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So what is a hallmark?


Hallmarking is a process whereby precious metals are tested for their purity and stamped with an official mark of authenticity to indicate their quality. The hallmarking system was introduced in the 13th century by Edward I, who believed that it was important to guarantee th


e quality of jewellery being made and sold in the kingdom. It is a legal requirement in the UK that any item of jewellery containing of a particular weight of gold, silver or platinum must be hallmarked. Although it is a system that has been around for centuries, the British jewellery industry is now facing a unique challenge in a time of high precious metal costs - the ‘hallmarking tax’. While there is general consensus that hallmarking is a necessary safeguard for consumers, there are also various cons of these regulations. This article puts forward the arguments from the perspective of the government, consumer and jeweller.


Hallmarking is a part of the legal framework governing the jewellery industry in the UK. It is a process that has been used for centuries to ensure that precious metal jewellery meets the standards set by a governing body. It is a highly regulated process. In order to obtain a hallmark, the metal must first be sent away to a laboratory where it is tested and assayed by experts. This process involves a number of steps, including weighing, measuring, and X-ray imaging, in order to determine the purity of the metal. The metal is then given a stamp or laser mark of approval that indicates whether it meets the required standard.


Hallmarking is a legal requirement in some, but not all countries. From the perspective of the governments in which hallmarking is required, regulations provide an essential layer of consumer protection and ensure that consumers are getting the quality of product they expect. The regulations also provide a level playing field for jewellers, ensuring that all jewellery is subject to the same standards, regardless of the size or reputation of the business.


The Consumer

Hallmarking acts as a form of protection against fraud. Because the item has been tested and confirmed to be of the stated metal content this protects the consumer against any false claims made by the seller. It allows the consumer to ensure that it has been accurately priced. Furthermore, the hallmarking process can help detect any irregularities or falsification of materials, and helps to ensure that the item will not deteriorate over time. It provides a record of ownership should the item ever be lost or stolen, allowing the consumer to prove that the item was theirs, should the need arise.


By providing consumers with a guarantee of quality, it offers them peace of mind when making a purchase.


The Jeweller

From the perspective of jewellers, hallmarking regulations can provide a sense of trust and credibility to their business. The mark of authenticity provides customers with tangible proof of quality, making them more likely to trust the jeweller and make a purchase. Additionally, hallmarking regulations provide a sense of assurance to jewellers, as they know that their products are being tested for purity and safety. It helps to protect the reputation of the British jeweller and the craftsmanship of their products.


That said, some see hallmarking as a tax on the British jeweller because it adds an additional cost to their products. They must pay a significant fee to the Assay Office, which is the government body that regulates hallmarking in the UK. The hallmarking process is labor intensive and requires a trained professional to assess the quality of the metal and then stamp it with a mark of authenticity. This cost is then passed on to the consumer. A fee is also charged to cover the costs associated with the administration of the system. This fee is not charged in other countries, meaning that British jewellers have to pay and charge more for their supplies than their international counterparts. This additional cost that puts them at a disadvantage and makes it harder for them to compete in the global market. It is also a barrier to entry for new businesses looking to break into the jewellery industry. The cost of the tax puts off many potential entrepreneurs, even though they may be skilled in producing jewellery. This can make it difficult for the industry to grow and develop.


The Jewellery Industry

This tax is also a burden on the British jewellery industry, which is already struggling with the high cost of precious metals. It adds an extra layer of expense to jewellery production, making it even harder for businesses to make a profit. This is why many British jewellers are turning to alternative metals, such as stainless steel and copper, as a way to reduce costs and increase their margins. It puts British jewellers at a disadvantage in the global market and is a tax that may need to be reconsidered in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the British jewellery industry.


Summary

In summary, hallmarking regulations provide an important layer of protection for consumers, whilst also ensuring that jewellers are able to operate in an environment of trust and credibility. Although there is a cost associated with hallmarking, many consumers might believe it is worth it for the reassurance it offers. They are able to invest in jewellery with confidence, knowing that their purchase is of the highest quality. Hallmarking helps to protect the industry as a whole by ensuring that all jewellery is of an acceptable standard.


However the burden for smaller businesses may prevent them from producing innovative designs in precious metals, and can potentially put them out of business.


How can independent jewellers limit the financial burden of hallmarking?

1. Considering using an online hallmarking service. This will usually be cheaper than the traditional route of sending pieces to the Assay Office.


2. Make use of bulk hallmarking services. Many Assay Offices offer discounts for bulk hallmarking and some jewellers have even formed hallmarking groups to receive further discounts.


3. Look into hallmarking schemes that provide lower fees. These may be available in certain regions or for certain types of jewellery.


4. Try to source your metals from suppliers who can provide pre-hallmarked metals. This will save you the cost of hallmarking the metal yourself.


5. Never send a single item for hallmarking. Using a 'batch' hallmarking process. This means that all of the items in a batch will be hallmarked in one go, meaning you will only have to pay for one set of assay fees. Keep a stock of ‘blanks’ for rings or bangles which can go in the packet even if you don’t need it at the time. You can then fabricate into finished items when you need.


