Hallmarking law plays an important role in the regulation of the jewellery industry. With so much money involved, criminality is drawn toward it like a moth to fire. Without the presence of an independent stamp of quality and authenticity, the market would become a free for all.
In this guide, we’ll examine what hallmarking law is in more detail. We’ll discuss what precious metals it covers and delve deeper into the reasons behind its existence. We’ll also look at the rules surrounding jewellery and when it needs to be hallmarked.
But first, let’s take a look at a definition.
What Is Hallmarking Law?
The law surrounding the sale of jewellery in the UK is governed by the Hallmarking Act 1973. This Act creates a system which guarantees the purity of precious metals. This, in turn, ensures that consumers receive what they’ve bought and reduces the opportunity for fraudsters to operate.
The Hallmarking Act covers a range of precious metals, such as platinum, palladium, silver and gold. When legally selling these metals over certain weights (which we’ll look at below), they must bear a stamp of quality, which is called a hallmark.
Is Hallmarking Law Necessary?
To give you an idea as to whether hallmarking law is necessary, let’s take a look at some statistics. In 2019, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute revealed that each year, around 150,000 items of fake gold jewellery are listed for sale.
If regulations weren’t in place, this figure will undoubtedly be higher which goes to show just how important it is.
For consumers, it’s therefore always recommended that purchases be made through reputable sources that are in full compliance with the law.
How Does Hallmarking Work?
For the hallmarking system to work effectively, it’s important for the stamp of quality to come from an independent organisation. It’s also important for the consumer to be able to verify that what they’ve purchased is real and authentic and has been independently tested to confirm its purity and fineness.
In the UK, hallmarks are awarded by an Assay Office. The hallmark that they produce consists of three vital marks, which are all compulsory to have:
- First is an Assay Office Mark. There are four Assay Offices throughout the UK (London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield) and this part of the hallmark will identify where the jewellery was tested.
- Following the Assay Office Mark is the Maker or Sponsor’s Mark. This is the organisation or individual who sends the precious metal to be hallmarked. It could be a manufacturer, a retailer or even an importer.
- Last of all is a Fineness Mark. This will confirm the precious metal content, recorded in parts per thousand, and the type of metal.
Having this stamp of approval in place breathes confidence into the market. People can make purchases comfortable in the knowledge that what they’re getting is legitimate. This is doubly the case for online dealers and buyers who have to trust what they see in images.
When Did Hallmarking Start?
In the UK, the origins of hallmarking can be traced all the way back to the 1300s. Back then, Kind Edward I introduced a law that required all silver to be tested for purity. If an item passed the test, it was stamped by the head of a leopard—one of the earliest forms of hallmarking in the UK.
However, it wasn’t until 1973 with the introduction of the Hallmarking Act that the UK aligned itself with the rest of the world.
Which Precious Metals Does Hallmarking Law Apply To?
Only a select group of precious metals are covered by hallmarking law. However, the presence of a metal in an item must be over a certain weight before it has to be hallmarked.
Here’s a breakdown of the metals covered by the legislation and the weights that apply to hallmarking:
- Platinum – over 0.5 gram
- Palladium – over 1 gram
- Silver – over 7.78 grams
- Gold – over 1 gram
So if an item contained gold weighing 1.2 grams, a hallmark would be required. However, if it contained 0.8 grams of gold but with the addition of a stone weighed a total of 3 grams, you wouldn’t need a hallmark; the gold content is below the weight threshold.
Failing to do obtain a hallmark is an offence, regardless of whether that item of jewellery was sold in a shop or online.
Other types of jewellery are sold that don’t contain the precious metals listed above, and in those cases, hallmarking law may not apply.
However, it’s important to check to see if other laws may apply. For example, nickel is covered by REACH. Read more about it on the website of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Why Is It Important To Verify Precious Metals?
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, the existence of hallmarking law is necessary for helping create a stable and reliable market.
The risk of fraudulent and fake items being listed for sale is an ever-present threat. Without a means of consumers identifying what’s real and what isn’t, there’s a real danger of it becoming like the wild west. That, in turn, would see the market fall, with consumers too wary to make a purchase.
Despite its centuries-old origins, hallmarking plays an even greater role in the modern world with e-commerce. In a global market, trust is everything.
Someone in Australia can’t easily travel to the UK to confirm the legitimacy of what they’re purchasing. But if they know about and have seen the hallmark, they don’t need to. They can buy it with confidence. This helps build greater trust with brands and markets, which is only good for business.
So overall, hallmarking law helps protect and strengthen the jewel industry in the UK.
Learn More About Hallmarking Law
If you’d like to learn more about hallmarking law in the UK we’ve added links for further reading below. You can also find some links to our other guides which you may find useful.
- A guide to selling jewellery in the UK
- Criminal Injury Claims And Jewellery Shop Robberies
- Health And Safety Law In A Jewellery Workshop
If you have any queries or questions, please contact us.