Markings & hallmarks
Markings regroup both hallmarks and engravings and are dealt with differently worldwide, according to the local legislation.
The most common markings used are:
the assay marks, indicate the nature of the metal(s) used
- the maker's mark or importer mark
- the assay office mark (in the UK)
- the identification number (or SKU)
and any other type of engraving such as a date to remember or the groom and bride's names
What's a (hall)mark ?
A hallmark is a tiny marking on the metal part of a piece aiming to give several and various information, it is better read with a loupe. Many marks may be applied on a single piece each alluing to a different information.
Purists used the verb "insculp" a mark on the metal. It may be impressed with a punch and a ball-peen hammer or laser-engraved. The latter is more and more used lately. If the mark is punched, we use the tool called a punch, a straight or bent steel rod whose extremity show the embossed sign to be impressed. The punch is placed and held on the metal and impressed with a ball-peen hammer.
Several types of marks exist, some compulsory, some optionnal:
maker's or sponsor's mark
estate jewellery mark
assay office mark (UK)
date letter mark (UK)
commemorative mark (on royal jewels or jewels with royal traditions)
fairtrade metal hallmark
In the UK
All items being sold as gold, silver, platinum or palladium must be hallmarked to confirm that they meet the legal standard.
Hallmarking rules have evolved over the years.
In the USA
Hallmarking is not a legal requirement in the USA. However American brands who wants traceability or who care to sell their jewellery abroad would have them follow the hallmarking rules of the targeted markets.
Here is the official chart of French metal hallmarks.
French reglementation regarding hallmarks is very strict and the pieces sold in France, even if they were manufactured abroad, must conform to legal standard markings, certified by assay office hallmarks. We're speaking of metal fineness within the alloy measured by thousandth, which also writes like this ‰
Precious metals degree of fineness unfold like this:
gold : 999, 916, 750, 585 and 375 thousandth ;
silver : 999, 925 and 800 thousandth ;
platinum : 999, 950, 900 and 850 thousandth.
We may also add that :
A jewel containing 999‰ of gold is a 24 carat jewel.
A jewel containing 750‰ of gold is an 18 carat jewel.
A jewel containing 585‰ of gold is a 14 carat jewel.
A jewel containing 375‰ of gold is a 9 carat jewel.
The nature of metal in jewellery in France:
Gold is indicated by an eagle's head.
Silver is indicated by the head of Minerva.
Platinum is indicated by a dog's head.
Jewellery manufactured abroad and imported in France will have to be specifically hallmarked.
Pieces weighing less than 3 gr are exempt of standard marking (maker's mark is still compulsory).
Very often, jewellers confirm the metal fineness by adding another marking: for example "750" for 18 karat gold. The aim is to comfort and reassure the buyer who is not necessarily in the know of marking rules.
In France the maker's mark is unique to each manufacturing workshop and, just like the import hallmark, be registered at the French assay office.
However markings' requirements and hallmarks meaning and information differ from one country to another.
Markings are important at all levels of the manufactured items' industry: from ring to objets, including watches.
They are the signs we resort to in order to:
assess a piece's timeline
identify a brand
identify a manufacturer
confirm a piece's authenticity and an its origin
In France, maker's mark and assay mark are compulsory. Assay mark is compulsory in the UK, however they use the assay office mark instead of a maker's mark and they correspond to various UK areas.
Hallmarks around the world
Each country has various regulations which are more or less strict. Oftentimes in order to identify the metal type, one may read the fineness of the metal engraved as such for gold for instance: 750, 585, 750, 916 ou 999. Sometimes numbered engraving feature in the middle of a scale or engraved as such. Sometimes it is merely hand-engraved "18K" at the back of a piece.
Some marks may look like a maker's mark but they very well may be an assay office mark from the area of the country in which the mark was stamped. This is why it is important to verify and look for every mark of a piece. If one wants to decipher markings with no prior knowledge about it, they may need dedicated books and websites in order to accomplish the task.