What is a hallmark? 

Hallmarking refers to a mark that is applied to pieces of precious metals, which shows that it has been independently tested and verified and meets all legal standards of purity or fineness.

Hallmarks are an essential form of consumer protection, dating back to the 1300s. They are there to give you the confidence and reassurance that you need before you buy a new piece of jewellery.

It is very difficult to know what jewellery is made of just by looking at it or touching it. Hallmarking ensures that the buyer knows that the item is genuinely what a seller says it is.


Hallmark Guide

Does All Jewellery Have to be Hallmarked?

The Hallmarking Act Of 1973 requires all jewellery made after 1950 that is sold in the United Kingdom and described as being made from gold, silver, platinum or palladium to have a legally recognised hallmark.

It is also a legal requirement that all silver items over 7.78 g and all gold items over 1 gram need to have a hallmark. 
The following do not require a hallmark:
  • Gold weighing less than 1 gram
  • Silver weighing less than 7.78 grams
  • Platinum weighing less than 0.5 grams
  • Palladium weighing less than 1 gram

The Maker’s Mark

The sponsor, or maker’s mark, declares who was responsible for having the piece hallmarked, whether that’s an individual, retailer, manufacturer, wholesaler or importer. 

To have a sponsor’s mark of your own, you must be registered with one of the UK’s four assay offices, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Sheffield.

The maker's mark on this piece says ''ACCO' indicates that it was likely made by the Albion Craft Co.

The Assay Mark

The assay mark shows where the hallmarks were given, with an anchor representing Birmingham, a castle for Edinburgh, a leopard’s head for London and a rose for Sheffield. The Dublin assay mark is the figure of Hibernia, a seated woman with a harp and the personification of Ireland.


Birmingham Assay

The anchor symbol means that this piece was assayed in Birmingham.

The Fineness Mark

The fineness mark denotes the purity of the metal. This is measured in parts per thousand in relation to the UK standard. Confused? Take 9ct Gold – the fineness mark is 375, as the purity of 9ct Gold is 37.5 percent. In other words 37.5% of the metal is pure Gold, and the rest of the is made up of other metals that are alloyed in (for example Silver or copper).
22ct Gold Stamp

This piece is made from 22ct Gold, as shown by the '22' mark.

Date letter

The last mark deemed essential by the 1973 Act was a date letter, but since 1998, these are no longer compulsory. Different fonts separate hundreds of years worth of history, making the age of the piece traceable to the exact year it was crafted. 

A date letter indicates the year when the item was hallmarked, for example ‘U’ indicates 2019. It is changed on 1 January each year. You can find more information in the Hallmarking guidance notes.

Date Letter V For 1945

The date letter 'V' here is for the year 1945.

Traditional Fineness Symbol

A traditional fineness symbol depicts the metal that is in the article.

Convention Mark

The International Convention on Hallmarking is an international treaty that encourages the cross-border trading of precious metals, and the UK has been a signatory to this agreement since 1972. If an item is marked with a convention mark from one of the member countries it will be legally recognised in the UK. This means a piece doesn’t then need to be hallmarked for sale in the UK. Something produced and marked with a convention mark in the UK can also be sold in other convention countries as all member countries recognise these marks. The Hallmarking Convention gives comprehensive information, including details of which countries are members of the Convention.

Hallmarks and Antique Jewellery 

It is hugely important to us that our customers are confident that they understand exactly what they are buying when they shop with Lillicoco.  This extends from information about the age of an item to the gemstones and metals that it is made of.

In the UK, the ‘Hallmarking Act 1973’ instructs sellers on how to ensure that information about the purity of precious metal within a piece of jewellery is communicated with buyers.  It is a legal framework to protect consumers against fraud and misidentification of precious metals.  The purpose of the act is to make sure that the precious metal content in jewellery being sold to the general public is described accurately and honestly.

For most pieces of modern jewellery, it is a legal requirement for each item to be independently tested by one of the 4 government run assay offices and then a British hallmark to be stamped or lasered onto the item. However, there are some exemptions in the law to allow for antique and vintage jewellery.

Specifically, there is an exemption for “Any article which was manufactured before the year 1950 and has not since the beginning of the year 1950 been the subject of any alteration which would be an improper alteration if the article had previously borne approved hallmarks.”

The exemption in the Hallmarking Act means that it is legal for antique jewellery made of precious metals that was made before 1950 to be sold in the UK, even if it doesn’t have any hallmarks.  We think this is great, because it means that antique jewellery doesn’t need to be spoiled or devalued by the later addition of modern hallmarks.

Supporting guidance has also been released by the Assay offices of Great Britain that says “Any pre-1950 item may now be described and sold as precious metal without a hallmark, if the seller can prove that it is of minimum fineness and was manufactured before 1950.”

As it stands, the only form of proof deemed acceptable would be an original receipt or proof of purchase.  Unfortunately less than 0.01% of antique jewellery on the market has any sort of original paperwork with it.  In fact it’s so rare that we’ve only ever come across a handful of original receipts in all of our years of trading in antique jewellery. 

So what about the other 99.99% of legitimate antique jewellery?  How can you prove that a genuine item of antique jewellery was made before 1950 if it doesn’t have hallmarks or an original receipt?  This isn’t clarified in the Hallmarking Act, and it’s something we’re pushing to have made more clear in collaboration with the NAJ and other regulatory bodies in the UK.

In the meanwhile, as we make a drive for clearer guidance, we are doing everything possible to prove the age of the pieces in our collection as well as the fineness of the metals contained within them.  Keep reading to find out how!

