Hallmark
Overview
 
A hallmark is an official mark or series of marks struck on items made of precious metals — platinum
Platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

, gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 and in some nations, palladium
Palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

. In a more general sense, the term hallmark can also be used to refer to any distinguishing characteristic or trait.
Historically, hallmarks were applied by a trusted party: the 'guardians of the craft
Craft
A craft is a branch of a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. In historical sense, particularly as pertinent to the Medieval history and earlier, the term is usually applied towards people occupied in small-scale production of goods.-Development from the past until...

' or nowadays by an assay office
Assay office
Assay offices are institutions set up to assay precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay offices are institutions set up to assay (test the purity of) precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay...

. Hallmarks are a guarantee of certain purity or fineness of the metal as determined by formal metal (assay) testing.
.999 = 24 carat = 99.9%

.916 = 22 carat = 91.6%

.750 = 18 carat = 75%

.585 = 14 carat = 58.5%

.417 = 10 carat = 41.7%

.375 = 9 carat = 37.5%

.333 = 8 carat = 33.3%

24 carat gold is pure gold..
Therefore
.575 or 57.5% = 13.8 carat gold.
Hallmarks are often confused with "trademarks" or "maker's mark".
Encyclopedia
A hallmark is an official mark or series of marks struck on items made of precious metals — platinum
Platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

, gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 and in some nations, palladium
Palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

. In a more general sense, the term hallmark can also be used to refer to any distinguishing characteristic or trait.

General overview

Historically, hallmarks were applied by a trusted party: the 'guardians of the craft
Craft
A craft is a branch of a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. In historical sense, particularly as pertinent to the Medieval history and earlier, the term is usually applied towards people occupied in small-scale production of goods.-Development from the past until...

' or nowadays by an assay office
Assay office
Assay offices are institutions set up to assay precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay offices are institutions set up to assay (test the purity of) precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay...

. Hallmarks are a guarantee of certain purity or fineness of the metal as determined by formal metal (assay) testing.

Quick gold hallmark guide

.999 = 24 carat = 99.9%

.916 = 22 carat = 91.6%

.750 = 18 carat = 75%

.585 = 14 carat = 58.5%

.417 = 10 carat = 41.7%

.375 = 9 carat = 37.5%

.333 = 8 carat = 33.3%

24 carat gold is pure gold..
Therefore
.575 or 57.5% = 13.8 carat gold.

Distinguishment

Hallmarks are often confused with "trademarks" or "maker's mark". Hallmarks are not the mark of a manufacturer to distinguish his products from other manufacturers’ products, which is the function of trademarks or makers' marks. To be a true hallmark, it must be the guarantee of an independent body or authority that the contents are as marked. Thus, a stamp of '925' by itself is not, strictly speaking, a hallmark, but is rather an unattested fineness mark.

Prerequisites to hallmarking

Notwithstanding the hallmarking systems themselves, many nations require, as a prerequisite to official hallmarking, that the maker or sponsor itself mark upon the item a responsibility mark and a claim of fineness. Responsibility marks are also required in the U.S. if metal fineness is claimed despite the fact that there is no official hallmarking scheme in that country. Nevertheless, in nations with an official hallmarking scheme, the hallmark is only applied after the item has been assayed
Metallurgical assay
A metallurgical assay is a compositional analysis of an ore, metal, or alloy.Some assay methods are suitable for raw materials; others are more appropriate for finished goods. Raw precious metals are assayed by an assay office...

 to determine that its purity conforms not only to the standards set down by the law but also and with the maker’s claims as to metallurgical content.

Systems

In some nations, such as the UK, the hallmark is made up of several elements including: a mark denoting the type of metal, the maker/sponsor's mark and the year of the marking. In England, the year of making commences on May 19, the Feast Day of Saint Dunstan, patron saint of gold- and silversmiths. In other nations, such as Poland, the hallmark is a single mark indicating metal and fineness, augmented by a responsibility mark (known as a sponsor's mark in the UK). Among a group of nations which are signatories to an international convention known as the Vienna Convention
Vienna Convention
Vienna Convention can mean any of a number of treaties signed in Vienna. Notable are:* several treaties and conventions resulted from the Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe, only partially restoring the pre-Napoleonic situation, and drafted new rules for international relations*...

