By Ashley Bailey
, Wednesday, August 02, 2006
It's commonly thought that hallmarking is a synonym for stamping, and that both are simply compulsory jewelry metals markings required by law. Hence when you see "14k" or "925 sterling" or "950 plat" stamped, engraved or in some way etched on a piece of jewelry, you feel entitled to assume this is an American hallmark for the metal.
Sorry, it isn't.
A hallmark is a special kind of mark given after rigorous testing by an independent third party trained and certified in metals testing.
At the heart of this testing is an assay to determine two things: 1) the metal's purity (or fineness), and 2) if the fineness is in compliance with the laws of the land. If the metal's content is as it should be, the assayer then punches in the fineness mark. Next, he stamps in an identifying trademark of the maker or sponsor (importer) and indicates by special mark at which of England's official assay offices the work was conducted. This is the ultimate in consumer protection!
Unfortunately, America imposes far less rigorous marking requirements on jewelry manufacturers. What's more, no assays are required to qualify a piece for marking or commerce. Everything is done on trust. That's why American metals markings can't be considered hallmarks. Hallmarks are based on rigorous independent testing. Nothing is left to chance or trust.
The word "hallmarking" is derived from a centuries-old practice of sending a piece of jewelry to a special goldsmith's hall for assaying. In fact, England has been hallmarking gold and silver since 1300. Hallmarking standards for platinum were introduced in 1975.
Although America has scores of refiners who will perform independent assays, these tests do not have to legal stature that they do in England where they are performed by metallurgists who are, in effect, licensed at their skill.