office
Although hallmarks are often visible to the naked eye, the tiny details are not always clear without the aid of a magnifying glass or jewellers loupe. This is particularly helpful when examining a piece of jewellery with very delicate craftsmanship, as the hallmark can often be difficult to spot!
What do the different symbols mean?
Jewellery is tested at one of the four UK government assay offices to verify the metal and is stamped accordingly. There are 4 UK assay offices, which each have their own unique hallmark signature:
• Birmingham – An anchor
• Edinburgh – A castle
• London – A leopard head
• Sheffield – A rose
There may also be a sponsor mark or maker's mark. This will be the initials of the firm sending the item to the assay office they are registered at, and they will have their unique mark put onto their jewellery to ascertain brand security and authenticity.
The finesse mark
The standard and most recognisable mark is the fineness mark. This tells you the metal and purity of the item and is represented by a specific number within a specific shape. The shapes and numbers represent the following:
Sterling silver uses 92.5% pure silver in its composition, so it’s hallmark number is 925.
Yellow, white and rose gold jewellery is commonly referred to in carat weights:
9ct gold is hallmarked 375
14ct gold is hallmarked 585
18ct gold is hallmarked 750
Again these hallmarks follow the pattern of reflecting the purity percentage of gold in the different carat weights. This increases from 37.5% up to 75.0% as the carat number increases. These are the carat weights of gold that we sell in Burrells.
The UK standard is rigorous when it comes to this hallmark. If an item of gold is sent into the assay office under the assumption it is 18ct gold, but it tests as 74%, then it will be stamped as 14ct as it hasn't met the assay office’s firm standard.
Platinum is hallmarked 950 which also represents its purity of 95% platinum in its mix.
Often featured in our engagement rings and wedding bands, platinum is a great alternative metal choice to white gold.
trapezium or three circles
Palladium in our rings will be hallmarked either 500 or 950, to show 50% or 95% purity of the metal.
Palladium is a great option choice for mens wedding bands, due to it's strong durable nature.
Year of hallmarking
The other marks you might see is a letter inside a shape, and this indicates the year the item was hallmarked. Each year the letter is changed and is engraved inside the same shape.
Once all 25 letters have been used (every cycle they will miss out either I or J as they look so similar), they will change the shape.
There may also be other marks which will be used for special commemorative years such as the jubilee or the millennium!
Give it a go!
It can be quite amazing how much history you can learn from a piece of jewellery, just by these tiny details. Now that you are all clued up on the mysterious hallmark symbols, don’t be afraid to grab out that magnifying glass and take a closer look!
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