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The Law Explained

The Hallmarking Act of 1973 has been amended by various orders. For a brief outline of the legislation including the various amendments click here

JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE ASSAY OFFICES OF GREAT BRITAIN

March 1989

MEMORANDUM
ON THE LAW RELATING TO THE SUPPLY OF ARTICLES TO WHICH THE DESCRIPTION GOLD, SILVER OR PLATINUM IS APPLIED

This Memorandum deals with the law set out in the Hallmarking Act 1973 (herein referred to as "the Act") as amended by the Hallmarking (Exempted Articles) (Amendment) Order 1975. the Hallmarking (International Convention) Order 1976 (as amended), the Hallmarking (Exempted Articles) Orders 1982 and 1986 and the Hallmarking (Approved Hallmarks) Regulations 1986.

The Memorandum is intended as a brief outline of the law and no reliance must be placed on it for a legal interpretation. For that the complete Act with amendments must be studied. The Joint Committee and the individual Assay Offices are happy to answer questions arising on this Memorandum. In particular the Assay Offices should be consulted before the manufacture or importation of articles which are not specifically mentioned.

1 MAIN OFFENCE
Subject to certain exemptions it is an offence for any person in the course of trade or business -
(a) to apply to an unhallmarked article a description indicating that it is wholly or partly made of gold, silver or platinum; or
(b) to supply or offer to supply an unhallmarked article to which such a description is applied.

This applies only to transactions "in the course of a trade or business". Thus it applies to transactions by antique dealers, gift shops, auctioneers, pawnbrokers, etc. But it is no offence for such a description to be applied by a person in a private transaction. But where a person carries on a series of transactions it has been held that those were "in the course of a trade or business".

It will be noted that any article can be sold whatever amount of gold, silver or platinum it contains. But it must NOT BE DESCRIBED as gold, silver or platinum unless it is hallmarked or unless it is exempt; (see paragraph 6 below).

Section I (1).

2 OMISSION OF DATE LETTER
The Assay Offices have power to omit the date letter (one of the approved hallmarks) from articles weighing less than 4 grams but such omission will not render the article unhallmarked.

Hallmarking (Approved Hallmarks) Regulations 1986.

3 PERMITTED DESCRIPTIONS
The above provisions do not apply in the case of the following descriptions which accordingly may be used to describe articles - "gold plated", "rolled gold", "silver plated", "platinum plated" and any description which is implicitly or in express terms confined to the colour of an article. But these descriptions are only permissible if they are appropriate for the article in question, and so long as they are not a false description of the article. If the description is in writing the lettering of "plated" or "rolled" is to be at least as large as any other lettering in the description.

Section 1 (2) and Schedule I, Part 1.

4 LEGAL STANDARDS
The authorised standards of fineness (that is the number of parts by weight of fine gold, silver or platinum in 1.000 parts by weight of alloy) are -
for gold
- 916 6 (22 carat); 750 (18 carat); 585 (14 carat); and 375 (9 carat);
for silver
- 958 4 (Britannia) and 925 (sterling);
for platinum
- 950.

If the metal in an article is of a fineness lower than the minimum standard of fineness shown above for that metal the article cannot be hallmarked.

Section 4 (I) and Schedule 2, Part I.

5 IMPORTED ARTICLES

(a) The provisions set out above apply to all articles whether made in this country or imported. Imported articles, which are required to be hallmarked and on which duty (if any) has been paid, are not required to be delivered under Customs' control to an Assay Office. It is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that articles are sent for hallmarking.
(b) INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION HALLMARKS - marks struck by an authorised Assay Office in or outside the United Kingdom in accordance with the Convention on the Control and Marking of Articles of Precious Metals are recognised as approved hallmarks provided they relate to one of the authorised legal standards of fineness under the Act. There is no need for imported articles bearing such marks and a sponsor's mark to be submitted to a United Kingdom Assay Office for assay and hallmarking before sale in this country.

Articles marked at an Assay Office in the United Kingdom in accordance with the Convention and exported to another country which has ratified the Convention will be accepted without further assay and hallmarking in that country provided they relate to one of its authorised legal standards of fineness.

The Convention recognises the following standards of fineness -

for gold - 750 (18 carat): 585 (14 carat) and 375 (9 carat);
for silver - 925 (sterling); 830 and 800;
for platinum - 950.

The lower two silver standards (830 and 800) are not authorised legal standards under the Act. Accordingly it is an offence to sell in the course of trade or business articles bearing Convention Marks of these standards in this country, unless they are exempted as being intended for despatch to a destination outside the United Kingdom.

Section 2 (I), (2) and (3). Schedule 1, Part II. Hallmarking (International Convention) Order 1976.

6 EXEMPTIONS
A list of exemptions, which are set out in Part II of Schedule 1 (as amended), is attached. Where an exemption depends upon the date of manufacture or the date of an alteration it is presumed that the manufacture or alteration was made after that date until the contrary is proved by the person alleging the same.

