Hallmarks are commonly misunderstood; this is understandable as it is a complex topic. This short article will explain what a hallmark is and how UK and European law impacts hallmarks giving you the ability to understand exactly what a hallmark means when you are purchasing precious metals.
Hallmarks are the symbols embedded on precious metals which guarantee the purity of the metal used; hallmarks can be applied to gold, silver and palladium. In the UK the hallmarking act of 1973 requires that all items with precious metals being sold have a hallmark from an independent office to guarantee the purity of the item.
There are four independent UK offices permitted to apply a UK hallmark, Birmingham assay office, Edinburgh assay office, London assay office and the Sheffield assay office which all work independently of each other. The UK is also impacted by European law which does permit EU hallmarks to be recognised across the European Union including the UK.
Legislation around hallmarking is somewhat complicated; the law is mostly comprised of the hallmarking act of 1973. The hallmarking act of 1973 has seen several amendments which the British hallmarking council works with the secretary of state on such amendments. In 1972 the convention of the control of precious metals or Vienna convention was signed and came into force in 1975, Britain ratified it in 1976, 91 nations are now members of this convention. The convention means that marks are authorised as long as they belong to a member nation and if they are applied by an approved assay office. The Vienna convention facilitates international trade of precious metals ensuring consumer protection.
In the UK the hallmark consists of the maker’s mark which indicates who made the piece, the assay office (described above) and the standard of fineness as defined by the Vienna convention. The fineness of silver is donated in parts per thousand, sterling silver is 925 parts silver in every 1000 of the silver allot. Most hallmarks will also consist of a date mark which is not compulsory but has been use since 1478. The full lists of standards of fineness are:
- 9ct gold 375
- 14ct gold 585
- 18ct gold 750
- 22ct gold 916
- 99% pure gold 990
- 9% pure gold 999
- 800 grade silver 800
- sterling silver 925
- Britannia Silver 958
- 9% pure silver 999
- 85% Platinum 850
- 90% Platinum 900
- 95% (UK standard) Platinum 950
- 9% pure Platinum 999
In the UK hallmarks might also be marked with a convention hallmark as per the Vienna convention called the common convention mark of CCM, but due to changes in the French law in 2004 the UK will no longer accept French hallmarks.
When purchasing an item that contains precious metals you should now be able to review the hallmarks and establish if the item is as described and meets UK and European standards of purity.