“Ever increasing gold prices are driving significant changes in the UK fine jewellery trade, one such trend being the introduction of bonded gold, and an increase in gold-plated and rolled gold products coming into the market. Bonded gold items are produced with a thick layer of gold alloy bonded onto a base metal or sterling silver core. The resulting article is only about 10 per cent gold alloy by weight on average, but could be easily mistaken as an all-gold item by the consumer or the retailer,” explained the BHC.
The bonded gold products have been introduced from the United States where there are clear regulations for marking and describing them. However, the descriptor ‘bonded gold’ is not specifically permitted by the 1973 Hallmarking Act, which did not envisage the development of the process at the time it was drafted.
Trading Standards authorities have sought advice from the BHC regarding the use of the term and the correct way to mark such items. Official guidance has now been issued, based on the existing provisions covering rolled gold and plated gold in the 1973 Hallmarking Act.
The BHC’s view is that no enforcement action should be taken in respect of the use of the term ‘bonded gold’. The organisation further stipulates that, assuming the core is 925, for example sterling silver, the article should carry a full silver hallmark, or a 925 stamp if it is under the hallmarking exemption weight for silver of 7.78 grams. Bonded gold on a base metal core cannot be hallmarked.
It is not permitted additionally to mark the article 9k, 10k, 14k or 18k, as is common practice in the United States. The only circumstance in which this is allowed is if the gold fineness is immediately preceded or followed by the words ‘bonded gold’, ‘rolled gold’ or ‘gold plated’. For example, an article with a silver hallmark (or 925 stamp on underweight articles) can be marked as follows – ‘925 & 18ct bonded gold/rolled gold/gold plated’.
It is also emphasised that the bonded gold layer must be of a fineness of at least 375 parts per thousand and of a recognised in UK standard. So, for example, bonded gold of apparently 10K can only be described as nine carat. This follows the practice for gold-plated and rolled gold articles in the UK.
The guidance applies to all bonded gold, rolled gold and gold-plated silver articles below the 7.78 gram exemption weight for hallmarking, as well as for those requiring hallmarking. The exemption is an exemption from hallmarking itself, not from the requirements of every other part of the Hallmarking Act 1973.
Mr Christopher Jewitt, newly appointed chairman of the BHC, said: “Some of the bonded gold items we have seen had very confusing markings and the consumer could easily have believed them to be nine carat gold throughout. The British Hallmarking Council supports Trading Standards and the assay offices in implementing and enforcing this important guidance to ensure that UK jewellers and consumers are protected from being misled.”
The full guidance from the British Hallmarking Council can be found at www.bis.gov.uk/britishhallmarkingcouncil or on the Birmingham Assay office website at www.theassayoffice.co.uk/bonded_gold.html