Hallmarking was originally introduced in 1300 by a Statute of Edward I and is one of the earliest forms of consumer protection.
Hallmarking is necessary because when jewellery and silverware are manufactured, precious metals are not used in their pure form, as they are too soft. Gold, Silver, and Platinum are always alloyed with copper or other metals to create an alloy that is more suitable to the requirements of the jeweller. Such an alloy needs to be strong, workable, yet still attractive.
Owing to the high value of gold, platinum and silver, there are significant profits to be gained by reducing the precious metal content of an alloy at the manufacturing stage. Base metal articles plated with a thin coat of gold or silver look the same as articles made wholly of precious metal, at least until the plating wears, and even an expert cannot determine the quality or standard of precious metal items by eye or touch alone.
With volume manufacturing, enormous profits can be made from even a small reduction in the amount of precious metal used. Without compulsory independent testing there is huge potential for deception and fraud.
The UK Hallmarking system has offered valuable protection for over 700 years. Compulsory Hallmarking protects all parties; the public who receive a guarantee of quality, the manufacturer who is given quality control and protection from dishonest competitors at a very low cost, and the retailer who avoids the near impossible task of checking standards on all his goods.
Precious metals used in jewellery and giftware manufacture are always used as an alloy. The precious metal must be mixed with other elements to give it the necessary properties such as flexibility to produce a desirable and durable article.
Even the most experienced jeweller or chemist cannot tell how much precious metal there is in an alloy, just by looking at it, nor whether a thick plating of gold is covering a base metal interior. Due to the high price of precious metals, this offers a huge opportunity for fraud and there has therefore always been a need to protect the public, and honest suppliers, from those who are tempted to cheat them.
Therefore all items being sold as gold, silver or platinum in the UK must be hallmarked to confirm that they meet the legal standard. This cannot be done by the manufacturer or importer; goods must be submitted to one of the four UK Assay Offices, or an Assay Office belonging to the International Convention.
The only items which are exempt are those which are under the legal weight threshold, 1 gram for gold, 0.5 grams for platinum and 7.78 grams for silver.
When an item is received at an Assay office it goes through three processes:
• SAMPLING to remove a tiny piece of the precious metal for testing
• ASSAYING to determine whether the precious metal content meets the required standard
• HALLMARKING to apply the appropriate mark to the article