, additional, optional, yet official marks may also be struck by the assay office. These have the effect of easing import obligations among and between the member states. Signatory countries have a single representative hallmark which would be struck next to the Convention mark which represents the metal and fineness.

Ancient Byzantine hallmarks

The control or inspection of precious metals was an ancient concept of examination and marking, by means of inspection stamps (punch marks). The use of hallmarks, at first, on silver has a long history dating back to the 4th century AD and represents the oldest known form of consumer protection. A series or system of five marks has been found on Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 silver dating from this period though their interpretation is still not completely resolved.

Hallmarking in the Late Middle Ages

However, from the Late Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, hallmarking was administered by local governments through authorized assayers. These assayers examined precious metal goods, under the auspices of the state, before the good could be offered for public sale. By the age of the Craft Guilds, the authorized examiner’s mark was the “master’s mark” which consisted frequently of his initials and/or the coat of arms of the goldsmith or silversmith. At one time, there was no distinction among silversmiths and goldsmiths who were all referred to as "orfèvres", the French word for goldsmith. The Master Craftsman was responsible for the quality of the work that left his atelier
Studio
A studio is an artist's or worker's workroom, or the catchall term for an artist and his or her employees who work within that studio. This can be for the purpose of architecture, painting, pottery , sculpture, scrapbooking, photography, graphic design, filmmaking, animation, radio or television...

 or workshop, regardless of who made the item. Hence the responsibility mark is still known today in French as le poinçon de maître literally "the maker's punch." In this period, fineness was more or less standardized in the major European nations (writ: France and England) at 20 karat
Carat (purity)
The karat or carat is a unit of purity for gold alloys.- Measure :Karat purity is measured as 24 times the purity by mass:where...

s for gold and 12 to 13 lots (75% to 81%) for silver, but the standards could only be partly enforced owing to the lack of precise analytical tools and techniques.

France

Hallmarking is Europe's earliest form of consumer protection
Consumer protection
Consumer protection laws designed to ensure fair trade competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional...

. Modern hallmarking in Europe appears first in France, with the Goldsmiths Statute of 1260 promulgated under Etienne Boileau
Étienne Boileau
Étienne Boileau was one of the first known provosts of Paris. In 1261, he was named provost , by King Louis IX. He authored the , a collection of the statutes of the Parisian trade guilds, including the standards for gold and silver alloys...

, Provost of Paris, for King Louis IX
Louis IX of France
Louis IX , commonly Saint Louis, was King of France from 1226 until his death. He was also styled Louis II, Count of Artois from 1226 to 1237. Born at Poissy, near Paris, he was an eighth-generation descendant of Hugh Capet, and thus a member of the House of Capet, and the son of Louis VIII and...

. A standard for silver was thus, established. In 1275, King Philip III
Philip III of France
Philip III , called the Bold , was the King of France, succeeding his father, Louis IX, and reigning from 1270 to 1285. He was a member of the House of Capet.-Biography:...

 prescribed by royal decree, the mark for use on silver works, along with specific punches for each community's smiths. In 1313, his successor, Philippe IV "the Fair" expanded the use of hallmarks to gold works.

England

In 1300 King Edward I of England
Edward I of England
Edward I , also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, was King of England from 1272 to 1307. The first son of Henry III, Edward was involved early in the political intrigues of his father's reign, which included an outright rebellion by the English barons...

 enacted a statute requiring that all silver articles must meet the sterling silver
Sterling silver
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by mass of silver and 7.5% by mass of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925....

 standard (92.5% pure silver) and must be assayed in this regard by 'guardians of the craft' who would then mark the item with a leopard's head. In 1327 King Edward III of England
Edward III of England
Edward III was King of England from 1327 until his death and is noted for his military success. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, Edward III went on to transform the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe...

 granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company, which has origins in the twelfth century, received a Royal Charter in 1327. It ranks fifth in the order of precedence of Livery Companies. Its motto is Justitia Virtutum Regina, Latin for Justice...

