WHAT IS A HALLMARK?
Hallmarks are marks applied to items made in precious metal (that’s silver, gold, platinum & palladium). They prove the metals have been independently tested for purity, allowing you to buy with confidence.
Hallmarks have a fascinating history linked to the long tradition of silverware and jewellery manufacturing in the UK.
WHEN DID HALLMARKING BEGIN?
Hallmarking began in 1300 when a Statute of Edward I instituted the assaying (testing) and marking of precious metals. The aim of the process has remained the same: it’s to protect the customer from imitations and to maintain a level playing field between makers.
When the first Assaying Hall was opened in London makers were required to bring items to the Hall for marking – hence the term ‘hallmark’. Over the years extra marks have been added to distinguish who submitted the item for marking and to show the date of marking.
WHAT DOES A HALLMARK MEAN?
A hallmark is a collection of symbols which are stamped or laser engraved onto items made in precious metal. It’s applied to pieces made in silver, gold, platinum or palladium. A full hallmark is made up for the following symbols:
This indicates who submitted the item for hallmarking. It’s often mistakenly called a ‘maker’s mark’; this is a confusion worth avoiding since you cannot assume any one piece was submitted by the maker. For example, companies can have multiple employees making jewellery – so the jewellery will all bear the same company mark, even though pieces are made by different jewellers. My sponsor’s mark is ‘BW’ in a shield made from two circles.
ASSAY OFFICE MARK
This indicates where the item was hallmarked, not necessarily where the item was made. There are only four assay offices in the UK - Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, and Sheffield. I make my work in Cornwall but have it hallmarked in Birmingham.
DATE LETTER MARK
This tells you what year the item was marked. Date letters were introduced to the hallmark in 1478.
MILLESIMAL FINENESS MARK
This is what the hallmark is all about, and of prime concern to most shoppers. It indicates the precious metal content of the alloy expressed as parts per thousand. For example: ‘925’ indicates that an item is sterling silver. It’s 925 parts fine silver and 75 parts other metal.
TRADITIONAL FINENESS MARK
A pictorial mark to indicate the type of metal. A lion for sterling silver, Britannia for Britannia silver, a crown for gold, an orb for platinum and the head of Athena for palladium.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER MARKS?
Special commemorative marks are issued occasionally. They tend to commemorate a major event in the life of the sovereign. So far these marks have been issued in the UK:
1935 Silver Jubilee
1953 Coronation Mark
1977 Silver Jubilee
2002 Golden Jubilee
2000 Millennium Mark
2012 Diamond Jubilee
2022 Platinum Jubilee
2023 Coronation Mark
What kind of gold do you use?As standard I use SMO gold in the workshop. It’s a traceable yet commercially competitive option which I believe contributes to rises in standards in the gold mining industry while also providing a good price for customers. SMO Gold is currently sourced in Mali (at the Yanfolila Mine) and Cote D’Ivoire (at the Ity Mine). You can read more about SMO Gold here: https://singlemineorigin.com/ I am able to source and work fairtrade gold, though this option carries an extra premium. I can also work with your own heirloom metals.
What are gold 'carats'?‘Carat’ or ‘Karat’ is the term used to measure the purity of gold alloys. It refers to how much pure or fine gold is in the alloy. 24ct Gold contains 99.9% fine gold. 22ct Gold contains 91.6% fine gold. 18ct Gold contains 75% fine gold. 14ct Gold contains 58.5% fine gold. 9ct Gold contains 37.5% fine gold.
Can you supply recycled platinum?No yet. While the bullion industry has embraced supplying 100% recycled gold and silver it hasn't yet produced a reliable supply of recycled platinum.
Where do you get your gemstones?This varies hugely, depending upon the stone I’m sourcing. Without exception though I buy from diamond dealers who adhere to the Kimberley Process or are members of the Responsible Jewellery Council. The trade in coloured stones is less closely controlled so I buy from reputable dealers who, ideally, can trace stones back to their source. If you’d like a stone from a particular part of the world, or a recycled one, I’m happy to do my best to source one.
What happens to your workshop waste?The vast majority of the waste generated in jewellery workshops is recycled, because of the value of the materials involved. I save all my metal offcuts, melt then down and re-use them. Smaller waste like dust, used sandpaper, pickling fluids and polishing extract is collected up (I even clean the benches with baby wipes so that no dust escapes). Every couple of years I send this waste to a metal refiner who melts it down, purifies it and extracts the gold value for me. The precious metals then go back into the metal supply chain as recycled gold etc. If you want to learn more about refining workshop waste there’s a video of the process by my refiner, Pressman Mastermelt, here: Non-metal waste like paper/plastic is recycled through the usual channels.
Do you work with Cornish Tin?No. Tin is a metal that’s generally considered too soft for everyday jewellery. While tin jewellery is produced in some places it’s not a material that I work with. Cornwall Gold, based at Tolgus Mill near Redruth produce a gold and silver alloy which contains trace elements of Cornish tin. If you’re looking for jewellery which includes tin then they’re worth checking out.
Can you supply Cornish Gold?I'm afraid not (though if you've got some I'd love to melt it down for you!) Gold isn't currently commercially mined in Cornwall and while it can be found in alluvial deposits by gold panners it's pretty rare stuff. The new gold that I use is sourced in Africa and I also work with customers recycled metals.