When you look closely at your gold jewelry, you will notice its markings. Each marking conveys information about the piece. Understanding the symbols, markings, and hallmarks stamped on your gold can give you insights into your jewelry’s purity, origin, and history.
Gold marking is an age-old practice, with roots tracing back to ancient civilizations. Here’s what you should know:
Introduction to Gold Purity and Hallmarking
Historically, these markings served multiple purposes: They were a guarantee of the gold’s purity, a mark of the craftsman’s work, and sometimes, a reflection of the gold piece’s origin.
Today, gold markings have become standardized to a significant extent, though variations still exist. The most universally recognized measure of gold purity today is the “karat” system.
The Karat System
Pure gold is 24 karats, indicating 24 out of 24 parts are gold. It is typically designated as 99.9% pure gold. Common markings include 18K, 14K, and 10K. These markings provide a clear and straightforward understanding of the gold content in a piece.
While countries outside the U.S., like Canada, Mexico, the UK, and Germany, allow for jewelry made of 8K or 9K to be sold as gold (particularly in wedding bands), this is not the case here because the Federal Trade Commission prohibits products less than 10-karat gold from being sold or marketed as gold in the United States.¹
Something to keep in mind, it is easy to confuse karat and carat. Karat relates to the purity of gold, while carat refers to the weight of a gemstone like a diamond.
The Millesimal Fineness Scale
Another system that denotes the purity of gold is the Millesimal Fineness Scale. The Millesimal Fineness Scales measures the purity in parts per thousand. A gold alloy that is 75% pure gold would be represented by a “750” stamp.²
Gold Hallmarks and Their Significance
While the karat system offers a measure of purity, hallmarks demonstrate authenticity and origin.
When you’re considering purchasing a piece of gold jewelry or you’re simply curious about the value of an item you already own, understanding gold hallmarks is crucial.
These tiny stamps or engravings on gold items are essential for determining the purity and authenticity of the piece.
Not all gold jewelry is marked. You can run into this with older pieces. Sometimes markings can get worn or faded, and you might not be able to see them after cleaning.
Hallmarks in the Modern Age
In some countries, hallmarking is a legal requirement for commercial gold pieces, according to the Convention on the Control and Marking of Articles of Precious Metals.³ These hallmarks often include not only the purity but also symbols representing the assay office, the year of manufacture, and sometimes the craftsman.
For instance, British hallmarking typically included a series of marks:
- Maker’s Mark: This identifies the company or person responsible for sending the item to the assay office.
- Assay Office Mark: This mark denotes the official body that has tested and certified the purity of the gold. The mark varies depending on the country or region, but it often takes the form of a symbol like a lion passant, crown, or eagle.
- Purity Mark: Perhaps the most important mark, this tells you the actual gold content in terms of karats (K). It is sometimes identified as a fineness mark, measuring parts per thousand.
Over time, the hallmarking system in the U.K. has been amended. Among the latest changes include using the millesimal fineness standard and making date letters optional.
The United States does not require gold hallmarking. However, the National Gold and Silver Marking Act requires gold with an accompanying quality mark related to its purity and fineness must also include the registered trademark of the person or organization attesting to it, according to the National Gold and Silver Stamping Act.5
The Role of Hallmarks in Determining Gold Purity
While the United States does not require gold hallmarking, the National Gold and Silver Marking Act does require gold with at least 10 karats to be appropriately marked (18K, 14K, 10K).5
For countries where hallmarking is a legal requirement, including the United Kingdom,Denmark, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland,6 these marks are applied by an assay office after testing the metal content.
Practical Guide to Identifying Gold Markings
When dealing with gold, it is helpful when you can identify the gold symbols, markings, and hallmarks. There are practical benefits to knowing these symbols, including knowing the purity, learning the maker, and discovering its origin.
How to Read and Interpret Hallmarks
- Look for Numbers: The purity mark will often be in numerical form, indicating the parts per thousand of pure gold. For instance, “750” means 750 parts gold per thousand parts of metal, which equates to 18K gold.