 (more commonly known as the Goldsmiths' Company), marking the beginning of the Company's formal existence. This entity was headquartered in London at Goldsmiths' Hall from whence the English term "hallmark" is derived. (In the UK the use of the term "hallmark" was first recorded in this sense in 1721 and in the more general sense as a "mark of quality" in 1864.http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hallmark)

Switzerland

In 1424, the French Archbishop Jean de Brogny, after having consulted with a council of eight Masters Goldsmiths from Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, enacted a regulation on the purity and hallmarking of silver objects following the French standards for application in Geneva. Although gold was certainly used for articles, the regulation was silent on gold standards and its hallmarking. (Today in Switzerland, only precious metal watch cases must be hallmarked. Perhaps this attests to the significance of watches to the Swiss economy. The hallmarking of other items including silverware and jewelry is optional.)

Augmentations in France and England

  • In 1355, individual maker marks were introduced in France, which concept was later mirrored in England in 1363, adding accountability to the two systems.
  • In 1427, the date letter system was established in France, allowing the accurate dating of any hallmarked piece.
  • In 1478, the Assay Office
    Assay office
    Assay offices are institutions set up to assay precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay offices are institutions set up to assay (test the purity of) precious metals, in order to protect consumers. Upon successful completion of an assay, Assay...

     was established in Goldsmiths' Hall. At this time, the date letter system was introduced in England.
  • In 1697, a higher standard of silver, known as the Britannia standard
    Britannia silver
    Britannia silver is an alloy of silver containing 95.84% silver, with the balance usually copper.This standard was introduced in England by Act of Parliament in 1697 to replace sterling silver as the obligatory standard for items of "wrought plate"...

     (95.8% silver) was made compulsory in Great Britain to protect the new coinage which was being melted down by silversmiths for the silver. The Sterling standard was restored in 1720.

Modern hallmarks

In the modern world, in an attempt at standardizing the legislation on the inspection of precious metals and to facilitate international trade, in 1973 a core group of European nations signed the Vienna Convention on the control of the fineness and the hallmarking of precious metal objects. Those articles, which are assayed and found to be in conformity by the qualifying office of a signatory country, receive a mark, known as the Common Control Mark (CCM), attesting to the material's fineness. The multi-tiered motif of the CCM is the balance scales, superimposed, for gold, on two intersecting circles; for platinum, a diamond shape and for silver a mark in the shape of the Latin letter "M".

This mark is recognized in all the other contracting States, including: Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine (see links below). Other nations monitor the activities of the Convention and may apply for membership.

Complete international hallmarking has been plagued by difficulties, because even amongst countries which have implemented hallmarking, standards and enforcement vary considerably, making it difficult for one country to accept another's hallmarking as equivalent to its own. Many nations monitor the Vienna system and procedures are in place to allow additional nations to join the Vienna Convention. Similarly, with the consent all the current member states, the terms of the Convention may be amended.

The most significant item currently up for debate is the recognition of palladium as a precious metal. Some member nations recognize palladium as a precious metal while others do not. (See list of nations below).

Polish - Poland

Hallmarks for gold, palladium,platinum and silver from Poland. Official Polish hallmarks between 1963–1986

French - France

Official French Hallmarks used between 1798 and 1972 for gold and silver.
Not official French mark head of horse for jewellery and watches from 18k gold

UK

The Hallmarking Act 1973
Hallmarking Act 1973
The Hallmarking Act 1973 makes up the bulk of modern law regarding the assaying and hallmarking of metals in the United Kingdom. Hallmarking is a way to guarantee the purity of precious metals. Metals are tested and, if they meet a certain minimal purity requirement, are marked with a specified...

 made Britain a member of the Vienna Convention as well as introducing marking for platinum, a recognised metal under the Convention. All four remaining assay offices finally adopted the same date letter sequences. The latest changes in 1999 were made to the UK hallmarking system to bring the system closer into line with the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 (EU). Note: that under this latest enactment, the date letter is no longer a compulsory part of the hallmark.