Section I (3) and Schedule I, Part II (as amended).

7 USE OF WORDS "STERLING". "BRITANNIA" AND "CARAT"
The use of the words "sterling", "Britannia" or "carat" in describing an article is presumed to indicate that the article is made of silver or gold (as the case may be) and that it is of not less than the following standards of fineness -
Sterling - 925 parts per 1,000 of silver;
Britannia - 958 4 parts per 1,000 of silver;
number of carats - the standard of gold corresponding to that number of carats.

This does not apply where the word "carat" is used as a measure of weight of precious stones or where Britannia is used as part of the phrase "Britannia metal".

Section 1 (5) and Schedule I, Part III.

8 SPONSOR'S MARK
A sponsor's mark (formerly known as the maker's mark) must be stamped on an article by or on behalf of the sponsor before it is submitted for hallmarking or by arrangement stamped by an Assay Office on behalf of the sponsor when it is submitted. Each Assay Office will keep a separate register of sponsors' marks registered at that Office. A sponsor's mark is valid only if registered or reregistered after the 31st December 1975, and is valid for ten years. A registration fee is charged.

It is an offence for any person without authority to strike an article with a mark purporting to be a sponsor's mark.

Section 3 (and paragraph 18 below).

9 SOLDER
An article will not be hallmarked if excessive solder is used or the solder does not comply with the required fineness which is as follows -
(a) gold articles - the solder must be of a fineness not less than the standard of fineness of the article, except -
(l) if the article is of the 916.6 standard, the fineness of the solder must not be less than 750:
(ll) if the article is filigree work or a watch case of the 750 standard, the fineness of the solder must be not less than 740; and
(lll) if the article is white gold of not less than 585 standard and not more than 750 standard, the fineness of the solder must be not less than 500;
(b) silver articles - the fineness of the solder must be not less than 650;
(c) platinum articles - the solder must be gold, silver, platinum or palladium or a combination of two or more of those metals and of a combined fineness of not less than 950.

Solder of a fineness less than the standard of fineness of the article may not be used for strengthening, weighting or filling.

Section 4 (3) (as amended).

10 ADHESIVES

(a) It is permissible to use adhesive, as an alternative to solder, to join the parts of precious metal articles provided the use of the adhesive is not excessive.
(b) The use of adhesive for strengthening, weighting or filling is not permissible.

Hallmarking (Approved Hallmarks) Regulations1986

11 ARTICLES MADE OF TWO OR MORE PRECIOUS METALS

(a) The general rule is that so long as more than fifty per cent by weight of the article is of one precious metal and the remainder is of a more precious metal or metals the article will be marked on the less precious metal with the hallmarks appropriate for that metal. However articles made of platinum and gold, where platinum is more than fifty per cent by weight of the article, may be hallmarked only if the gold parts are not less than 750 standard and are clearly distinguishable in colour.
(b) The Assay Office has a discretion to:-
(l) add the standard mark only upon the more precious metal, and
(ll) omit the standard mark from any small working parts of an article where it is impracticable to strike a mark.
(c) Silver articles coated with gold will be hallmarked as silver, and any gold, silver or platinum articles coated with rhodium will be hallmarked as appropriate to the precious metal concerned.

Sections 4 and 5 and Schedule 2, Part II (as amended).

12 ARTICLES MADE OF PRECIOUS METAL AND OTHER MATERIALS
(a) Articles made partly of precious metal and partly of base metal will be hallmarked only where the use of base metal is authorised by regulations of the British Hallmarking Council (the Council) or (in relation to a single article) approved by the Council -
(l) as being reasonably required to fulfil the purpose for which the article is designed;
AND, IN ADDITION,
(ll) the base metal is clearly distinguishable in appearance (either by the colour or by having struck thereon the word "metal" in accordance with regulations of the Council) from the precious metal part.
(b) An article made partly of precious metal and partly of materials other than metal will be hallmarked only if-
(l) those other materials are clearly distinguishable from the precious metal part and they are not plated or of a colour to resemble any precious metal and their extent is clearly visible and the precious metal part is of a thickness of not less than 100 micrometres; or
(ll) where those other materials are wholly or mainly enclosed, the article has been manufactured so as to be capable of being hallmarked before it infilled and the article is struck with the word "filled" in accordance with regulations of the Council.

The word "filled" need not be struck on the handle to a knife, fork or spoon where the quantity of filling in the handle is not more than necessary for joining it to the blade.
For the purposes of this paragraph "base metal" means any metal other than gold, silver or platinum of at least minimum fineness.

Section 4 (1) and Schedule 2, Part III (as amended) and paragraph 20 below.

13 ALTERATIONS TO HALLMARKED ARTICLES
The general rule is that it is an offence to make any addition, alteration or repair to a hallmarked article or to alter or deface any mark (except by battering an article so as to make it fit only for remanufacture) without the written consent of an Assay Office. The Assay Offices have given certain general Consents and these are referred to in paragraph 20 below.

