Your Guarantee of Purity
Platinum, Gold, and Silver are the only three metals that can be hallmarked in the UK. These hallmarks indicate the metal, its percentage purity and where and when it was hallmarked.
The British Hallmark
In 1238, Henry III commanded the Mayor of London to appoint six faithful and discreet goldsmiths who would be responsible for ensuring standards for gold and silver articles. Later, Edward I passed a statute requiring not only that all silver articles were to be of sterling standard, the same as coinage, but also that they were to be assayed by the Wardens of the Goldsmiths' Guild and marked with a leopard's head.
In 1327 the Goldsmiths' Guild received its first Royal Charter from Edward III which confirmed its responsibility for assaying and marking. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, as the guild was later called, is still responsible for the London Assay Office.
Under another statute in 1363, makers were ordered to stamp their own distinguishing marks alongside the leopard's head. Originally, the maker's mark took the form of a device, such as a cross or a fish; later, it became the practice to use the initials of the worker or firm.
In December 1478, the company appointed a salaried Assayer and compelled makers to bring their completed silverwares to Goldsmiths' Hall to be assayed and marked before they were offered for sale. This practice has continued to the present day and is the origin of the word 'hallmark'.
In the same year, an additional mark - the date letter - was introduced by the Company. This consisted of a letter of the alphabet, which was changed annually. When one alphabet cycle was completed, the style of the letter or its surrounding shield was altered.
Hallmarking continued during succeeding centuries at Goldsmiths' Hall and at the Assay Offices which later opened in other towns, such as Newcastle, Exeter and York, where there were working goldsmiths and silversmiths. In Scotland, there were goldsmiths working at a date as early as in England. The earliest records pertain to the goldsmiths of Edinburgh. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1773 establishing Assay Offices in Birmingham and Sheffield.
Several of the provincial offices have now closed - Newcastle, Exeter and York in the 19th century, Chester in 1962 and Glasgow in 1964. Kings Lynn had its own Assay Office from 1300 and the last known article being Hallmarked was in 1640. The Dublin Assay Office, whose origins date from the early 17th century, continues to operate in Ireland.
Current UK Hallmarks
Sponsor's Mark (formerly known as the Maker's mark) This shows the person or company responsible for sending the article to the Assay Office. The sponsor may be the manufacturer, retailer, importer, etc.
There are now 4 British Assay Offices:
The separate Assay Office marks for imported goods were discontinued in 1999.
Assay Offices that have now closed included Chester (closed 1962), Exeter (1882), Glasgow (1964), Newcastle (1883), Norwich (1701) and York (1856). There has never been an Assay Office in Wales.
Standard Mark (Metal Fineness/Purity)
These show the standard of fineness - the purity of the precious metal, in parts per thousand.
Current Gold Standards
Current Platinum Standards
Optional Marks Traditional Standard Marks
Silver 925 (Sterling)
Silver 958 (Britannia)
The above contains information kindly provided by the British Hallmarking Council.
More Information about Hallmarking
In England, offices for the assay and hallmarking of gold and silver date back to the year 1300 when a Statute of Edward I instituted our hallmarking System. The initial purpose of the system was the same as it is today; the protection of the public against fraud and of the trader against unfair competition. It was, in fact, one of the earliest forms of consumer protection.
Unless specifically exempted articles made of precious metals may not be sold as such in the UK unless they bear hallmarks.
Gold and silver have through the centuries been alloyed with other metals, because in their pure state they are too soft to make jewellery, tableware etc.
However, it is impossible to tell by eye alone how much of the cheaper base metals have been used in the hardening process. Even gold plating a few microns thick looks like solid gold when new. The high price of precious metals has also tempted the dishonest to use substandard alloys, thus increasing their profits. Without hallmarking this fraud is very difficult to detect and those who suffer from it are not only the final purchasers of the goods but also the honest manufacturers and retailers competing against the less scrupulous.
The need for protection against such fraud was recognised in England seven centuries ago. A statute of 1300 laid down the standards for gold and silver, and introduced a system of independent testing and hallmarking, carried out before the articles were put on sale.
If there was no such testing, once substandard articles have reached the shops, it would be too late to catch more than a small proportion of them. The British independent hallmarking system for gold, silver and (since 1975) platinum protects us all.