The term ‘hallmark’ has a particular meaning for jewelry. It is an identifying mark stamped into a piece of fine jewelry that is unique to the manufacturer – a ‘trademark’. In the USA, a hallmark must be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office
The history of hallmarks actually dates all the way back to the stamping of silver bars in the 4th century - the oldest known form of consumer protection. Hallmarking was formalized in Europe under the Goldsmith’s Statute of 1260. Standards were first codified into US law in the National Gold and Silver Marking Act in 1906. They have been updated several times since. Current law stipulates allowable deviations and penalties for violations.
The Unique Whiteflash "W" Logo Hallmark
In modern practice, a hallmark for fine jewelry is usually found in conjunction with a purity stamp. The purity of the metal is a measure of its ‘fineness’. For example, ‘fine’ gold is said to be 24 karat. 14 karat gold is 14/24 pure gold or 58.5%. The purity of platinum is expressed in parts per thousand, such that Platinum 950 is 95% pure platinum. Precious metals are rarely used in pure form for jewelry, and are usually mixed with other metals in different alloys
that change the metal’s color, improve hardness, or both.
The Federal Trade Commission Guides for the Jewelry Industry
specifies that if a manufacturer places a purity stamp on a piece of jewelry, it must also place its hallmark in close proximity, in order to identify the company making the purity claim. This is why you will usually see fine jewelry stamped with both a purity mark and a hallmark positioned closely together. A hallmark is therefore an assurance of quality. It is a permanent record of origin and an assignment of responsibility. It benefits both distributors and retailers who can resell without themselves having to assay the merchandise, making manufacturers responsible for ensuring that the quality claims are in accordance with the law.
The "14k" Yellow Gold Purity Stamp
Any piece of jewelry with a purity stamp and no hallmark can be correctly viewed as being in violation, and the seller is liable for penalties should the item be found to be of lower purity than indicated by the stamp. Violators are subject to criminal prosecution and could be fined, jailed, or both.
Interestingly, it is not a violation to sell jewelry without any stamp whatsoever. But if a claim of purity is being made with a stamp, or otherwise in the advertising or promotion of the product, it must have a hallmark. This creates accountability should the actual content of the precious metal be found to be short of that being represented by the purity stamp.
There is sometimes a special issue with purity and hallmark stamps in the case where the engraving
of a personal message is desired. Because space is limited, a customer may have to opt for abbreviating the desired message or sacrificing the hallmark and/or purity stamp. A jeweler may be willing to accommodate such a request with the full knowledge and permission of the customer.
The FTC Guidelines contain other regulations relating to gemstones and jewelry, intended to ensure that industry avoids deceptive or misleading advertising that might confuse or cause harm to the consumer. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee
(JVC) is instrumental in informing the trade about the regulations and promoting ethics and integrity in the jewelry industry.