It is, however, no offence -
(a) to make an addition to an article which is not a new ware if its character and the purpose for which it can be used remain unaltered and the addition is of the same precious metal and of a fineness not less than that of the standard of fineness of the article and the weight of the addition does not exceed the lesser of-
(l) 1 gram of gold, 5 grams of silver or 0.5 gram of platinum: and
(ll) fifty per cent of the weight of the article before the addition: or
(b) if the addition consists of a coating of a thickness not exceeding 2 micrometres at any point to an article -
(l) of gold, if the coating is of gold of a standard of fineness not less than the standard of fineness of the article; or
(ll) of silver, if the coating is of silver of a fineness not less than the standard of fineness of the article; or
(lll) of silver, if the coating is of gold of not less than the minimum fineness; or
(lV) of gold, silver or platinum, if the coating is of rhodium.

Section 5 (and paragraph 20 below).

14 DEFINITIONS
There are five important definitions to which attention needs to be called -
"unhallmarked" - an article is unhallmarked if it does not bear the approved hallmarks and the sponsor's mark or if it has been the subject of an improper alteration;
"improper alteration" - means an addition, alteration or repair made to an article bearing approved hallmarks in contravention of section 5, whether that alteration was made before or after the Act came into force, unless the article has been re-assayed and hallmarked after the addition, alteration or repair has been made;
"dealer" - means a person engaged in the business of making, supplying, selling (including selling by auction) or exchanging articles of precious metal or in other dealings in such articles; "new ware" - means -
(a) any article which is substantially a complete manufacture and which has not as such been supplied on a sale by retail; and
(b) any article which has been the subject of any improper alteration;
"minimum fineness" in relation to gold means the standard of 375, for silver the standard of 925, and for platinum the standard of 950.

Section 22 (I).

15 DEALER NOTICES
One of the requirements of the Hallmarking Act 1973 is that all dealers supplying precious metal jewellery shall display a notice explaining the approved hallmarks.  This must be the notice produced by the British Hallmarking Council, as shown below. Dealers Notices are available from the Birmingham Assay Office at a cost of £10.00 each including VAT.

Section II.

16 OFFENCES
In addition to those already referred to the following are the most important offences-
(a) for any person to forge or counterfeit a hallmark with intent to defraud or deceive or to transpose a hallmark from one article to another;
(b) for any person to supply or offer to supply an article bearing a counterfeit mark knowing or believing the mark to be counterfeit;
(c) for any person without lawful authority or excuse to have in his custody or control an article which to his knowledge or belief bears a counterfeit of any mark;
(d) for any person knowingly or for any dealer to supply an article bearing a mark of the character of a hallmark or likely to be confused with a hallmark which the Assay Office are satisfied has not been struck thereon by an Assay Office or is not a true description because the article appears to have been the subject of an improper alteration.

Sections 6 and 7.

17 PENALTIES
For any offence under this Act the penalties are, in the case of summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £2,000 or, on conviction on indictment, an unlimited fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both, except in the case of forgery or counterfeiting in which case the term of imprisonment is one not exceeding ten years.

Section 6 (I) and Schedule 3 (as amended).

18 SCOPE OF THE ACT
The Act applies to the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It does not apply to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and articles made in those places are not regarded as made in the United Kingdom.

Section 24.

19 VOLUNTARY HALLMARKING
Many manufacturers and dealers find it expedient to submit for assay and marking articles which are exempt from compulsory marking because members of the public value the standards guaranteed by hallmarking. The Assay Office authorities are glad to assay and mark articles submitted voluntarily, provided that the usual charges are paid.

20 (a) REGULATIONS OF THE COUNCIL
The Council has issued the following regulations-

Number IB Relating to hallmarking of articles made partly of precious metal and partly of base metal (paragraph 12 above),

Number 2 Relating to the striking on articles of the words "metal" and "filled" (paragraph 12 above), and

Number 3 Relating to procedures for registration of sponsors' marks (paragraph 8 above),

(b) CONSENTS OF THE ASSAY OFFICES

The Assays Office have issued certain Consents-
1 Consent to the making of an addition comprised of base metal to a hallmarked article (Consent No. 1 -1975),
2 Consent to the making of an addition comprised of non-metallic material to a hallmarked article (Consent No. 2 - 1975),
3 Consent to the coating of a silver article bearing an approved hallmark (Consent No. 3-1975), and
4 Consent to the defacing by obliteration of a hallmark and associated sponsor's mark on a gold, silver or platinum ring (Consent No. 4 -1975).
Copies of these Regulations and Consents may be obtained upon application to any Assay Office or to the Joint Committee of the Assay Offices at the address shown below.

CONCLUSION
In a memoradum of this length it is not possible to give more than a brief outline of the law. However, it is hoped that the information given will guide the reader to the section appropriate to any particular problem to be resolved.

JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE ASSAY OFFICES OF GREAT BRITAIN,
ST. PHILIP'S HOUSE, ST. PHILIP'S PLACE. BIRMINGHAM, B3 2PP © 1989