Wedding Ring Hallmarking Explained! An indepth look at why Brides and Grooms to be will absolutely want their Wedding Rings hallmarked, and the differences.
Listen to Mark on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…
Mark: [00:00:02] Welcome. Hope this is gonna be informative for you couples out there.
One of the questions I get asked during the day, when it comes to making each other’s wedding rings is, “what is a hallmark?” Why is it important to you as a couple?
A hallmark consists really of a series of marks to articles within the trade. It could be anything made from a precious metal, but in this context we’re talking about rings. It’s a series of marks, that includes wedding rings, that are made of precious metals. Platinum, gold, palladium and silver. A hallmark means that the article has been independently tested. So the couples make it and we get it sent off.
A Hallmark really is, for you as a couple, it’s your guarantee that the article, or ring, conforms to all the legal standards of purity, or what we call fineness.
So if it’s 9 karat gold, 14 karat gold platinum etc. It also guarantees provenance by informing you as a minimum legal requirement, where the piece was hallmarked, what the article is made from, and who made the article.
There are four assay offices in the UK. Assay offices in the trade are where we send the items afterwards.
So the couples make it, they’ve agreed, yes, we can have it hallmarked, and it gets sent off. Mine are sent to London. And if you look at the marks there, from top to bottom, you’ve got the leopard’s head for London, you’ve got the anchor for Birmingham, the rose for Sheffield and also the castle for Edinburgh.
A full traditional hallmark comprises of 5 marks.
The first one is the sponsors or makers mark. And this example here, LOA is the London assay office. The second mark is the traditional fineness mark. So left to right, sterling silver, britannia silver, which is very pure silver, the first sterling silver is 925, then we’ve got gold, palladium and platinum.
Mark: [00:03:00] The millesimal fineness mark is… The ones that you normally see is like platinum. 950 is platinum. It’s a different mark. It’s like in ovals. That’s palladium. Then you’ve got gold and 925 silver. So if you see these marks, you can read them. And when you go to a jewellers, you see their little mark in there, or they’re reading these marks to find out, especially if you have something repaired. This helps a jeweller a lot. “What is this piece of jewellery made from?” And going back again, you’ll have the assay office mark on there. So mine, I have a set of marks, and it will have included the leopard’s head.
Mark: [00:03:49] And then also the last thing is the date letter marks. So left to right, 2010 right up to 2016, which is “r”. And this year’s letter is a letter “t”. Simple! This is a set of hallmarks that you might see in an 18 karat gold ring. So you’ve got the sponsor’s mark, the common control mark, the millesimal fineness mark and then the assay. So four marks there and then that one’s missing the date stamp. But you’d have a letter at the end of that. The next example is for a set of silver. So the first one and the end one are the same, but the middle one’s showing it’s 925 silver.
How are the article’s hallmarked? First the article is tested for fineness to find out what the articles are made from.
So I get something in, I buy it from a bullion dealer. It’s 9 karat gold. It’s 18 karat gold. It could be silver. So once it’s made I send it to the assay office. And this is the process that it goes through whilst it’s there. The first way they can test the metal is a XRF. It’s like a ray gun. You can actually get handheld ones. These programs you see on TV where they dig out gold from some buried treasure, they can actually test it with a handheld one. So they use this, for the majority. It’s very, very quick, 30 seconds. And the amount of items that are hallmarked runs into hundreds of thousands each year. And that’s each assay office.
Mark: [00:05:48] The next one is gold cupellation. It’s a two thousand year old process. So they refine it, they melt it and test it. Then they get the percentage of the overall gold content.
Mark: [00:06:06] And then the last one is, this is my favourite, touch testing. It dates back from 500B.C. There is a touchstone. So the item is likely rubbed on the touch stone, and it leaves just a thin layer, just a smear of gold. They use chemicals and then from that reaction, it gives an initial indication of the fineness, and that’s how it’s determined. And this is the origin of the phrase “coming up to scratch”. There are some old oil paintings and you can see sometimes within that, you can tell the guy’s trade because there’s a touchstone within the actual portraits. So that’s how they test.
There are three ways of actually striking the mark.
The first being struck by punch and hammer. So this is just… You can see on the ends of these punches, you’ve got 925, you’ve got a date letter “m” and you’ve got the assay office. And there you’ve got the leopard’s head. So they’re actually punched on. So done with a hammer. The next way is use the fly press. So the stamp is there, and is done by hand, or foot. Either by air or by an old fly press that pushes down. It’s especially for doing thin items. That comes in that way. Going back to the other press, the other punches, what they show are straight punches. We also get one, it’s called a swan’s neck and they’re used for doing the inside of a ring. So those ones there would be on the outside of say, a bangle, or some item. So that’s where you’d use a straight punch. For getting inside the curve of a ring, they use a swan neck. I didn’t have an example of a swan neck. I apologise for that.
Mark: [00:08:11] And then the last way is… And this is more current and up to date, is laser marking. It’s also used for laser engraving on the inside of the ring. So if a couple wants… We get them hallmarked. I always say to a couple get the rings hallmarked. And at that stage, we can decide whether they want some sort of inscription. It’s done at the assay office. The couples have three fonts they can choose, and there’s a form. We send it off and it comes back. The couples are very happy. They love having that sort of individual input on their rings.
This is just some examples of a struck mark and a laser mark.
