Peace of Mind is Precious
When it comes to buying jewellery there’s a sense that we’re buying something timeless, something significant and, in many cases, something that we hope to one day pass on to those we love. For a piece of jewellery to make such a journey, to inspire joy across time, quality is just as important as design, and this is where the hallmarking of metals becomes so important.
To understand why and how hallmarking is the key to quality jewellery, I want to take a little time to explain what hallmarking is, its history, and why it’s important to know where your metals come from. Then, to ensure that you never find yourself caught out with inferior products, I want to give you some advice about what to look out for when buying precious metals, so you can avoid those sellers looking to take advantage of you in a crowded retail environment.
What a Hallmark Is
Hallmarking, above all else, is a way to identify the quality of the metals used in your jewellery, expressed as a number that is stamped, or ‘marked’, somewhere on the item itself. The number indicates exactly what degree of purity a given precious metal is made of. When working with silver, the number ‘925’ indicates that the metal used is Sterling Silver, or identical quality, and thus metal of a very high quality. In fact, this level of purity has a long pedigree in the UK, stretching back almost seven hundred years to the reign of Edward I in the fourteenth century.
Over the centuries, this process has developed into one in which purity is guaranteed and offers the certainty that what you are buying is exactly what you believe it
to be. Modern hallmarking not only tells you the quality of the metal, but also the assay office which verified the quality (a leopard for the London Assay Office, or the Castle for Edinburgh, for example), but also the unique maker’s mark that determines exactly who made the piece itself. If you can find a piece of jewellery with all these marks, you can be assured of exactly what it is you’re buying.
But is it enough to find any old stamps on a piece of jewellery and assume that guarantees quality? Unfortunately, not, but there are some steps you can take to ensure you do not find yourself a victim of unscrupulous sellers.
What a Hallmark Isn’t
As is so often the case when buying quality, there are bad actors who look to make money from exploiting people who may not know what they need to look for. When buying jewellery, working directly with a creator ensures that you know exactly what you’re getting at every stage of the process, and this doesn’t just apply to brand new items either- I’ll cover this in an upcoming post when we look at finding ways to love and repurpose old jewellery.
The simple fact is that anybody can buy a ‘925’ stamp and mark their metals to give the impression that you are buying quality, or stamp metal as silver when it is anything but. The key to determining authenticity is to look for all the marks discussed above, but particularly the assay office and quality marks, as they really are key to everything. It’s illegal to sell
gold and silver over certain weights without a hallmark, and taking a moment to check could stop you being a victim of sharp operators.
Getting to Know the Symbols
The example below is taken from the London Assay Office (where my unique 'makers mark' is registered and held) and offers a great example of what to look for. You can see, from left to right, the maker’s mark, an example of traditional quality marks, the ‘millesimal’ quality mark, the assay office that verified the metal and, finally, the date letter symbol giving you the year of production.
Depending on the age of the jewellery, you may not find an example of each of the above, but the presence of these marks ensures that you are informed about precisely what it is that you’re buying. Luckily, it’s easy today to find out the meaning of these marks, all you need is a jeweller’s loupe and the internet, but knowing to check in the first place is key.
The best way to guarantee quality in new pieces is to go directly to the maker, but an understanding of the hallmarking process means you know exactly what to look for. For more information and a guide to all the different types of marks and their meanings, see the link below: