The Importance of Hallmarks on Jewelry

It can often be hard to establish the age and origin of many jewelry items. Many pieces of jewelry contain marks that may give clues about these matters.


While many types of marks are referred to as ‘hallmarks’, the term has, or had, a specific meaning. A hallmark is a quality mark, indicating the composition of the metal used in a piece, and originally would have referred only to quality marks on precious metal. The term originated with the Goldsmiths’ Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, in London. Chartered in 1327, the company was charged with assuring the proper quality of items made of gold and silver. Responsibility for platinum was assigned in 1975, and, just recently, responsibility for palladium items.

In the 1400s, metalsmiths actually took their items to the hall for assaying the metal quality, and the marking of the piece. The system that developed, and which was widely used for centuries, resulted in marking which would give the metal quality, year of production, and location of the assay office involved. The date stamp is associated with a year long period that starts in May of one year. A new date stamp is introduced the following May. Additional marks may include duty marks, and a mark identifying the actual maker.

Many countries have their own system, some of which involve national or regional assay offices, as in the British system. These marks can often help identify where and when the piece was manufactured. Other countries leave it to the manufacturer to accurately mark the item. In the U.S., standards for marking gold and silver items were established in the early 20th century, although many manufacturers had previously marked their wares. These standards were updated in 1976, with less deviation from the marked fineness allowed. Gold items made before this update could vary as much as a ½ karat from the marked standard, a variance of 20 parts per thousand. Today, any manufacturer that chooses to place a quality mark on their item must also place a mark that identifies them, as well.

In the absence of a quality mark, accurate testing of the metals is needed to establish the quality of the metals used. Remember, all that glitters is not gold!

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