Now that Christmas is out of the way, the romantics amongst us will be looking forward to Valentine’s Day! If you’re thinking of buying a piece of jewellery or want to propose and need to purchase that special ring, then be aware that all that glitters is not necessarily gold. As Trading Standards know, there are rogue jewellery sellers out there.

Hallmarking is one of the earliest forms of consumer protection, having been established some 700 years ago!

Official hallmarking is the trusted way to make sure that you are getting the right purity of precious metals in your jewellery. In the UK, all gold, silver, platinum or palladium jewellery that is sold, must be hallmarked according to the Hallmarking Act 1973.

What is a hallmark?

A hallmark is a government seal that is stamped onto precious metal objects, such as jewellery or silverware. The purpose of a hallmark is to certify the metal purity of the item.  Only a government assay office can apply a hallmark. There are four of these in the UK – London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh.

The four precious metals gold, silver and platinum, and palladium, must all be hallmarked. White and yellow golds must also be classified into 9K, 14K, 18K and 22K standards, and so on. Silver, platinum and palladium must also contain a high enough percentage of the pure metal to meet UK hallmarking requirements.

Compulsory hallmarking means that the public will always have a guarantee of quality. Likewise, legitimate jewellers’ trade is protected from unlawful competitors who might try to pass lower quality jewellery off as the “real deal”. It’s impossible to tell how pure a precious metal item is by simply looking at it, only official assaying can guarantee standards.

Assay Office laboratories now test precious metal purity using the latest technologies, including x-ray and laser analysis. However, many objects are still stamped by hand, exactly as they were 700 years ago.

Only jewellery that carries an officially registered British or international hallmark can be sold in the UK. A hallmark will usually include the Assay Office town mark, together with two to four additional marks, such as a date letter, a metal standard symbol or a duty stamp.

Examples of hallmarks for precious metals.

UK Assay Office Town marks
UK Assay Office Town marks
Image showing UK Hallmarking purity numbers
UK Hallmarking purity numbers

Under the Hallmarking Act, it’s an offence to claim that a piece of jewellery is made with gold, silver, platinum or palladium, unless it’s hallmarked as such. It’s also an offence to remove, alter, deface or counterfeit a hallmark.

Councillor Asaf Afzal, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Public Protection commented:

“Given the rising price of gold and other precious metals, it is important that consumers are buying legitimate items that have been hallmarked correctly and they are not left with poor quality jewellery that may have cost a lot of money. Our Trading Standards team work with traders in Derby to make sure that they are selling legitimate and high quality jewellery to residents. If you are concerned about something you have purchased, report it to us via the Citizens advice consumer helpline.”

So, now you know the history of the hallmark, before you make that Valentines purchase, check out these top jewellery shopping tips from Trading Standards.