Hallmarking: What You Need To Know
Some jewellers have been in the news recently for falling foul of the Hallmarking Act – and they have faced legal repercussions as a result. We spoke to Trading Standards in Birmingham to find out exactly what jewellers’ obligations are to make sure they do not breach the rules.
If you are a jeweller you need to know about laws that are enforced by Trading Standards as these can affect you and your customers. The following guide aims to help both jewellery trader and consumer but if you have any questions or need further help please contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454040506 or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk
The Hallmarking Act 1973 provides details on the law covering hallmarking, assaying and describing articles made of, or containing precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium). The act defines the marks that are stamped on an item when it has passed the Assay Office tests.
The law says hallmarks must be ‘approved’. Due to changes in the law, the definition of approved hallmarks has been extended to include hallmarks which come from countries within the European Economic Areas (EEA Marks). The Approved Hallmarks which are allowed are those which are stamped by an independent organisation according to the law of the member states. The information must also be understandable to the people buying jewellery in that state. Please refer to the Assay Office for more information if necessary.
- It is an offence under the Hallmarking Act to describe articles as being made totally or partly of gold, silver, platinum or Palladium, supply or offer to supply an article that is made of gold, silver, platinum or palladium which have not been hallmarked
- Articles do not have to be hallmarked if they weigh less than 1 gram for gold, 0.5 grams for platinum and palladium and 7.78 grams for silver. Articles are only exempt on weight as long as they are of the standard declared
- You can describe articles as plated as long as this is an accurate description according to the quality of the precious metal plating used. Rolled gold is also allowed as long as this is an accurate description and not used for gold-plated goods
- Because of the importance of hallmarks to customers, the act creates offences if articles with hallmarks on have unauthorised additions, alterations or repairs to them. Any person removing, altering or defacing a hallmark, unless they have the written permission of an Assay Office is also committing an offence. Section 5 of the Act gives details of the offences that may be committed for altering hallmarked articles, and you should familiarise yourself with these
- It is an offence to counterfeit dies and marks – see Schedule 6 of the Hallmarking Act.
- All dealers must clearly exhibit the British Hallmarking Council notice which sets out all the new hallmarks that can be stamped on precious metals
Before you send an article to an Assay Office to be stamped with the approved hallmarks, it must be stamped with a sponsor’s mark. Or, you can make arrangements with the Assay Offices for them to stamp on a sponsor’s mark before they stamp the approved hallmarks.
The sponsor’s mark shows who made the item or paid for it to be made and the mark must be registered with an Assay Office before it can be used. You can find details of the requirements in Section 3 of the Hallmarking Act, or get information from the Assay Office.
Important amendments to the Hallmarking Act 1973
Changes in UK hallmarking law have meant that European Member States have now agreed upon minimum standards of ‘fineness’ for articles made of precious metals. These changes are now in force throughout the European Union. In the United Kingdom, the regulations came into force on 1 January 1999.
Changes to marks
- The regulations introduce two new gold standards of 990 and 999 parts of gold per thousand of metal
- For silver, two new standards of 800 and 999 parts of silver per thousand of metal are introduced
- For platinum, three new standards of 850, 900 and 999 parts of platinum per thousand of metal are introduced
- You no longer need the date letter, which was previously compulsory for all articles other than those of small weight. However you can stamp it on if you wish
- Standards of fineness must now be expressed in parts per thousand. However, manufacturers can continue to ask for traditional marks such as the lion, crown or orb to be stamped alongside the parts per thousand mark
- The marks which were previously used to distinguish British goods from imports no longer exist. All marks are now the same no matter where the goods are from
- The date at which an article is considered to be an antique and so exempt from hallmarking has changed from 1900 to 1920
Powers of officers
Under the Hallmarking Act our officers have wide powers of enforcement. Trading Standards have the power to:
- make test purchases;
- enter premises at reasonable times to inspect goods;
- ask you to produce books or documents relating to the business and take them away, if necessary; and
- seize goods, which might be needed as evidence
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
The Weights and Measures Act 1985 controls how weighing and measuring equipment is used. All this equipment must be tested and stamped for accuracy by a weights and measures inspector before you use it. The most common problem we find relate to using weights and scales which are either not accurate or not stamped, or both.
It is very important when you buy weights or scales to make sure that the equipment comes stamped with an inspector’s stamp. You should check the equipment regularly to make sure it is accurate.
Unstamped machines can be stamped and certified by a weights and measures inspector after you have bought them, as long as they are the correct type. Obviously, the machine must pass the examination for accuracy. Some electrical and digital scales are legitimate, but many are not. If you are in doubt, check with your supplier or with Trading Standards.
It is an offence to:
- use inaccurate equipment for trade;
- use unstamped equipment for trade; and
- forge, alter or remove our inspector’s stamp.
Powers of inspectors
Our officers have wide powers, which include the right to:
- enter your shop;
- inspect and test weighing equipment; and
- seize equipment and documents.
Remember you are guilty of an offence if you deliberately obstruct an officer, fail to keep to any requirements or, without good reason, fail to give an officer any other information or help.
Problems can happen when you mislead a customer about the price he or she must pay for an item or a repair. The price you display or tell the customer is the price that you should charge. There should be no ‘hidden extras’ that the customer does not know about. If you offer to buy, for example, scrap gold at today’s bullion price, you must do this.
Special Provisions for jewellery sold by weight
Where the selling price of a product varies according to the price of the precious metals contained in it, you may indicate the selling price in the following way so long as the information required to be given to the consumer is unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible:
- The weight, type and standard of fineness of each of the precious metal contained in the product
- Any other costs associated with the selling price, which is not referable to the weight
a prominent notice clearly stating the unit price (i.e. price per gram) for the type and standard of fineness of each of the precious metals contained in the product.