The most common misconception people make regarding jewellery hallmarking in the UK is that a '925' stamp for Sterling silver or a '375' or '750' stamp for 9ct and 18ct gold respectively, is a hallmark. They are not they're simply stamps, usually added by a foreign manufacturer and while they have meaning in some countries, they have absolutely no meaning under British law.
In my experience, the vast majority of the time, these stamps are correct - i.e. the metal is what the supplier claims it to be, however I've certainly come across 925 stamps applied to silver plated copper and a metal mix containing illegal amounts of nickel.
This is why, in the UK, we have strict hallmarking laws regarding jewellery. To legally sell jewellery that you're claiming is made of Sterling silver, fine silver or gold it has to have a full hallmark, applied by a British Government assay office (or an approved EU office) after metal testing. Certain items are exempt from hallmarking. This includes jewellery componants - i.e. beads and findings as they're not considered 'finished goods'.
|A hallmark in the UK comprises of a minimum of three stamps. The first is the fineness stamp - the number indicating the quality of metal, such as 925 for Sterling silver or 375 for 9 carat gold. The second is the mark of the assay office which applied the hallmark. There are only four such offices in the UK - London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield. I am registered with Birmingham assay office which has an anchor symbol as it's identification mark. The third mark is the makers or sponsor mark - usually a 2 or 3 character stamp. Mine is the letters 'PS' - PS stands for Princess Stores which is my company name.
There are exceptions to the law. Silver jewellery (Sterling or fine silver) does not need to be hallmarked if the silver content of the item weighs less than 7.8 grams. For earrings this is per earring. The same applies for gold with the weight threshhold of 1 gram (and platinum is 0.5 grams). Silver jewellery under the weight limit is frequently not hallmarked - doing so is usually not economically sound, and the decision to hallmark or not is at the discretion of the importer or maker. If a company is reputable and uses reputable suppliers there shouldn't be any problems. If the seller has imported a bulk load of items from abroad without being aware of the law, then there could well be.
Selling items illegally is very common in this country, not because people mean to flout the law but because they aren't aware of it, and the rise of the global commerce arena has made it very easy for most people to import goods and sell them on illegally.
A reputable jeweller will be able to explain hallmarking law to you, explain where their items are hallmarked, or if they're not, why they are exempt. By law we have to display a hallmarking card supplied by our assay office at our place of business.
An example hallmark card is shown below. Next time you pass a high street jeweller's shop watch out for it - they'll have it on display somewhere.
More information on hallmarking can be found at The Assay Office website.
© Stephie Hall 2010