Understanding Gold Hallmarks March 11, 2021 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Everyone knows about the importance of great stone quality when purchasing a jewelry piece. However, buyers often neglect the quality of precious metals. The kind of precious metal may significantly affect the total value of your jewelry piece, however, it isn’t the only important factor. If you are planning on wearing a jewelry piece every day or if you regularly apply pressure to it, a high-quality precious metal may save it from visual deterioration over time. 

Gold is rightfully one of the most favored precious metals. However, gold has quality gradations, just like silver or platinum. Understanding how to determine quality is crucial before purchasing a gold jewelry piece. Read on to find out everything you need to know about gold hallmarks – what they are used for, what they describe, and which hallmarks you should look out for. 

What Are Gold Hallmarks? 

Gold Ring with Hallmark on Back

Gold hallmarks were created in the 13th century to show the fineness and caratage of gold. Hallmarks are typically located on a discreet part of a jewelry piece, such as the inner part of rings. Each hallmark includes a mark of an Assay Office. Later, hallmarks of specific manufacturers were added. The English term “hallmark” originated from the London Goldsmith’s Hall, where King Edward III gave a permit to operate the business to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. 

Countries have deferred laws related to the gold trade, including hallmarks. Selling items below 1g described as gold is illegal in the United Kingdom. Each gold item needs to have a hallmark of an assaying office. The US law doesn’t define hallmarks as obligatory. Retailers can state the information about gold quality on a sign beside the item or even verbally. 

In 1972, a group of 21 European nations developed the Vienna Convention on the Control of the Fineness and the Hallmarking of Precious Metal Objects. The convention created a Common Control Mark, a balance scale symbol with a precious metal’s purity grade number in the middle. Therefore, if you are buying a gold item in one of the member countries, it needs to have a hallmark. 

What Types of Gold Hallmarks Exist? 

Hallmark for Gold Ring

As each country determines which hallmarks are compulsory, the markings of gold items will vary. However, gold hallmarks constitute several main categories. For example, in the UK, compulsory hallmarks include the Maker’s mark, the Assay Office mark, and the Fineness mark. The manufacturer, date, and type of jewelry hallmarks are optional. In the US, you may come across the designer, tally, retailer, and duty marks. Sometimes, jewelry pieces have patent and inventory numbers engraved on them. 

The fineness mark determines the purity of gold. Sometimes fineness of gold is marked as 375, 585, 750, 916, or 999, stating the number of gold parts per thousand. You may recognize the fineness gradation in carats – the commonly used standards are 9ct, 14ct, 18ct, and 22ct. 

The maker’s mark shows who is responsible for the jewelry piece. Despite common belief, the maker’s mark doesn’t necessarily have to state who the creator is, but rather who sent an item to the Assay Office. In some countries, a manufacturer, retailer, or importer of a piece has to put their mark if they send it for evaluation. 

The Assay Office mark shows which Assay Office is responsible for the item’s evaluation. Vintage items may have hallmarks of ceased Assay Offices. 

How Is Gold Purity Measured? 

Gold Hallmark on Italian Necklace

Knowledge of the gold purity measuring system helps to understand which hallmark to pursue. The total weight of a jewelry piece is measured in grams, while the content of gold in it is evaluated in carats, or, in some countries, karats. Therefore, carats determine an item’s fineness. 

The highest purity possible is 24 carats, which contains 99.9% gold. However, jewelry items rarely contain 24ct gold, as it is too soft. Manufacturers use alloys to increase the durability of gold and to change its color. For example, to create white gold, producers use palladium or silver alloys. 18ct gold items contains 75% pure gold, 14ct – 58.5%, and 9ct items only contain 37.5% gold. 

Which Gold Purity to Choose? 

Gold Hallmarks on Victorian Era Ring

The more, the better law doesn’t always work with gold fineness. Jewelers tend not to use pure gold due to its softness, using 14ct or 18ct gold instead. The 9ct can be most commonly found in the UK. 

The first factor that distinguishes gold vale is its purity. The more gold that the item contains, the higher its price. However, if you aren’t going to resell your jewelry piece, you may want to consider other factors. 

The higher the gold purity, the more yellow the gold appears. Therefore, 14ct gold items have a more distinguishable hue than 18ct items. If you prefer white or rose gold, consider downgrading the fineness to get a brighter shade. 

Another feature that purchasers often overlook is durability. As 14ct gold contains a higher percentage of alloy metals, it is more durable and may be better for constant wear. Jewelry items from 14ct gold are less exposed to physical damage such as pressure and scratching. 

Last but not least, gold items are hypoallergenic. However, the risks don’t equal zero – the higher the percentage of alloy metals, the higher the chance of getting a skin irritation. For this reason, people suffering from copper, silver, or nickel allergies most often choose 18ct or 14ct gold. 

Is the Maker’s Mark Important? 

The maker’s mark is not compulsory in some parts of the world. Furthermore, the number of existing maker’s marks is impressive, and understanding them isn’t as easy as the purity marks. 

The same jewelry manufacturer may have different maker’s marks throughout the years, and some masters add a serial number beside the mark. Maker’s marks can often be deceiving, however, they are also a great tool for evaluating jewelry pieces, especially when it comes to vintage items. 

Gold Hallmarks Stamps on Yellow Gold Buccellati Bracelet

Some maker’s marks correspond to a specific designer or jeweler. The value of vintage items often depends on the creator and the date of manufacturing. Therefore, if you are considering purchasing an antique jewelry piece, evaluating it is a good idea. A professional will likely be able to tell which era an item belongs to and whether the item is rare. However, the lack of a maker’s mark doesn’t mean that a jewelry piece is of low value. If an item is over 100 years old, the hallmark may be simply erased. 

The Assay Office evaluates an item following legal standards. An Assay Office mark can determine the item’s origin country and manufacturing date. For example, currently, there are four Assay Offices in the UK – in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, and Sheffield. For example, a jewelry piece featuring a Glasgow Assay Office mark is likely made before 1964, as previously there were six more Assay Offices. 

What to Be Aware Of? 

Gold Gemstone Bracelet with Hallmark Stamps on Back

Many antique jewelry pieces carry rare hallmarks that may be unfamiliar to the majority of purchasers. For example, some items from the Victorian era have a sovereign’s head engraving – a duty mark that is related to a precious metal tax imposed in the late 18th century. Therefore, most often there’s no reason to be suspicious of additional hallmarks that you don’t recognize. 

Some retailers engrave their logo on jewelry pieces. If a jewelry piece only has the retailers’ mark but lacks the purity mark from an Assay office, it is likely not an indication of quality, but rather a design element. 

Some retailers nowadays advertise 1ct gold. Most countries have set a legal threshold, at 9ct, for an item to be considered gold. The amount of gold in a 1ct item is so insignificant, that it lacks all the features that make gold so valuable. Therefore, an advertisement of 1ct gold is a deceiving and often illegal trick. 

The Value of Gold Hallmarks 

Hopefully, you now know everything you need to know about gold hallmarks. With this knowledge, purchasing jewelry items becomes less risky.

Furthermore, in the case of vintage jewelry, awareness of different hallmark types may help you to find a truly rare piece. 

If you are unsure about the meaning of hallmarks on your jewelry item, don’t hesitate to contact a professional for an evaluation.