Ultimately, it is up to the government to decide whether the benefits of hallmarking outweigh the potential drawbacks. It does add extra cost for the UK jewellers, but it is a process that consumers value, and the regulations will not change for the foreseeable future. My opinion is that it is better to embrace the positives and find ways to keep the process affordable. Afterall, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your own personal makers mark on a verified quality piece of jewellery, which will be a loved item and heirloom for many years to come. Get a sample of gold or silver assayed with a beautiful, legible ‘display mark’, and keep it in your studio to show customers. Have a copy of the legal notice explaining hallmarking to give to customers when receiving their items. It breaks down the meaning of each component of the mark and will certainly be of interest to them, supporting the credibility of your work and the process, ultimately adding value to the piece that you have created for them.


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As a jeweller, you can never have too many tools, right?


For sure.

To my husband’s despair, I will never own enough pliers. Or hammers... files, stamps. But for most regular, artisan silver jewellery making, in my opinion, you should only really need one piercing saw. It is really important to find the right one for you, and there are a number of factors to think about.


You may have noticed that there is a huge variation in cost, but is it necessary to spend a lot? Does that extra £70 give you anything more than a marginal gain?


I currently own three piercing saws. I bought my cheapest (a non branded, 3” adjustable frame from Cooksons Gold), before I knew my interest in silver would become an obsession. My other two are higher-end models, the Knew Concepts with Quick Release Lever, and my Green Lion saw.

Here is a summary of benefits and drawbacks to help anyone choosing their forever saw.





Cookson’s Non-branded Adjustable Frame Saw (left, cost approx. £10)


Like many of its kind, the main benefit of the Cookson’s Basic is of course the cost, and the fact that you can adjust the width of the frame, allowing reuse of the many broken saw blades you generate when starting out. But as you improve, I found that this has limited advantage because, by the time you break a blade, the quality will have deteriorated, fragments may be bent or not saw efficiently, and the pieces you salvage probably have a very limited life remaining.


Further, as it is good practice to use the full length of blade with each stroke (to avoid wear being localised) you may well find it unnatural and frustrating to use an incomplete blade. I end up hitting the frame against the metal, because my natural sawing rhythm is broken. Further, being a bit of a weakling, I find the blade loading action delivers bruising of the sternum when baring weight to flex the frame to the width required to catch each end. With my bench not fixed to the floor, I soon needed a re-sand of my hardwood kitchen worktop, being the only fixed surface I could find conveniently in those moments of disruptive emergency blade changing! A cunning lifehack is to retrospectively tension the blade by loading first and stretching via the adjustable frame attachment. I’m sure adjustable saws are not designed to work like this... but it seems to work ok.


In summary, this saw perfectly acceptable, if you don’t mind fiddle and discomfort when tensioning your blade. But when you try a higher end model, you really do see what you are missing…


Knew Concepts Saw (right, cost approx. £70)


I bought the Knew Concepts saw with quick release mechanism after getting fed up with the fiddle and discomfort. It is quick and easy to load up the blade, once you figure out how to do it; this can be done by the flip of a lever. The saw feels sturdy because of the intricate, well-engineered frame, which holds the blade at a good, constant tension. There is no recycling of broken fragments with this girl, so if that is something you are looking for, then this may not be the saw for you. I found a very fine line between good tensioning and over-tightening/snapping the blade before it has even touched silver, which is something you avoid pretty quickly, especially if you insist on spending your profits on fine quality, high-end blades!


In terms of weight, it is incredibly light; indeed, a bit too light for my liking, but that is probably down to personal choice.


Ultimately, this is a great, well designed saw. However, because it is a complex piece of engineering, there is more in theory, to go wrong. Mine did malfunction after around 8 months, but I found the customer support is responsive and committed to giving you a good experience of their product.


Green Lion Saw (middle, cost approx. £80)


There is but one saw that has stolen my heart. The Green Lion is the gold standard, and is always kept in short reach of my peg due to its near (but not quite perfect) qualities.


She arrived with some nifty stickers; I feel not so much a gimmick, more a declaration, through great quality branding, that she knows she is hot. And was about to show me just how much.


With her Art Nouveau-esq styling, not only is she the most handsome specimen of her kind, her lion-engraved, super-tactile ergonomic handle makes her a dream to hold. She is perfectly weighted with just the right amount of heaviness to the downward cut, without putting strain on the wrist or cause difficulty manoeuvring around intricate curves.


She is designed, again, with the art of easy blade changing in mind, and presents an inspired simplicity in solution that the Knew Concepts saw lacks. The two hooks on each end pf the frame can be pulled together with one hand, to allow the correct distance to grip the blade. Whether you are left or right handed, the thumbscrews make this easy. But here lies the one and only disappointment of this tool, and what the instructions don’t tell you; it must be operated by a human with normal sized hands. It turns out I am blessed with a tiny hand span, so small that I didn’t appear on the ergonomic reference data used by Green Lion. Once I was over the bitter disappointment of not being able to use her most significant unique selling point, I discovered that she requires less frame flex to grip and achieve correct blade tension than a standard piercing saw. I can do the sternum manoeuvre against my peg in a split second, without injury. Job done. She and I remain workshop partners, and her weight and overall sexiness in the styling department make her a winner in all counts.


