How To Read Hallmarks
Have you ever picked up a ring or pendant in an antique shop and wished you knew a bit more about it? With a little prior knowledge, anyone can date and locate their piece of jewellery using hallmarks.
Gold, silver, and platinum are the most popular precious metals used in jewellery. In the UK, silver hallmarks are very common, and these stamps on the reverse side of the jewellery have been used for the last 700 years at least. These hallmarks help to distinguish the level of purity in the metal, regulating the price of jewellery and other items made from precious metals.
The government has issued guidance on hallmarking that will be of use to anyone embarking on learning about hallmark jewellery but we’re here to make it more understandable.
What is a hallmark?
A hallmark is made of 3 compulsory symbols: the sponsor or maker’s mark, the metal and fineness (purity) mark, and the assay office mark.
The maker’s mark indicates the maker or sponsor of the piece of jewellery – consisting of at least two letters within a surround. This makes the piece of jewellery completely traceable, as no two marks are the same.
Metal and fineness (purity) mark
The metal and purity mark indicates the content of precious metal in the jewellery. The number corresponds to the fineness of the piece indicated in parts per thousand – the higher the number, the better the quality. These modern fineness symbols came into use after the year 2000. Before this, traditional fineness symbols were commonly in use.
These modern fineness symbols came into use after the year 2000. Before this, traditional fineness symbols were commonly in use. Many antique or vintage pieces of jewellery will contain these symbols instead of the modern alternative.
Assay Office Mark
The assay office mark indicates the particular place where the jewellery was tested and marked. In the UK, there are four assay offices: in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield.
In many cases, the marks for these assay offices haven’t changed in hundreds of years. Edinburgh’s mark had been a three-turreted castle with a thistle from 1759 to 1975 before changing, and Sheffield was represented by a crown until 1974.
Dating vintage and antique jewellery
Silver jewellery below 7.78 grams in weight (excluding diamonds, stones and pearls) is exempt from being hallmarked, which is why smaller pieces like rings or pendants may not carry a stamp. In these cases, it is possible to get the item tested to determine the silver levels in its make-up. Any pre-1950 piece of jewellery can be sold as precious metal without a hallmark if the seller can prove that it is of a minimum fineness and was manufactured before 1950.
In some cases, items made from precious metals may also contain other symbols alongside the hallmark. These symbols will help to determine the origin and date of each piece of metalwork.
Until 1999, it was required to include a date letter as part of the hallmark stamp. The date letter changes once a year on January 1st, and corresponds to a date. For example, Q = 2015, R = 2016, S = 2017. From here, you can work out how old the piece will be. Each new cycle of alphabets is stamped in a different font with a different shaped surround, so it is easier to date.
The hallmarks on jewellery are invaluable in helping you to figure out where a piece of antique jewellery has come from, and how long it’s been around. Browse our range of antique jewellery today and you’ll see the hallmarks on many of our pieces, demonstrating their authenticity and heritage.