Knowing and understanding the inherent value and composition of one’s valuables is fundamental to being able to utilize the asset when it comes time to liquidate these types of assets. Often people who buy bullion, coins and jewellery or receive them as gifts, typically fail to keep issued paperwork, thus there is poor-recordkeeping for what was actually received.  Don’t be discouraged if you cannot find a specific marking, you are not a trained professional – we are! Remember, we have made selling gold and silver from home easy and we will happily test anything for you at our secure facility – for free! Sell your precious metals at Toronto Metal Exchange, and cash in your gold and silver today! 

What is a hallmark?

A hallmark is an official mark or stamp on gold, silver, platinum and palladium products in order to attest the purity of a stamp bearing object. Hallmarks are also known as assay or standardized markings legally mandated by the district in which the item was manufactured. Hallmarks can be considered as distinguishing characteristics that are usually stamped on gold, silver, palladium and platinum items so to identify the articles purity or karat. Other hallmarks are added so that customers and businesses can easily identify its manufacturer or designer. You will find hallmarks in a variety of places. Typically, hallmarks are located on the inside of a ring or the tag near the clasp of a bracelet or necklace. Often hallmarks are quite small, or get worn off due to wear or damage, thus you may need to use a magnifying glass to clearly see the hallmark. If you are unsure of the hallmark or you are unable to find one, bring the item into Toronto Metal Exchange – we will be able to establish the purity within a few minutes using a couple of simple tests.

What metals are hallmarked?

Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium are the four main precious metals that require testing and hallmarking to be legally sold as genuinely karat items. The minimum weight that an item requires for hallmarking for each type of metal is the following:

  • 1 gram of Gold
  • 7.78 grams of Silver
  • 0.5 gram of Platinum
  • 1 gram of Palladium

Fine jewellery and other items that are made of precious metals can be identified in several ways, and the easiest methods are those that are provided by the manufacturer. These hallmarks are mostly well-recognized in the industry and immediately work as the first step in the verification of the precious metal content within a particular piece. This is extremely helpful; in the same way a government-issued bullion coin makes it easy for people of all walks of life to identify quickly the value of a given sovereign coin. Hallmarks make it far easier to evaluate a particular item. While these markings can be confusing and might be difficult for the average person to see or make out, experts know exactly what to look for right away.

  While hallmarks come in a wide variety of forms, the stamp indicates the purity of the precious metal used in the jewellery, ranging from 8 karat to 24 karat. Precious metals are used in a wide variety of jewellery, cutlery and giftware, tend to be made of an alloy of pure metal and other metals such as zinc and copper to increase the durability of a product. Most countries have regulations that mandate that products which are made with a specific quantity of precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium), all must contain a minimum amount of the pure metal within them in order to bear a designated hallmark. This percentage of purity is also known as fineness or karat.

The Importance of a Hallmark

Due to the high value of precious metals, it’s important to know that the item you are purchasing or selling is genuine – it is difficult to ascertain from a simple visual inspection or touch alone if the material is solid gold or silver, or a base metal with gold plating. This means there is a considerable potential for fraud and deception within the industry.  Hallmarking acts as a safeguard for jewellery buyers and suppliers ensuring that the items are genuine. Stamps or hallmarks indicate fineness (purity) of an item and its manufacturer. Date letters or any commemorative marks for example are optionally added but, you will most likely only see these if the hallmark is being featured for decorative purposes. Generally, hallmarks will be located inconspicuously on jewellery like the inside of a ring band, or the back of an item so as not upset its visual appeal and esthetic.

How to Find Gold and Silver Hallmarks?

The placement of gold and silver hallmarks depends on the article you’re dealing with. In general, you can find gold and silver hallmarks in subtle locations, i.e. underneath or on the side, on the edge or on a lip. Large pieces, like bowls, dresser sets, and trays, also have hallmarks. Here are some tips on how you can find them.