As it now stands, the compulsory part of the UK hallmark consists of the sponsor or maker's mark, the assay office mark, and the standard of fineness (in this case silver, 925 parts in 1000).
These are shown in the top of the two example hallmarks. The bottom example shows the extra marks that can also be struck, the lion passant, indicating Sterling silver, the date mark (lowercase a for '2000'), and in this example, the 'Millennium mark', which was only available for the years 1999 and 2000. The bottom example bears the Yorkshire rose mark for the Sheffield Assay Office.

The Hallmarking Act was amended in July 2009 to include palladium from January 2010

Switzerland

Although hallmarking in the Swiss territories dates back to Geneva in the 15th century there was no uniform system of hallmarking in Switzerland until 1881. Before that time, hallmarking was undertaken at the local level by the Swiss cantons. With the introduction of the Swiss system of hallmarking in 1881, there was uniformity throughout the nation. Under the current law, on all gold, silver, platinum or palladium watches cases made in Switzerland or imported into Switzerland, (Fr.) there shall be affixed, near the Maker's Responsibility Mark and his indication of purity, the official Hallmark, the head of a Saint-Bernard dog (illustrated below). Only precious metal watch cases must be hallmarked. Swiss hallmarking for other articles such as jewelry and cutlery is optional. In addition to the Swiss hallmark, all precious metal goods may be stamped with the Common Control Mark of the Vienna Convention.

Netherlands

The Dutch, who are members of the International hallmarking Convention, have been striking hallmarks since at least 1814. Like many other nations, the Dutch require the registration and use of Responsibility Marks, however, perhaps somewhat unique, the Dutch publish a book entitled "Netherlands' Responsibility Marks since 1797" (in three volumes and in the English language) illustrating all the responsibility marks registered there since that time. This is significant since producers that exported precious metal good to the Netherlands would have been required to register their marks.

The Dutch government markets their assay services/office as the "Jewellery Gateway in and to Europe." The Netherlands' hallmarks are also recognized in other E.U. countries and thus can be sold in Austria, France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom without further testing. The Netherlands' hallmarks are also recognized in Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, which have voluntary hallmarking systems.

One of the 2 Dutch assay offices is located in Gouda between the Amsterdam and Rotterdam Airports. The other one is located in Joure, called Edelmetaal Waarborg Nederland b.v.The Dutch recognize platinum, gold, silver and palladium as precious metals.

Punching

Traditionally, the hallmarks are 'struck' using steel punches. Punches are made in different sizes, suitable for tiny pieces of jewelry to large silver platters. Punches are made in straight shank or ring shank, the former for normal punching with a hammer, and the latter used with a press to mark rings. The problem with traditional punching is that the process of punching displaces metal, causing some distortion of the article being marked. This means that re-finishing of the article is required after hallmarking. For this reason, and that off-cuts from sprue
Sprue
A sprue may refer to:*Sprue , a feature in molding and casting molds*Coeliac disease, also known as sprue, a disease of the small intestine*Tropical sprue, disease*Sprue Asparagus, first pickings of asparagus...

s are often used for assay, many articles are sent unfinished to the assay office for assay and hallmarking.

Laser marking

A new method of marking using laser
Laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

s is now available, which is especially valuable for delicate items and hollowware, which would be damaged or distorted by the punching process. Laser marking also means that finished articles do not need to be re-finished. Laser marking works by using high power lasers to evaporate material from the metal surface. Two methods exist, 2D and 3D laser marking. 2D laser marking burns the outline of the hallmarks into the object, while 3D laser marking better simulates the marks made by punching.