So the laser mark is the back sample. So you can see it’s greyish around the letters. And then the ones in the foreground are actually struck with punches. So thank you for your time. I do hope you found this informative and helpful. Simple, straightforward and that’s what you get with hallmarking. And the important thing for couples is, a hallmark is your independent guarantee that what you’ve bought, or what I’ve supplied, in some cases, is what you actually get. It’s a guarantee. And also like I say, for insurance purposes, it helps. You can take it into the jewellers. Any jeweller, they’ll look at it. They’ll know what that item is made from. And they can give it an independent value. So thank you very much for your time.
James: [00:09:58] Fantastic, thank you Mark!
Mark: [00:09:59] You’re welcome.
So Tim have you got an idea about a question or questions that brides and grooms to be should be asking Mark, before they even start looking for wedding rings?
Tim, sorry. I think your microphone is switched off.
Tim: [00:10:21] Can you hear me now? Thank you.
So the question I had for Mark was about making your own, designing your own ring. My son in law and my daughter got married last year, and my son in law designed the engagement ring. Which he presented to her on the Isle of Skye.
Mark: [00:10:42] I’ve been there!
Tim: [00:10:42] I was amazed that he went to all the effort, in fact, he has a fascination with the art of designing and making things anyway. But how common is it? Have you seen bridegrooms designing the engagement ring they present, and what advice would you give?
Mark: [00:11:11] I’ve had a couple. I personally don’t make a lot of engagement rings. I normally get to meet the couple after they’ve got engaged. But yes, I have met some guys who want to do their engagement ring for their partner. It’s very difficult because of the stones. Purchasing the right stone, the size. Engagement rings isn’t a straightforward process. Designing is fine, but I would always suggest that if couples are looking to have something individual, that they go to an independent maker. There are lots of really top independent makers out there who will help you design a ring and manufacture it.
Mark: [00:12:12] So it’s either that they help with… I get couples asking if they can set stones. It’s a three to five year apprenticeship, so that’s always a no.
Engagement rings normally have like a diamond, or a set of diamonds, or a coloured stone surrounded by diamonds. That is a skilled job.
It’s a very, very skilled job. But couples can go to a maker, sit down and say “I want to make an engagement ring”. Or “I want to design an engagement ring”. Independent jewellers and creators are more than happy to sit there and guide people through. I’m amazed, I’m very pleased to hear that your son in law did the romantic thing and actually designed the engagement ring for your daughter. He must be very proud, and it’s a one off. So that’s another thing. It’s this individuality. Doing your own thing, getting what you as a couple actually want. So yeah, yeah, I do some engagement rings but I normally get the couples after the deed’s been done. And I have to sort of work around some of the more unusual engagement rings, shape wise.
Okay so I guess of course you have to be designing the ring to go with the engagement ring. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s clearly another factor.
Mark: [00:13:48] Yeah. Yeah the thing that happens a lot with me, is I get couples or ladies with unusual shaped engagement rings, and they want to make a ring to go around it. It’s always fraut. So my favourite engagement ring, there’s a gap between the finger and the underneath of the stone settings. So the ring, the wedding band can go underneath.
Tim: [00:14:16] Ah interlock, yes.
Mark: [00:14:17] Yes, interlock.
Tim: [00:14:23] Well thank you.
Mark: [00:14:24] You’re welcome.
I was hoping to press the flesh actually Mark, I was gonna get my hallmarks out and have a look. But I can’t see them, they’re too small aren’t they!
Mark: [00:14:36] They are very, very small.
James: [00:14:38] They are tiny!
Tim: [00:14:39] Mine, I think they start about 0.25mm. So mine are miniscule. Because my point of view is, it’s not about me. So even when I make jewellery, it’s not about my mark. It’s about the piece. So yeah they can be very, very small and you need good eyes to try seeing them. That’s why I’ve got glasses now.
James: [00:15:10] I’m also thinking that, you know, I didn’t realise there was laser engraving as well as punching. And…
I’m imagining that the punching is kind of a zero loss of metal process, whereas the laser engraving, surely that’s burning a very fine amount out.
Mark: [00:15:24] Yeah, yeah, it’s minuscule, it’s small. And the thing is laser engraving has been around a long time, but it’s got better. And also that’s the thing with laser engraving, within the trade, is laser engraving can be less damaging to a piece. So if you’ve got a piece that… And it happens! I’ve sent pieces away. It’s been hallmarked, or struck, and if you hit something onto a piece of metal, it can move. I’ve had pieces… What normally happens is if you have something hallmarked, you don’t finish it to a really high quality. Because when it comes back, you’re cleaning it up. I’ve had stuff where the ring’s been struck, the sides have bulged out a little bit. So it happens! With laser engraving, you’re taking that risk away. And also like I say, within the trade, you can mark stuff. I want these hallmarks HERE. And you have to do that because if you leave it to assay office, they’ll mark it and strike it where it’s easy for them. Not exactly where you want it. So you have to tell them their instructions. “Please mark HERE”. So yeah it does burn away a bit, but it’s minuscule, it’s not a lot. And it’s not like you’re not losing any money.
James: [00:17:09] Sounds like the pros outweigh the cons to be honest.
Mark: [00:17:13] I like it. I do like it. And also from a maker’s point of view, I have a logo, which is my business card, and it’s marked. They can laser in great logos now. So if you’ve got a brand, I’ve not, I’m just me, but you can have that also incorporated inside. It’s an extra, it doesn’t have to be there, but if you’ve got a brand, and there are jewellers out there who have a named brand. That logo can also be struck. You can actually have your logos made into a punch. I have mine. So if I’ve got, well if I’ve got jewellery that is not going to be hallmarked because of the hallmarking regulations, which I won’t go into now, I can actually strike my mark, my logo onto the piece, so it says it’s come from my studio.
James: [00:18:10] Fantastic. Brilliant.