- Identify the Assay Office: In countries with multiple assay offices, different symbols will represent each one. For example, in the UK, a leopard’s head means London, while an anchor means Birmingham.
- Maker’s Mark: This is usually a set of initials within a shape. It can be traced back to the jeweler or manufacturer.
- Date Letter: Some hallmarks also include a letter that indicates the year the item was hallmarked. This can be particularly useful for antique gold pieces.
- Additional Marks: Occasionally, you may find other marks, such as a crown or the profile of a head, which can indicate the gold’s origin or that it meets certain legal standards.
Tips for Examining and Identifying Markings on Your Gold Jewelry
In addition to identifying the maker’s mark, purity or fineness mark, the date, and any lettering, here are some helpful tips when you seek to identify the gold markings on your jewelry:
- Make sure the area is well-lit
- You can use a magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe, or even a microscope to decipher tiny markings, or get a photo on your phone and zoom in.
- Know common locations for the marking (on rings, look inside the band; on necklaces and bracelets, look near the clasp)
- Clean the jewelry to make the markings easier to see
- If you are having difficulty identifying the marking, consult a professional
Gold Markings to Look Out for When Selling Gold
When you are looking for gold markings, you might see some that indicate your gold is electroplated or gold-filled.
Gold-plating is a method where a thin layer of gold is applied to cover another metal through an electrochemical process.7 The FTC requires that jewelry described as gold-electroplated consist of a minimum of .175 microns of at least 10-karat gold. If either the thickness or quality is not up to those standards, the product must be described as either gold-flashed or gold-washed.¹ Electroplated gold stampings can include HGE or HGP to indicate a piece is gold-plated.8
Gold-filled jewelry has a sheet of at least 10-karat gold bonded to its exterior that accounts for at least 1/20th of the total weight of the product. Such jewelry is usually marked “x Kt. GF,” and if the weight of gold is less than 1/20th, the actual fraction must be listed ahead of the karatage.8
Cash for Gold USA does not buy electroplated gold or gold-filled items. So, if you see any of these marking (HGE, HGP, or GF), then you might have a piece that has sentimental value, but not much monetary value.
Using Gold Markings to Assess Value and Authenticity
Understanding how to read and interpret these marks empowers you to make informed decisions when dealing with gold.
- Identifying Authenticity: Hallmarks act as a safeguard against fraud, ensuring that the gold you purchase is genuine and meets the advertised purity.
- Understanding Provenance: If your gold piece bears a date letter and maker’s mark, you can learn about its history and appreciate its unique heritage.
- Determining Value: By knowing the purity and origin, you can accurately assess the value of gold. Below is a chart denoting the gold content per the karat system.
1. Federal Trade Commission – Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries, https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/trade-regulations-rules-and-industry-guides/guides-jewelry-precious-metals-and, Retrieved Dec. 9, 2023
2. Wikipedia – Fineness, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fineness, Retrieved Dec. 8, 2023
3. Hallmarking Convention – Background, https://hallmarkingconvention.org/en/about-background, Retrieved Dec. 8, 2023
4. The Assay Office – Birmingham – Current Legislation, https://theassayoffice.com/current-legislation, Retrieved Dec. 9, 2023
5. National Gold and Silver Stamping Act, 297 (b), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2009-title15/html/USCODE-2009-title15-chap8.htm, Retrieved Dec. 8, 2023
6. Hallmarking Convention – Contracting States, https://hallmarkingconvention.org//en/members, Retrieved Dec. 9, 2023
7. Wikipedia – Gold plating, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_plating. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2023
8. Wikipedia – Gold-filled jewelry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold-filled_jewelry. Retrieved Dec. 12, 2023
9. World Gold Council – Is Gold Jewellery A Good Investment?, https://www.gold.org/about-gold/about-gold-jewellery, Retrieved Dec. 8, 2023