Methods of assay

Precious metal items of art or jewelry are frequently hallmarked (depending upon the requirements of the laws of either the place of manufacture or the place of import). Where required to be hallmarked, semi-finished precious metal items of art or jewelry pass through the official testing channels where they are analyzed or assayed
Metallurgical assay
A metallurgical assay is a compositional analysis of an ore, metal, or alloy.Some assay methods are suitable for raw materials; others are more appropriate for finished goods. Raw precious metals are assayed by an assay office...

 for precious metal content. While different nations permit a variety of legally acceptable finenesses, the assayer is actually testing to determine that the fineness of the product conforms with the statement or claim of fineness that the maker has claimed (usually by stamping a number such as 750 for 18k gold) on the item. In the past the assay was conducted by using the touchstone method but currently (most often) it is done using X-ray Fluorescence (XRF). XRF is used because this method is more exacting than the touchstone test. The most exact method of assay is known as fire assay or cupellation
Cupellation
Cupellation is a metallurgical process in which ores or alloyed metals are treated under high temperatures and carefully controlled operations in order to separate noble metals, like gold and silver, from base metals like lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, antimony or bismuth, that might be present in...

. This method is better suited for the assay of bullion and gold stocks rather than works or art or jewelry because it is a completely destructive method.

Touchstone

The age-old touchstone method is particularly suited to the testing of very valuable pieces, for which sampling by destructive means, such as scraping, cutting or drilling is unacceptable. A rubbing of the item is made on a special stone, treated with acids and the resulting color compared to references. Differences in precious metal content as small as 10 to 20 parts per thousand can often be established with confidence by the test. It is not indicated for use with white gold, for example, since the color variation among white gold alloys is almost imperceptible.

X-ray fluorescence

The modern X-ray fluorescence is also a non-destructive technique that is suitable for normal assaying requirements. It typically has an accuracy of 2-5 parts per thousand and is well-suited to the relatively flat and large surfaces. It is a quick technique taking about three minutes, and the results can be automatically printed out by the computer. It also measures the content of the other alloying metals present. It is not indicated, however, for articles with chemical surface treatment or electroplating.

Fire assay

Cupellation is also known as the fire assay. The most elaborate, but totally destructive, assay method is the fire assay. As applied to gold bearing metallics, as in hallmark assaying, it is also known as cupellation and can have an accuracy of 1 part in 10,000. In this process the article is melted, the alloys separated and constituents weighed. Since this method is totally destructive, when this method is employed for the assay of jewelry, it is done under the guise of random or selective sampling. For example if a single manufacturer deposits a lot of rings or watch cases, while most are assayed using the non-destructive methods a few pieces from the lot are randomly selected for fire assay.

Other methods

There are methods of assay noted above which are more properly suited for finished goods while other methods are suitable for use on raw materials before artistic workmanship has begun. Raw precious metals (bullion or metal stock) are assayed by the following methods: silver is assayed by titration
Titration
Titration, also known as titrimetry, is a common laboratory method of quantitative chemical analysis that is used to determine the unknown concentration of an identified analyte. Because volume measurements play a key role in titration, it is also known as volumetric analysis. A reagent, called the...

, gold is assayed by cupellation
Cupellation
Cupellation is a metallurgical process in which ores or alloyed metals are treated under high temperatures and carefully controlled operations in order to separate noble metals, like gold and silver, from base metals like lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, antimony or bismuth, that might be present in...

 and platinum is assayed by ICP OES spectrometry. http://www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/assayoffice/hallmarkingprocess.htm

Notations

  • All About Antique Silver with International Hallmarks, 2nd printing (2007), by Diana Sanders Cinamon, AAA Publishing, San Bernardino, CA. Paperback, sewn pages, contains 269 pages, 154 pictures (most in color), silver hallmarks for 24 countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. Also includes British design registry numbers, U.S. Design and Utility patent numbers and metric conversion tables. An outstanding silver reference book that gives identification and dating clues for hollowware and flatware.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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