Should I look for a hallmark when I buy a piece of jewellery?
YES! Hallmarking is the best customer guarantee you can get, and here's how it came about!
Hallmarking actually goes back to 400AD when marks were added to silver objects in Byzantine, however it wasn't until 1238 when the UK caught up! Henry III made the earliest attempt at regulating the standard of gold and silver by passing an order commanding the mayor of the City of London to choose six of the more discreet goldsmith of the City to oversee silversmithing. King Edward I put a law in place in 1300 that required the expert jewellers of the time or ‘guardians of the craft’ to go from shop to shop and assay the silver and gold to ensure they met the proper standards and then any verified items would be marked with a stamp of the head of a leopard.
By 1854, a hallmark was made up of a maker's mark and a date stamp. Both of these had been introduced to ensure that you could trace the person who was ‘cheating the system’ and using less silver or gold percentrage in their makes…a sort of assurance of quality and customer guarantee.
By 1973 there was a Hallmarking Act came in to effect and the hallmarks required for gold, silver, and platinum were established. Every piece over a certain weight (and it is different for each metal) had to have the stamp of the maker (known as the sponsor), the assay office, or location where the item was tested, and the composition of the metal.
As a maker you can choose your Assay office, I chose Birmingham as the stamp is an anchor and that reflects our family history and my maker's mark is CH. In 1999 and 2000 there was a new mark which could be used to commemorate the milennium and could only be used in these years, so as you can appreciate, the Queen's Platinum Jubilee is an important stamp in hallmarking and can only be used in 2022.
Part of the responsibility of hallmarking is that you display your Dealer's Notice whenever you are selling jewellery, it is also on my website. I also choose where I want the hallmark to appear by marking the metal with a sharpie pen.
So when you buy handmade jewellery, look for the hallmark and ask about the hallmark. It is only a legal requirement for silver jewellery weighing more than 7.78g, but it is legal for gold jewellery over 1g. It is your guarantee, it proves what you are buying is indeed sterling silver or gold.