P is for Precious, and Perfect and Prized; Promising, Peachy, Pre-eminent and Prime. It’s going to be a good year for jewellery !
Have you ever wondered what all those letters and symbols stand for on your prized silver or gold jewellery?
Assuming they’re the right ones, they are your guarantee of quality when you purchase a piece of precious jewellery.
Compulsory elements of a hallmark
The compulsory elements of the UK hallmark include 3 stamps:
- The maker’s mark is usually made of 2 or more letters, often the initials of the maker
- The metal and fineness mark is determined by the shape of the stamp and the number contained within
- The Assay Office mark will show the item has been hallmarked in one of 4 official centres in the UK – London, (represented by the leopard’s head), Birmingham, (represented by the anchor), Edinburgh, (represented by the castle) or Sheffield (represented by the rose).
In addition to these compulsory marks many jewellers still like to have the traditional hallmark stamps included on their work – the traditional fineness symbol, and the date letter. (Until 1999 these marks were also compulsory)
The letter element that is included in our traditional UK hallmark tells you the year in which a piece of precious jewellery was made and submitted for assay. Each year this letter changes; we progress through the alphabet year on year (omitting the letter j) – with a change in font and/or the stamp shape at the end of the 23 year cycle. Thus 2014 is distinguishable from the hallmark of 1989 by the letter being in lower case as well as by the sharp modernity of the font.
Hallmarking in the UK
Since earliest times, silver and gold have always been prized – as their link with currency shows. But with this value as a trading commodity came the difficulty of knowing the purity – and consequently the true value of coins or other items purporting to be of precious metal.
In Britain, hallmarking was first introduced in 1300, as visible and recognisable proof that any item of metal bearing these symbols had been officially tested (assayed) and approved to be of a minimum purity (fineness).
Reflecting the low levels of literacy at this time, images were chosen to represent key information about the metal object, hence the pictorial nature of the traditional hallmark.
All objects of precious metal that silversmiths and goldsmiths made had to be submitted to a designated warden for ‘assay’ before being sold or traded. If they were found to have sufficient purity of precious metal they were stamped with the hallmark. Items found to fall below the standard were confiscated or destroyed.
Initially , wardens elected by the Company of Goldsmiths, London were given sole power to assay precious metals. Other cities across Great Britain were later given similar powers, of which 4 still remain.
To this day the hallmarking process remains much the same. Items made in silver, gold, platinum (and now also palladium) must be submitted for assay (testing) and officially stamped by one of the UK’s 4 assay offices if it is to be sold in the UK. And with the exception of very lightweight items, it is still a punishable offence to sell unmarked goods as silver, gold or platinum.
If you wish to know more about the hallmarking process visit the London Assay Office website here
You can read up on the 1973 Hallmarking Act here
And here you will find a bite-size summary of Hallmarking legislation for the UK, showing those aforementioned symbols and numbers!
And finally, for those interested in the symbolic, note the similarity between our letter P and the Runic symbol for Wunjo, which literally translates as ‘joy’ and represents hope, harmony and perfection. Fitting objectives for 2014 🙂