  • Jewellery such as pendants, pins and brooches, and other large types of jewellery, you should see a tiny stamp on the back of the item.
  • Rings, look on the inside the item. The hallmark should be stamped on the interior surface. Occasionally the hallmark is on the outside of the band.
  • Necklaces, bracelets and anklets or other items including solid gold or silver chains, look for a hallmark on or near the clasp.  Sometimes it will be on a small tag.
  • Silverplate and sterling silver flatware is always marked, but the location of the mark depends on the item and the manufacturer.
  • Spoons feature a hallmark on the back of the handle, usually just below the bowl. Occasionally the hallmark will be on the inside of the bowl.
  • Forks have a silver hallmark near the shoulders or wider portion.
  • Knives and serving utensils can be marked on the ferrule or collar, on the handle.
  • Items like bowls, trays, teapots and jugs, and other dishes showcase a hallmark at underneath or on the side, on the edge or on a lip.
  • Candlesticks, figurines, vases and other decorative pieces will have a stamp on the bottom as well.
  • Personal care items such as hairbrushes, hand mirrors, and other dresser set items are stamped on the underside, on the handle or just below.

Knowing your Karats

The most frequently utilized characters used to indicate precious metal content tend to be a stamp or engraving indicating 10, 14, 18 and 22 numbers and the letter “K” or “ct” for karat as a unit of measurement. Different karat values tend to be more or less common in different parts of the world. British Commonwealth countries have made wide use of the 9 karat standard for lower cost jewellery. This is identified as 9K or 9kt or 375. Countries like the United States or Italy favour 10k and 14 karat for lower quality gold jewellery. Worldwide 10 karat jewellery pieces are well-recognized and can be found with stamps of 10K, 10kt and 416, representing 41.7 percentage of fine gold content. 14 karat jewellery uses the stamp of 14K, 14kt or 585 for 58.5 percent pure gold content.  The 15 karat version, which is uncommon, appears with a 15K, 15kt, or 625 hallmark. Its rarity has to do with the fact that this standard of production was effectively discontinued during the 1940s. From 15 karat level gold then jumps to 18 karat. 18K, 18kt or 750 – equals 75 percent of gold purity. 22 karat have the same type of hallmark and gets a three-digit code of 916 for being 91.6 percent pure fine gold. Finally, 24 karat represents the purest and finest form of gold, meaning that it is has not been alloyed with another metal; and typically comes in .999 or .9999 purity. If one just wants gold for investment purposes, 24 karat gold is the finest version of the precious metal with the highest spot value and return.

While most numbers ranging from 8 to 24 are used for standard or universal karat reference, other hallmarks include three-digit codes. In these cases, it doesn’t mean the gold is 333 karats. Rather it is a simplified version of saying a gold piece has 33.3 percent pure gold in it.  Markings consisting of a 3-digit numeric set, such as 585 (14K) ties in with a common standards chart where number sets dictate the percentage of precious metals used.  999, for example is the purest amount, i.e., 24 karat gold with a fineness or purity of 99.99%. On the other hand, 750 indicates a purity of 75%, better known to most people as 18 karat. The 3-digit stamp sequence generally is identified as follows:

  • 999.9 or 999 – 24 karat (the item is made purely of one Precious metal)
  • 990 – 23 karat
  • 916, 917 – 22 karat
  • 875 – 21 karat
  • 833 – 20 karat
  • 800 – 19.2 karat
  • 750 – 18 karat
  • 625 – 15 karat
  • 585, 583, 575  – 14 karat (second most common)
  • 417 – 10 karat (typically the most common)
  • 375 – 9 karat
  • 333 – 8 karat

Here are some examples of different types of hallmarks:

Gold Plated or Gold Filled

What is Gold-Plated Jewellery?

Gold-plated jewellery is often used to refer to jewellery that has a thin layer of gold plating applied over the surface of another metal. Normally this metal is brass or copper. The gold plating is often very thin, and can wear off over time. The brass or copper underneath the gold coating will then show through to create a contrasting effect when examined closely. Gold-plated jewellery tends to be cheaper than solid gold jewellery because it uses less expensive materials in its construction. It’s also not as durable as pure metals like gold due to the vulnerability of the underlying material being exposed after repeated wearing due to the thin layer that comprises most plating jobs on any given piece.

For instance, the hallmark “GF” will be used for gold filled and “GP” signifies gold-plated.  Gold filled items should also have a karat number, but include a “GF” or “GP” after the purity marking. To be 100% confident your item is gold filled, or solid gold, have a trained gold and silver buyer perform an acid test to determine its purity. The purity is one of the main ingredients in determining the value of your gold and silver.

Common Markings on Gold Plated and Gold-Filled Jewellery

GF or G.F. – “Gold Filled” items are bonded to a sheet of gold that is at least 1/20th the weight of the item

RGP or R.G.P. – “Rolled Gold Plate” are the same as gold filled, but instead the gold weight can be lower than 1/20th of the items weight.

