Hallmarks: What They Are and Why You Should Care

Author Sarah Johansson
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Date Jan 12, 2015

Hallmarks: What They Are and Why You Should CareYou may have been looking at your gold or silver jewelry at some point and seen small markings in the metal. Maybe you could make out small letters or numbers or maybe they just looked like random scribbles.

Whatever the case, in the world of precious metals, these inscriptions are called hallmarks. They describe the piece and can include metal purity, maker, and assay office location (where the metal was officially tested).

Hallmarks guarantee that the piece has the metal content that the maker or manufacturer claims it has.

Why Do We Need Hallmarks?

Because precious metals, in their purest form, are often too soft to work with, wear or use, manufacturers can mix them with an alloy. This is why you are able to buy 10K, 14k, 18k, and 24k gold. The difference is how much actual gold is in the piece: 24k is pure gold and the percentage decreases as the karats decrease. Hallmarks tell you what percentage a piece has because all types look and feel the same, even to jewelers.

Hallmarks help with identification when jewelry is bought and sold and with consumer protection. The consumer can see what the metal purity is and, often, who tested and guarantees it. When designers and companies put their unique hallmark on a piece they are taking responsibility for whatever metal purity is stamped on it. Especially for popular designers and companies, maker’s marks also help indicate that a piece is authentic. Many professionals can tell if a Tiffany & Company hallmark, for example, is faked.

What Do Hallmarks Look Like?

Gold, silver, platinum and palladium often feature hallmarks that are different from one another in order to make it easy to identify the type of metal. Gold, for example, is the only metal which uses karats. Therefore, a piece with 14K, 14kt or other similar marking, would be gold. This type of hallmark makes it obvious what type of gold it is, but it is not the only hallmark option. Many manufacturers, especially in Europe, will simply give the parts per thousand. In this case, 585 or .585 indicates 14K gold where 58.5% of the metal is gold or 750 indicates 18K gold.

Silver, platinum, and palladium purities are usually presented in the same parts-per-thousand format. Common marks include 925 for sterling silver, 950 for palladium and 850, 900, or 950 for platinum. The type of metal is often shown through an abbreviation like pall, pd, plat, or pt and sometimes sterling silver will only be indicated by the word sterling.

Maker’s marks are unique to whatever company, designer, or manufacturer created the piece. Often they are text or a logo, but sometimes they are a uniquely shaped mark with no words at all. Tiffany & Co., David Yurman, Ritani, even Long’s have their own mark to put on their jewelry. This method makes recognizing pieces easier because no two maker’s marks look the same; however, not all marks are popular, so they are not always easily identified.

In some places, like the United Kingdom where hallmarks are a legal requirement, manufacturers need to get their pieces tested by an assay office. These do not exist in the United States for jewelry, but outside of the country they are used as another way to protect consumers. This component of a hallmark is usually shown through an image or symbol stamped on the piece. For example, the UK has four assay offices, each with their own seal, such as an anchor for Birmingham or a castle for Edinburgh.

Hallmarks can vary drastically from country to country because there are no universal guidelines. Therefore, maker’s marks or assay office marks can be difficult to track down and identify and each country can have different requirements for what needs to be included. Regardless of where the piece came from or how many hallmarks are on it, buying jewelry that contains some sort of hallmarking gives you an added guarantee.

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