Hallmarks give every Roberts & Co. piece a unique provenance. A timeless record and guide for future generations. Marking authenticity and quality, detailing who made it, what from, when and where. Even though many of our silver pieces do not require hallmarking we have almost all of them fully hallmarked.
Almost all of the precious metal items we manufacture are hallmarked. Hallmarked at the Goldsmiths company assay office in the city of London. In a tradition dating back to the fifteenth century. When London craftsmen were first required to take their artefacts to Goldsmiths' Hall for assaying and marking.
Hallmarking dates back to 1300 and represents the oldest form of consumer protection in the United Kingdom.It is impossible to tell the precious metal content of a metal by touch, feel or colour. Hallmarking is the application of a series of marks to precious metals to indicate the precious metal content.
History of Hallmarks
Hallmarking dates back to the 1300s. When King Edward I of England passed a law requiring any item made of silver, which was offered for sale, to be at least of equal quality as that of the coin of the realm. Sterling Silver formed much British Silver currency and coins until 1920 . The wardens of The Goldsmiths’ Company were tasked with visiting workshops in the City of London to assay test silver articles. If these articles were found to be below standard they were originally destroyed and the metal forfeited to the King. If they passed, each article received the King’s mark of authentication - the mark of a leopard’s head.
By 1478, there were several hundred workshops and merchants manufacturing silver articles in the City of London. As not possible for the wardens to visit them all. So the merchants were ordered to bring their items to Goldsmiths’ Hall for testing and marking. And so a permanent Assay Office became established in the building. This is the origin of the term hallmark – struck with the King’s mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
Compulsory? Yes but no?
There are many public misconceptions about what requires hallmarking and what constitutes a hallmark. A legal requirement exists to hallmark many items made and described as precious metal. But many items of jewellery are also out side of the scope of the law. Because not precious metal or described such. Or falls within the scope of the law but exempted.
UK Hallmarking Act (1973)
The Hallmarking act is a 43 page document detailing the provisions of the UK laws regarding hallmarking. So these are simply our personal opinions and brief interpretations of it, not legal advice. Only precious metals can become hallmarked. And something made and described made of gold, silver, platinum or palladium may require hallmarking. However there are exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, the biggest one being that silver below 7.78 grams is exempt. Silver items below 7.78 grams still need to be silver if described as such but they do not require hallmarking.
So most jewellery sold in the UK probably falls outside the scope. Therefore not hallmarked and doesn't legally need to be. 1. Pieces not precious metal, costume or plated and described as such. or 2. Articles fall below the weight that makes it compulsory.
In our experience most members of the public have heard of hallmarking but they have no idea what they look like. Silver jewellery weighing below 7.78 grams is frequently only marked 925 or .925 by the manufacturers. Which is sterling's millesmal fineness & because items without any marks are questioned but people actually accept such marks as a form of hallmark. Which they are certainly not. And this misconception is possibly compounded by the Assay offices. Who for commercial reasons can over simplify the compulsory aspect of hallmarking. So when the public buy items legally fit for sale simply stamped 925 they wrongly assume it to be a hallmark.
Benefit or Burden?
Hallmarking takes time and for manufacturers an added expense. However we fully support hallmarking and believe that it still has an important role. Protecting both the UK jewellery trade and consumers worldwide. We have almost everything we make hallmarked even though much of it does not legally require it. There simply needs to be clearer eduction and resources available so the public worldwide can research & recognise what exactly requires hallmarking and what one looks like, primarily so they can appreciate the provenance of a full British hallmark over mere marks of fineness such as 925.
What is a Hallmark?
Firstly before hallmarking the precious metal content of the item will checked. So a hallmark will only become applied to pieces with correct purity. We have pieces in our store which make features of traditionally oversized full London hallmarks (pictured below). Hallmarks commonly look much smaller. Also more commonly applied hidden inside items like rings.
They have varied over the years and there are also international marks. In the UK they currently consist of three compulsory punch marks -
1. The unique maker or manufacturer mark, called the sponsors mark (on tie clip 1st from left R&Co)
2. The metal purity mark. Which expresses the millesimal fineness of the metal. (on tie clip 3rd from left 925 which is a sterling silver mark. Each allowable precious metal alloy also has a different mark)
3. The Assay Office mark (4th from left on tie clip. A lions head represents the Goldsmiths Company Assay Office in London. Other offices each use different symbols)
and two optional marks
4. The date letter mark (5th from from left on tie clip)
5. A traditional fineness mark (2nd from left on tie clip, a lion passant represents sterling silver, but gold has a crown & platinum an orb)
If you would like further information about hallmarks and the hallmarking process. Or the history of testing and hallmarking precious metals here in London. You can find further information on The Goldsmith's Company Assay office website.