One of the tools I use when I am valuing jewellery or silverware is checking the hallmarks, those tiny symbols stamped onto precious metal pieces. They carry a rich history that stretches back centuries. These marks, which you could liken to a signature, denote the purity of the metal, the maker, and sometimes even the location of creation.

The origins of hallmarks can be traced back to the Byzantine Empire, where goldsmiths began to mark their work to signify quality and authenticity. However, the practice really flourished during the Middle Ages in Europe when guilds emerged as hubs of craftsmanship. Guilds regulated the quality and standards of their members’ work, and hallmarking became a means to guarantee authenticity and protect consumers.

In 1300, King Edward I of England passed the Statute of Gold and Silver, which mandated hallmarking to control the purity of precious metals. This marked the formalization of hallmarking in Europe, and similar regulations soon followed in other countries.

Over time, hallmarking systems became more complex. Additional marks were introduced to denote the maker, the date of creation, and sometimes even the location of manufacture. These intricate systems varied from country to country, reflecting regional traditions and regulations.

At Heirlooms, we have our own maker’s mark which is from Birmingham. I chose Birmingham as it was the nearest Assay Office to where I was born which was Worcester! It is the initials HoW which stands for Heirlooms of Wareham. The initials are enclosed in a heart shaped shield, much like the shield with the Wareham town crest in it.

Today, hallmarking remains an essential aspect of the jewellery industry, providing consumers with confidence in the quality and authenticity of their purchases.

 

Originally published in the Purbeck Gazette 27th May 2024.