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The Origins of Hallmarking

The Goldsmiths' Company, which operates the London Assay Office, is the oldest hallmarking authority in the United Kingdom. Hallmarking represents one of the earliest form of consumer protection. A hallmark is a series of marks applied to gold, silver and platinum articles. It indicates that the article has been independently tested at an Assay Office and guarantees that it conforms to the legal standards of precious metal content, known as the fineness.

A hallmark indicates at least three facts:

Who made the article - the initials of the maker
What the metal is, and its purity - the fineness mark

Where it was tested (Assayed) and marked - the Assay Office mark

The Leopard's Head is the mark of the London Assay Office and has been in continuous use since 1300, when the Wardens of the Company were given responsibility for marking gold and silver wares, which passed assay, with the King's mark of the Leopard's Head.

Still based in Goldsmiths' Hall, and using the most up-to-date technology, the London Assay Office hallmarks several million articles every year. It is also the Secretariat of the Association of European Assay Offices.

Hallmarking is now carried out under the statutory jurisdiction of the Hallmarking Act 1973. The Act also established the British Hallmarking Council. The Council has various powers and duties regarding hallmarking, which include ensuring adequate assaying and hallmarking facilities in the UK.

Hallmarking Today

The fineness of the precious metal content of jewellery and silverware is expressed in parts per thousand. Sterling silver is indicated by 925, which means it is 92.5% silver.

The current legislation, which empowers the Goldsmiths' Company to operate the London Assay Office, is the Hallmarking Act 1973. Following amendments to the Act in January 1999, the sponsor's mark, fineness mark and Assay Office mark remain compulsory. But the letter indicating the year of hallmarking, which had been in use from 1478, is now a voluntary mark, as are the traditional fineness symbols, the Lion Passant for 925 Silver, Britannia for 958 Silver and the Orb for 950 platinum.

An article cannot be described as being of gold, silver or platinum unless it is hallmarked, or the article weighs less than 0.5 grams in platinum, 1 gram in gold or 7.78 grams in silver.

Above Hallmarked explained, SMG is the maker's mark, the Leopards Head is London, the Lion is Sterling Silver and lastly the letter is the date mark which in this case is 1971 the year I started my Craft. More information about Hallmarking is available on the Links page "Goldsmith's Hall".


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