The Spirit of the Law

Our interpretation of the law is that the onus is on the seller to exhaustively test each pre-1950 item to be as confident of its age and authenticity as it is possible to be. We feel that only once a seller has done everything in their power to prove that an item was made pre-1950, can they then describe and sell it as containing precious metals without hallmarks.  This view appears to be shared by most other large antique jewellery retailers and auction houses around the UK, who seem to be approaching the sale of antique jewellery in a similar way.

The spirit of the law is about ensuring that customers know what they’re buying, so we carefully test the precious metal purity of each item that we list and sell online using multiple methods.

How Can You Prove Something Was Made Before 1950?

There are no industry-wide guidelines on how to identify a piece of jewellery as antique, and there are no qualifications that someone can study for in the UK to give them the ability to certify a piece of jewellery as being an authentic antique item. The UK has IRV qualifications that accredit a person as being able to give an item an official valuation, but these do not extend to giving a registered IRV a way to legally certify the age of a piece of jewellery. 

This means that the antique jewellery industry is one that is built on experience, trust and reputation.  When you ask someone how they have verified that something is antique, they will point to their experience, time in the industry and their reputation as a trader.

In reality, it is impossible to say with 100% certainty that something is antique, even if it has full hallmarks or paperwork included with it.

In much the same way as it is possible for a painter to create a near-flawless forgery of a piece of fine art, it is possible for a skilled jeweller to make a reproduction piece capable of passing for a legitimate antique even to the eyes of an experienced expert.  It would also be possible to fake an original receipt or certificate of authenticity.

The best place that we can get to is to be able to say “We have done everything reasonably possible to satisfy ourselves that this piece was genuinely made before 1950.”

How We Ascertain the Age of an Item

There are a number of steps that we take to date an item of jewellery.

The first thing that we do is extensive research.  We look for similar verified antique pieces online, in books, in museum records and anywhere else we can find relevant information.  This is probably the most important step of the process.  Knowledge is power!

We compare the materials, manufacturing methods, gemstone cuts, setting techniques and design aesthetic to verified pieces and look for similarities.  Certain techniques and uses of materials are associated with different points in history.

We check for signs that the piece could be a reproduction. Key indicators could be a lack of wear and tear or stone cuts not matching the style of the piece (like a modern round brilliant cut Diamond in an Art Deco style ring, for example). If we see signs of modern manufacturing methods, this would be a clear indication that a piece is likely not to be antique.

We also look for damage, signs of repair, old resizing and alterations.  It is good to see signs of a piece having been worn and loved.  Finding a piece of antique or vintage jewellery in perfect condition can be a bit of a red flag unless you’re very experienced and know what to look out for.  

As mentioned, experience and reputation is important when it comes to antique jewellery.

Since launching Lillicoco we have bought and sold over 15,000 unique pieces of antique and vintage jewellery, and we have examined more than ten times that many.  That’s a lot of jewellery!

We choose to source from experienced traders and auction houses who each carry decades of experience and expertise.  We don’t buy from scrap dealers or pawnbrokers, and we only buy from the general public in exceptional circumstances. The point of this is to help ensure the quality and consistency of the pieces that we list ourselves.  It’s important that we trust who we are buying from, just as it is important for you to trust us!

Finally we will often run interesting or unusual pieces past independent third parties for their opinion.  We have a wide network of lifelong antique jewellery experts who we collaborate with to verify and authenticate rare or unusual pieces.  This community-led approach to verification gives us a range of opinions and can help us be more confident in our own assessments.

How We Test the Purity of Gold In-House

As part of the process of verifying the age of an item, we will also test the metals it is made of using two techniques.

The first is a chemical test, where you apply a weak acid to the metal and see how it reacts.  Depending on the colour change of the acid, you can tell what purity the metal is.

For Gold and Platinum, we also use a second method, which is an electronic Gold tester.  This is a piece of equipment that uses electrical conductivity to give an indication of the purity of Gold.

There is one step further that you can go which is to use an XRF machine, which is a highly sophisticated piece of x-ray technology that gives the user a full breakdown of the content of an item on an atomic level.  This type of tool is used by the assay offices when they are hallmarking a new piece of jewellery.  We don’t use an XRF machine ourselves in-house, but if we have any doubt about the purity of a piece then we will outsource the use of one to confirm our results.

Industry Advice We Have Sought So Far

We want to make sure that we are fully in compliance with all relevant legislation around hallmarking, so as a member of the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) we asked for their advice.

The initial guidance we were given was simply a reiteration of the law; “You can only sell an item containing precious metals without hallmarks if it was made before 1950 ”.  We pushed further, asking for guidance on how we could prove an item was made before 1950, and the NAJ agreed with our view that at the moment there is no mechanism for proof to be ascertained or verified apart from simply asking the opinion of an industry expert with a lot of experience handling antique jewellery.

We are currently collaborating with the regulatory bodies that oversee the UK jewellery industry to ask for their help in setting up guidelines to provide sellers and auction houses with steps that can be taken that could be considered to be acceptable proof of antiquity.  

We are currently talking to senior leaders of the industry's biggest membership bodies, including the NAJ, the IRV and the British Hallmarking Council to encourage this change.

We are also suggesting that they start to offer professional qualification courses relating to the dating of antique jewellery, so that legitimate jewellers (who are not necessarily valuers) can demonstrate their credentials for the benefit of customers.

Ultimately we would love to see a clear set of guidelines agreed by the heads of the industry, which are then ratified in law.  This would be a big upgrade from the existing legislation and would give customers a higher level of protection from dishonest or inexperienced sellers.

For now, without industry guidance in place, we will continue to do everything that we can to guarantee the authenticity of our collection and keep our customers fully informed about what it is that they are buying from us!