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Gold hallmarks

Gold hallmarks are an essential part of the market, ensuring buyers have an independent, accurate indicator of how much gold can be found in an item. Understanding gold hallmarks can appear daunting at first glance, but they are generally quite simple, with the key information easily worked out.

Please note that bullion products - coins and bars - do not require gold hallmarks. Many are stamped with their purity by the mint or refiner, but a true gold hallmark will be found on jewellery and other decorative items in the majority of cases.

Hallmarks on a gold ring.

Pure precious metals are malleable and difficult to work with. Manufacturers of gold products – such as jewellery – generally mix precious metals with other harder metals as a way around these difficulties. The result is known as a gold alloy, however, without knowing exactly how much pure precious metal an item contains it is difficult to arrive at its true value.

A gold hallmark gives true and impartial proof of the composition of the item's metal content, enabling an accurate valuation to be made. A hallmark is the sign of an independent body or authority, separate from the maker, that guarantees the precious metal content of an object. In this sense, hallmarks - which were first used on silver around AD 350 - could be the earliest ever form of consumer protection.

Gold hallmarks UK

The UK has a long history of using hallmarks. As early as 1300, an English law prescribed that all silver items must be at least 92.5% pure or 'Sterling Silver' and gold 80% or 19.2 carat – which at the time was called a 'touch of Paris’. Under this Hallmarking Act, items were tested by ‘Guardians of the Craft’ and marked with a leopard-head stamp. Later, ‘The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ (meeting in Goldsmiths Hall, London) took over the work of testing and marking, which gave rise to the term hallmark.

The work of analysing and proving precious metals expanded from The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths to many regional Assay Offices. The remaining and current offices are in London, Sheffield, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Other UK assay offices that have since closed were in:

  • Norwich - closed in 1702
  • York - closed in 1857
  • Exeter - closed in 1883
  • Newcastle - closed in 1884
  • Dublin - closed in 1922
  • Chester - closed in 1962
  • Glasgow - closed in 1964

When looking at an item you believe is gold, a hallmark is the easiest way to find out the purity of it, and would legally be required. When selling an item, this is all you really need when determining the value, the purity and the weight. You should find a hallmark in the form of a number to denote the purity. The likely gold purity hallmark numbers you should see would be as follows:

  • 999 - Pure, 24 carat gold
  • 916 - 22 carat gold
  • 750 - 18 carat gold
  • 585 - 14 carat gold
  • 375 - 9 carat gold
There could be other figures potentially, especially if produced outside of the UK, but these will be the key numbers to look out for if you want to sell gold jewellery for example.

Foreign gold hallmarks

In 1972, the UK became a signatory of the International Convention of Hallmarks. Signatories of the convention recognise each other’s hallmarks. The Conference introduced the Common Control Mark, CCM. For gold, the CCM symbol is the balance scales with the fineness, or parts per thousand, superimposed on two intersecting circles.

The common control mark, a hallmark depicting purity

Under a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1999, the UK must recognise hallmarks of other European nations if they display a sponsor or maker’s mark, plus a mark of fineness or purity and the mark of an assay office. The foreign hallmarks of Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland all fulfil these criteria.

Belgium, France, Italy, Greece and Luxembourg do not fulfil the criteria and, under recommendations from the British Hallmarking Council, and items from these countries should be assayed in the UK or in another signatory nation. Articles made outside of the European Union and signatory nations of the 1972 Convention should also be hallmarked in the UK or another signatory nation.

With the exception of coins, it is illegal in the UK to sell or describe any manufactured products, weighing more than 1g of gold or palladium, 7.78g if silver or 0.5g for platinum, as being made with those metals unless it has been hallmarked with the compulsory marks.

To hallmark gold, a maker must submit the item for testing to one of the approved assay offices. Assuming it correctly passes the test, they will then apply the stamp to legally hallmark it as gold.

LBMA-approved bars

Unlike manufactured products such as jewellery, precious metal bars are regarded as a raw material and therefore do not require hallmarks. In place of hallmarks, precious metal bars are London Bullion Market Association approved and have a registered stamp - from an LBMA registered refinery/bullion producer - and the fineness, metal type, and weight marked upon it. This effectively gives the same level of assurance as a hallmarked item.

Investment gold

In the UK, investment gold is classed by HM Revenue & Customs as bars over 995 thousandths purity and gold coins over 900 thousandths. Consequently, hallmarks are of little importance to gold investment buyers but will determine the prices for sellers of scrap metals. BullionByPost provide an easy way to sell scrap at competitive margins based on the market price. We do not buy gold watches, gold dust or grain, plated gold, rolled gold, filled gold or non-hallmarked gold.

Examples of Gold Hallmarks.

Gold Hallmarks Identification

Historically, UK hallmarks consist of five separate marks: maker or sponsor, traditional fineness, millesimal fineness, assay office and date.

The date mark is particularly significant. Traditionally, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths marked each year starting from the election of their wardens on 19th May, St Dunstan's Day - the patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths. This was Dunstan's feast day for many years but, after the restoration of Charles II, this changed to 29th May - the King's birthday. More modern assay offices, like Birmingham, operated from the start of their financial year - in this case July.

Eventually, in 1975, date marks were changed to coincide with the exact year, beginning on 1st January. This may have been timed to coincide with the Royal Mint completing its transition from London to South Wales. Today, the date mark may be omitted from hallmarks.

The essential remaining three identifiers are: The Sponsor, Standard and Assay Office Mark. The Sponsor mark shows who sent the item for assaying, this is generally the manufacturer or importer. The Standard Mark shows the purity or fineness of the metal and the Assay Office Mark shows the assayer.

The three required gold hallmarks.