What is a hallmark? the history behind hallmarking precious metal and Why we do it

So what does it mean when a piece of jewellery is ‘hallmarked?’

You may have seen that Phoenix Alchemy is registered with an assay office and can offer hallmarking on all our jewellery made from precious metals. But what exactly is hallmarking?
I thought I’d add a little post just explaining for those who may not know what a hallmark is, why you hallmark jewellery and why it is important for you as a customer.

What is a hallmark and why hallmark?

A hallmark consists of a series of small marks that are stamped onto an item. It’s not only used on jewellery, but on any article made from the precious metals palladium, platinum, gold and silver.
A hallmark can only be applied by regulated assay offices, which are independent of the trade. It is this independence that ensures the integrity of hallmarking.

Since it is impossible to tell by sight or touch alone what purity a metal is, testing is the only sure way to be 100% certain of what metal an article is made of. When an item is sent to an assay office, it gets weighed, sampled and tested before hallmarking takes place. A hallmark acts as a guarantee that an item conforms to all legal standards of purity.

By law all platinum articles weighing over 0.5 gram, gold and palladium over 1 gram and silver over 7.78 grams must be hallmarked, it is illegal to describe or sell them as being made partly or wholly from precious metals otherwise. Anything below these weights does not need to be hallmarked and is free to be sold and described in the appropriate manner, although many makers may choose to have their high value/quality underweight items hallmarked as well.

Although there was once many more, there are actually only four assay that are currently legally able to hallmark precious metals. They are Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Sheffield.

I am registered with the London assay office which is the United Kingdom’s oldest assay office and has provided hallmarking services since The Goldsmiths’ Company was founded in the 1300s.

hallmark logo
Phoenix Alchemy’s hallmark

Hallmarks don’t only act as a guarantee of the metal purity though. They can also provide an interesting record of who made an item and when, enabling you to date a piece and find out bit more about the person who made it.

What does a hallmark look like?

A complete hallmark consists of three compulsory punch marks – a sponsor’s mark (also known as a maker’s or manufacturer’s name), a metal fineness (purity) mark and an Assay Office mark.
There is also the option of having two extra marks applied which are the date stamp and traditional finesse mark. At Phoenix Alchemy I tend to hallmark my jewellery with the three compulsory marks as well as the date stamp.

My necklace is stamped with ‘925’, that means it’s hallmarked sterling silver right?!

You will often see ‘925’ stamped on to jewellery described as sterling silver. Makers (myself included!) will sometimes stamp underweight pieces with ‘925’ just as an extra identifier that pieces are sterling. Although ‘925’ is the purity mark for sterling silver, this by itself is not a full hallmark and shouldn’t be described as such. Many people assume buying an item stamped with this guarantees it is silver, but in reality anyone can apply the 925 stamp to any metal they want, it won’t have been tested by the assay office and as such has no guarantee that it is in fact sterling silver at all.

With the recent rise of people purchasing cheap jewellery from sellers like Wish and Alibaba, there’s been a lot of disappointed buyers surprised when their genuine ‘925’ stamped piece turns out to be an itchy, plated, cheap bit of junk.

Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous sellers out there taking advantage of buyers trust and genuine sellers using the ‘925’ mark honestly. The only way to be certain your jewellery is as described is to buy jewellery hallmarked by one of the four UK assay offices.

Hopefully that’s made all this hallmarking malarkey a little less confusing! I’m so proud at Phoenix Alchemy to be part of the goldsmith’s company and to be able to have my jewellery hallmarked at the London assay office. I hope you understand why now too!

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