A group of jewellers and silversmiths in the UK are considering a legal challenge to the Birmingham Assay Office over its practice of using UK hallmarking overseas.
Offshore hallmarking was approved by the council in 2013, however James Younger, while considering Legislative Reform (Hallmarking) Order 2013, said the British Hallmarking Council will authorise offshore-struck marks which are “clearly distinguishable” from the existing domestically struck marks.
The group confirmed that they have instructed solicitors and have written to the Birmingham Assay Office about the “legality of its position and the extent of the harm that will be caused”.
The letter follows a petition set up in August in a bid to restrict traditional UK hallmarks being used at offshore assay offices. The petition has more than 3,000 signatures since it was created, although this is short of the 10,000 needed for a government response.
Traditional UK hallmarks have been struck in the UK for over 700 years, but the petition claims there is a “considerable drive” to set up offshore operations where items can be stamped with a UK hallmark despite never having been examined by an assay office physically in the UK.
Campaigners say one of the “major concerns” is that overseas hallmarking is conducted beyond the reach of UK regulation such as trading standards and UK legal jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for the campaign said that whilst legal action was a “last resort”, it was clear that there were grounds for a “legitimate challenge” in the event that Birmingham or another assay office continues with its use of UK marks overseas.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the group – The British Hallmarking Protection Alliance – said it has now begun investigating a legal challenge to the actions of UK assay offices intending to use traditional UK marks overseas.
It said more UK assay offices are intending to set up overseas hallmarkings offices in China, Thailand and the USA.
John Langford, director of British silversmith firm Braybrook & Britten, who created the initial petition, said: ‘Many countries have their own national hallmarks, including India. However, due to persistent fraudulent use and inadequate regulation, Indian hallmarks are not internationally recognised and respected in the way UK hallmarks are.
“This move by Birmingham Assay Office is simply a cynical attempt to capitalise on the value of UK marks by allowing foreign manufacturers and high volume exporters to stamp items in Asia as though they were assayed in the UK by one of our traditional city assay offices.”
A spokesperson for the Birmingham Assay Office told Jewellery Focus that they were not aware of a solicitor’s letter having been received with regard to its sub-office in India.
The spokesperson added: “The sub office was fully approved by the British Hallmarking Council within the remit of the legislation. The matter of overseas hallmarks will be discussed by the Council at its next regular six-monthly meeting on Monday, 10 October.”