GP or G.P. – “Gold Plated” – the item was electroplated with a layer of gold; there is no minimum required thickness.

GEP or G.E.P. – “Gold Electroplate”

1/20 – 1/20th of the weight of the item is gold. Commonly used to indicate gold filled. These items can be found with all different karats. Example “1/20th 18k”

Silver Hallmarks Identifying Sterling Silver and Silverplate

Silver hallmarks can help to identify antique silver jewellery, flatware, and other items. These hallmarks are typically found on the back or underside of silver items indicating the purity of the silver, the manufacturer of the piece, and sometimes even the date it was made. Sterling silver is composed of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals like copper and nickel. Silversmiths have a legal responsibility to stamp their products to sell it as sterling silver. These are some of the most common:

  • Sterling
  • Sterling silver
  • 925
  • 925/1000
  • Lion passant – a lion with a raised paw, for sterling silver manufactured in England
  • Thistle mark – sterling silver manufactured in Scotland
  • Crowned harp – sterling silver made manufactured in Ireland.
  • The Britannia mark, a figure with staff and shield, indicates 958/1000 parts silver.
  • Coin or coin silver indicates an item that is 90% silver or 900/1000 parts silver.

Many items are silver-plated, which means they are crafted from a base metal and then covered in a very thin layer of pure silver. Silver-plated items are not always marked. More often, if a piece is not marked to indicate the metal content, it is probably silverplate. However, there are a few common silverplate marks you might encounter.

  • “Silverplate”
  • “EPNS” (electro-plated nickel silver)
  • “EPBM” (electro-plated Britannia metal)
  • “EP” (electro-plated)
  • “BP” (Britannia plate)

Toronto Metal Exchange does not purchase silver plated items.

Vermeil Jewellery

Gold Vermeil must not be confused with solid gold jewellery such as (750) 18k gold jewellery. Gold vermeil is a term used for sterling silver jewellery that has been plated with 18k gold (0.0025mm).

The thickness of the gold layer on gold Vermeil jewellery is at least 2.5 microns (0.0025mm). This can lead to people mistakenly believing that they are buying solid 18k gold, when in fact they have purchased sterling silver (925) that has been coated in a thin layer of 0.0025mm worth of gold plate, which adds virtually no additional value when you decide to resell this type of jewellery. It is important to understand that gold vermeil is not gold, it’s simply sterling silver with a very fine layer of gold.

Toronto Metal Exchange will purchase Vermeil jewellery for its silver content.

In terms of hallmarking, a gold vermeil jewellery piece will be hallmarked as Sterling Silver (925), while solid gold jewellery is hallmarked according to its fineness, for example, 10k, 14k, or 18k.

How to Tell if it’s Platinum?

The easiest way to tell if something is platinum is to look for the hallmarks in the image below. These hallmarks are legally required by law; therefore, a legitimate piece should have the necessary hallmarks to prove it. Old platinum hallmarks may not follow this system, in this situation a trained jeweller will be able to test the metal for you with an XRF machine. The hallmark indicates only the fineness or ratio of precious metals to other metals. Iridium, rhodium and ruthenium make the alloy harder and may make it appear whiter than pure platinum. Cobalt makes casting easier and the alloy has a slightly grayer appearance.

What is the stamp on platinum?

The image below should give a comprehensive idea for what stamps to look out in platinum hallmarks.

How to Tell if it’s Palladium?

Palladium hallmarks are a relatively new addition to precious metal hallmarks. Palladium experienced a surge in demand in the past couple of decades, with prices rising accordingly. While platinum is still the primary metal of choice for jewellery, palladium is increasingly being used as well.

Palladium 500, 950

The three most common standard of hallmarks for palladium are 500 (50% pure), 950 (95% pure) and 999 (99.9% pure) for ‘pure palladium’. Palladium of 500 fineness is much harder than 950, thus more suitable for items with intricate designs. These would include diamond rings with intricate designs. Softer palladium – 950 fineness – is more suitable for plain items such as wedding bands or wedding rings. It is often called simply 95 palladium. It is common to rhodium-plate both platinum and palladium rings to further strengthen them. Palladium items made before 2010, are either marked with a trapezium; three ovals; the international pentagon or bear no hallmark at all.