In summary she is not far from being perfect. If Green Lion were to make a limited-edition micro-saw for the lady with undersized hands, I would definitely be the first in the queue. In fact, if Green Lion make phones, cars, gin, anything, I’d probably buy them too.




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Starting a business in jewellery design is something I’ve thought about for a long time. In November 2019, having moved to a house which has space for a workshop, I decided to take the plunge, buy a workbench, and give it a go. A year and a half later, I’m making handmade products on a daily basis and I haven’t looked back!


I completed a degree in Product Design at Brunel University, and have been a secondary school Design and Technology teacher for nearly two decades. During this time, I have set up DT departments in two new schools, been a senior school leader, and have enjoyed developing projects which teach young people how to design and make novel, aesthetically pleasing products. Early in my career, I completed an MEd at Cambridge University, focusing on creative idea generation and development. This helped me to develop lots of strategies to give to children when generating ideas, for example, bio-mimicry; replicating the natural world in product design in order to make unique textures and forms. These strategies have proved invaluable as I started designing my own jewellery. I now split my time between teaching, silversmithing, and family life!


While I have worked with a number of different materials, fabricating in silver was new. By far, the best source of support comes from the thriving online metalsmith community and Guild of Jewellery Designers, which have provided countless gems (excuse the pun) of advice, and honed both my technical and business practice. Because of my background, silversmithing has been a significantly more gentle learning curve than navigating the world of social media marketing! I, as a fourty-something teacher, never imagined how much of my time would be attached to my laptop creating content for Instagram and Facebook! As I don’t have a bricks-and-mortar business, keeping active and engaging on social media has been pivotal in making my business viable. Great content required investment in specialist equipment for macro photography, along with a crash-course in how to use a camera! Highly reflective metal surfaces are exceptionally tricky to photograph so time at the workbench is not as plentiful for a jeweller as you’d think!


I said that I have worked with other metals, so why did I choose silver? Silver has the most amazing physical and chemical properties, which is why it has been used to make jewellery for many civilisations over the centuries. It is relatively soft, can be securely soldered, and polished to a spectacular, high-lustre shine. I collect every offcut to melt down and recycle, including dust from cutting and filing; nothing is wasted!


To me, silversmithing feels a bit like alchemy; I’m growing quite a collection of different chemicals, such as various pastes and fluxes for soldering, acids for etching textures, and patina for blackening a surface to highlight patterns. Silver needs constant annealing (heating to a high temperature to remove internal stresses) with a blow torch to soften it whilst being worked. This reverses the effects of work-hardening from hammering, bending and even sanding. Annealing makes it soft enough to accept an imprint. Delicate feathers or leaf skeletons can be compressed

into it, leading to exquisitely detailed natural textures. More commonly, I use laser cut paper to imprint patterns, or applying a vinyl ‘resist’ for etching into the silver using ferric nitrate solution, which eats away at any exposed silver, leaving behind a beautiful relief texture.


Polishing is by far the most time-consuming part of making; a huge amount of preparation is needed in order to achieve a perfect mirror finish. I go through up to twelve different stages when finishing work with different grades of abrasive papers, bristle brushes and fine grade polishes. And it is not a clean job; it requires a decent respirator facemask and a lot of cleaning up after! Fire-stain is the number one enemy; overheat the metal too much and you will end up with patches of discolouration that need to be ground out of the surface. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but it is invisible until the final polish and when it shows up, the only thing you can do is go back to stage one!


I make to order, using fine or 925 sterling silver, using processes that exploit silver’s wonderful physical, chemical, and aesthetic properties, such as fold forming, forging, anti-clastic raising and oxidation techniques. Fine silver is incredibly soft, which means it is great for making bezel settings to fold over the edges of gemstones. I love designing jewellery around the natural beauty of stones such as moonstone, opal and labradorite. I buy from all over the world; some gemstones are only found in certain parts of the world, such as larimar pectolite, a beautiful blue and white stone from the Dominican Republic. Every stone is hand-picked based on often spectacular aesthetic qualities. Personal choice from the customer can always be incorporated into any of my designs.


Whilst I enjoy making each and every piece in my collections, it is commissions that give me so much satisfaction in my work. I have enjoying meeting and working with clients to produce pieces that will be personal celebrations, symbols of commitment or treasured heirlooms made purely for a couple or individual. Worn close on the body, there is an intimacy to jewellery, and metaphorically, we hold certain items close to our hearts. They often hold meaning, memories and emotion. It is sometimes impossible to see a particular pair of earrings without thinking of the person who gave them or who once wore them. My love for commissions lies in getting to know customers, their ideas and preferences for a piece and to produce an item that will be enjoyed for many years.


So that's a little bit more about me, my journey so far as a new business owner, and my passion for this wonderful material that keeps me so busy!

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