When examining a piece of older jewellery, sometimes you hear specialists talk about hallmarks, or maker’s marks. What exactly are hallmarks? In its simplest form, a hallmark on a piece of jewelry establishes where it was made and the purity of the precious metal. Sometimes the hallmark tells us which specific workshop it came from, and possibly even the period during which it was made.
Hallmarking precious metal was first instituted by royal edicts in the middle ages — in 1313 by King Philippe IX of France, and in 1327 by King Edward III of England. This was really a concerted effort at quality control and protected lay consumers against fraud. Their function, on one level, remains the same. So it is always good to ask about all hallmarks, if present, in your jewelry.
‘Birdhouse’ Watch Pendant by UTI
Beyond consumer protection, hallmarks give us clues into a piece’s history. For example, the “Birdhouse” watch pendant by UTI has an eagle head stamp, which told us it was made in France and that it is made of 18K gold. Meanwhile, a “dog head” hallmark indicates that the piece is made of platinum and is also French.
Victorian Snake Ring
This Victorian Snake Ring has a series of stamps which is typical of English jewelry. The workshop’s stamp comes first and this is probably a small goldsmith or jeweler. The second stamp indicates it was made and marked in England and the material is 18K gold. As the crown is on the left side of the number 18, also signifies that it was made prior to 1975. The anchor stamp shows origin – this was the mark for the city of Birmingham. And finally the stylized “Y” means it was made between 1898 and 1899.
Nowadays, among jewelry specialists, French hallmarked pieces have a little more cachet, not unlike the French fashion houses. Long held notions of superior workmanship from old French jewelers like Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Boucheron, etc, live on, even though English and American jewelers craft wonderful work as well.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission regulates the stamping of precious metals and issues guidelines on purity requirements. However, fine jewelry manufacturers have continued the European tradition of incorporating their workshop’s stamp on their jewelry, as well.
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