It is a legal requirement in the UK for jewellers to have their work in precious metals, over a certain weight, hallmarked. For Sterling Silver this applies to any piece over the weight of 7.78g. I use the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London to get my pieces stamped with full traditional hallmarks. Goldsmiths is the oldest Assay Office in the UK and dates back to the 14th century when hallmarking began. You can read more on the fascinating history of hallmarking on the London Assay Office’s website.
The purpose of a hallmark is not only to show the purity of the precious metal used but also to guarantee the provenance of the piece by telling us where it was hallmarked, what it is made of, when it was created, and by who. If you are looking at jewellery pieces do ask about the hallmarks as they are an integral part of the making process.
A traditional British hallmark consists of the following 5 elements:
This is a unique mark that represents the brand or individual who created the piece and sent it in for hallmarking. It’s made up of the initials of that person or company inside a shape. When a jeweller creates a punch with the Assay Office, it represents their individual mark and joins a register of makers that stretches back for centuries into the history of British metalsmithing. My Maker’s Mark is ‘VC’ which stands for my maiden name of Victoria Chapman. Having chosen to take my husbands name of Phillips when I married I wanted to continue my own family name on my work, particularly poignant as I am one of 3 daughters and am aware that my father’s family name is not being continued down this branch of the family.
Traditional Fineness Mark
This is an optional part of the hallmark and it tells you which precious metal your piece is made of – sterling silver, gold, palladium or platinum (as pictured, left to right)
Millesimal Fineness Mark
This mark tells you what quality, or purity, the precious metal is in a numerical format that represents parts per thousand. Jewellery is seldom made of pure precious metal, a mixture of metals (alloy) is needed to produce durability and desired colour. As my work is in Sterling Silver you will see the number 925 in the hallmark.
Assay Office Mark
This is the mark that tells you which British Assay Office has tested and hallmarked the piece. London’s Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office is represented by the image of a leopard’s head (the town mark for London).
Date Letter Mark
The date letter represents the year the piece was created and hallmarked. A list of recent date letters detailed in the image below represents (from left to right): 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
The traditional fineness mark and the date mark are no longer compulsory hallmarks but I get full traditional hallmarks on my pieces. I think the traditional marks are very important, particularly the date stamp, so that the Antiques Road Shows of the future can glean full information from your heirlooms!
In this example of my work from left to right you can see my makers mark ‘VC’, the Lion representing Sterling Silver, 925 representing the fineness of Sterling Silver, the Leopard Head of London and finally the date stamp of ‘V’ which is 2020