As my posting re the former Jewel Factory seems to have generated questions as to what the marks on jewellery mean, I thought it would be helpful if I said something about English hallmarks etc.

The hallmarking of gold and silver is probably the oldest surviving example of customer protection in the world.  It was introduced by Act of Parliament over 700 years ago in 1300, to ensure buyers were getting what they had paid for.

The recognised standards used for Gold have changed several times over the years, and the system has been updated at times, but the purpose of the system remains unaltered.

Since 1932 there have been four recognised standards for new gold items: 9; 14; 18; and 22 carat.

If the marks used are in a line, as on the shank of a ring, they will appear as follows

  • Maker’s Mark: This was introduced in 1363 so that every item being hallmarked could be attributed to a specific maker, thus making it easy to identify anyone trying to pass off substandard items. These marks have to be registered with the assay office before they can be used.
  • Standard Marks: There are two of these. Before 1975 these were, for 22ct a crown followed by 22, for 18ct a crown followed by 18, for 14ct a 14 followed by .585 and for 9ct a 9 followed by .375.  After 1975 the 22 and 18 were replaced by 916 and 750 and the 14 and 9 were replaced by crowns.
  • Assay Office Mark: This will tell you at which office the item was hallmarked, with each office using a different symbol. Birmingham uses an Anchor, London a Leopards Head, Sheffield a Tudor Rose and so on.
  • Date Letter: This was introduced in 1478 to identify in which year the item was assayed, the case and font telling you the year. (n.b. before 1975 you will also need to know the assay office mark as before that each office used a different font etc.)
  • Other Marks: You will often see items simply marked 9ct, 14ct etc. This means they have not been sent to be assayed and so do not have official hallmarks as their quality has not been verified. It is usually safe to assume that the mark is correct if there is also a maker’s mark as no maker would risk a large fine and loss of reputation by passing off inferior quality items as real. You may also see “plat” meaning Platinum, “sil set” meaning the setting is made of silver.

There could be any number of other makes that only mean something to the manufacturers or retailer.  They are often the pattern or stock number used by them to identify the item.

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