Hallmark and where you live

Dear Orchid Members,

I am a resident of the USA and we have our own national standards
for showing metal quality and manufacturer responsibility in a
produced item, whether mass produced or a single custom jewelry
item. In some countries, items must go to a certified government
approved assay office for marking.

Will you comment on the various procedures used in your country? In
the USA, some would say the standard is too lax, allowing the
individual to mark the item and if intended by the unconscionable,
to falsify the mark. I see this possibility but have not seen the
abuse on any scale for concern. I have trust in the system in use in
my home country as used by manufacturers. The basic rule here comes
down to the hallmark: If you karat stamp and item, you must place
your hallmark there to accept responsibility as to the truthfulness
of the statement.

Are the standards in your country a pain to the jeweler? Do you
prefer the methods used in your homeland? What MUST you do to
legally mark your jewelry?

Any comments will be appreciated.

Hi Tom,

I am speaking from the UK. I expect you already know that we have
the oldest hallmarking system in the world. Any item of silver over 7
grams must be hallmarked by the Assay Office. This means that items
must be sent or taken to the office where they are tested for
quality. The appropriate hallmarks are then applied. Any item not
hallmarked cannot be sold as silver or gold.

The Uk system is better that the US system in that hallmarks cannot
be applied by the maker themselves, so there is very little chance of
fraud. The standards for silver are 850, 925, 958, 990. The
standards for gold are 375, 585, 750, 916, 990,999 which is nearly
pure gold. I would be interested in other people’s comments. You can
find more info about the UK system at:



I wrote about mandantory hallmarking before.


In South Africa, there are no hallmarking laws that I know of. We
buy our stamps (925, 9ct etc) and stamp our items ourselves. Simple
word of mouth is enough in a small place to keep people honest. If
you cheat one person, no-one will do bussiness with you.


We here in Ireland have a similar hallmarking system to that of the
UK, the main difference being that there is no minimum weight, ALL
items of jewellery must be hallmarked by the assay office, the cost
are the same for a 20g ring or a 0.5g sleeper earring, but you need a
hallmark on each earring!! You declare the fineness prior to the
assay office testing the item and if the fineness comes up short, say
849/1000 platinum instead of 850/1000, the assay office will destroy
the item and send you back the bits…

Its a good system, not a great system, it annoys me to see every
dress shop and bargain store selling imported silver with just a 925
stamp on it, no one seems to police this, yet the upfront jeweller
has to have the extra expense of getting a proper hallmark, because
his customers and the law demand it.

P.S. The assay office in Ireland is a private business, but it has
been around so long, since 1649, that its offices are still in
Dublin Castle.

Neil KilBane,

Norway lets you stamp your own, but if you stamp for quality, you
are also supposed to have a hallmark stamp which is centrally


Lizzieq wrote “Will you comment on the various (hallmarking)
procedures used in your country?”

In the UK all precious metal goods above certain weights (1 gram for
gold, 7.78 grams for silver and 0.5 grams for platinum ) MUST by law,
be sent to one of the five Assay Offices for testing and marking.
Smaller items can be sent there also if you wish but that is not
mandatory. Before you can submit items to an assay office, you must
have a ‘registered sponsor’s mark’ - your own makers mark, which has
to be sent to the assay office in the form of the actual punches you
are going to use and, at the assay office, these are stamped into
large copper ‘record sheets’ which the assay office keeps for all
time, your details are entered into the registers and the punches
themselves are stamped with the official assay office crest and a
serial number. Each separate part of an object is tested as is any
solder used and each part receives at least the caratage hallmark.
The main parts also get the full assay office/carat/date letter
mark. In most cases the assay done is still by the old method of
taking scrapings from the metal, weighing them, wrapping them in lead
foil and heating them in a special crucible which absorbs the lead
and the alloying elements in the metal to leave a bead of the
precious metal and then weighing this bead. Comparing the two weights
gives the caratage. For delicate or very small items, they are now
also using an X-ray diffraction machine which gives an accurate
estimation of the metal proportions but this has a disadvantage in
that it only looks at the surface of the metal and so could be fooled
unless used by a very skilled and canny operative. Because of the
physical scraping done to get the metal sample it is usual to submit
work in an unfinished form so that all the parts and the solder to be
used are sent before the piece is finally assembled (this
particularly applies to bigger pieces of plate such as teapots
etc.), also the striking of the assay punches into the metal will, of
course, leave blemishes on plate etc. which will need to be polished
out. A recent development is the use of lasers to apply the hallmark
to delicate objects but this has a disadvantage in that it is only a
surface marking and could easily be removed unlike punch marking
which physically changes the structure of the metal under the mark
such that it could be forensically recreated even if the mark had
been filed out… Where a batch of similar items are submitted for
assay such as a batch of chains etc., random samples will be taken
and tested - maybe 3 or 4 complete chains out of 100 and the whole
batch marked on the basis of this assay.

The advantages of this method over that practiced in the US is that
it is centrally controlled and entirely out of the hands of the
jewellery maker and is legally required before any item can be sold
as precious metal (unhallmarked silver can only be sold as ‘white
metal’ for example). The registered sponsors mark allows the maker to
be traced at any time (for hundreds of years either way) and the date
letter is useful in determining the time of manufacture - i.e.
spotting modern reproductions of antique pieces etc. The
disadvantage is that it introduces a delay in the manufacturing
process and additional costs in fees and postage. Whilst some abuses
of the system can take place these are usually confined to
unscrupulous people sawing the hallmark out of a low value piece and
soldering it into a high value piece and can be easily spotted by,
for instance, simply breathing onto the area around the hallmark to
reveal the solder line.

The US system, as I see it, is wide open to abuse and relies totally
on the honesty of the individual. Without actually testing the metal
you start with are you sure the karatage is exactly as the supplier
states or have they sent you the wrong metal? How can you rely on the
makers mark to verify the truth of the marked karatage - it is very
easy to have a spurious marking punch made which wouldn’t be
traceable back to you.

Give me the UK system any time, it is 99.99% reliable!

Best Wishes,

Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK