Hallmarks: What’s Engraved Inside My Ring?

Look inside a metal ring band, and you are likely to find something etched for eternity.  It may be a sentimental phrase, a wedding date, or the owner’s initials.  But there are also far less emotionally charged inscriptions, associated with the band’s metal purity, called assay marks or hallmarks.  In addition, there can be symbols to recognize the date it was tested, as well as the designer or manufacturer’s mark.  (Please note not all marks are listed here.  The complete listing of all Dutch makers’ marks is a three-volume book in itself!)

A

The lowercase letter “a” inside an elongated octagon (or rectangle with its corners clipped) is the English symbol for the year 2000.

An Anchor

An anchor on sterling silver indicates it was assayed in Birmingham, England.  Silver has been assayed in Birmingham since 1773.

A Castle

The castle with three towers is a sign metal has been assayed in Edinburgh, England.

Coin

The term “coin” or “pure coin” indicated silver of varying purity in the United States pre-1868.

A Cross

A cross was once used to mark that a tax had been paid to the monarch for a particular article of precious metal.  That cross is now called the millennium mark.

A Crown

A crown on sterling silver indicates it was assayed in Sheffield, England.  Silver has been assayed in Sheffield sine 1773.

Dog Head

A Saint Bernard’s head has been used since 1995 to mark all Swiss assayed metals, regardless of fineness or metal type.

Fractions

A stamp such as 14K 1/20 indicates the piece is gold filled and that the gold used is 14 karat and the entire ring is 1/20 gold, by weight.  In the United States, gold filled jewelry is federally regulated.

G.E.P.

Electroplated gold can be marked G.E.P.

G.P.

Gold plated items can be marked G.P.

Initials

Initials inside a shield are generally the maker’s mark.  From 1695 to 1720 it was more common to use the first two letters of the maker’s name instead of the initials.

IridPlat or .90Plat/Ir

The band is 90% pure platinum.

Kt. G.F.

Gold plated items, also called rolled gold plated, gold overlay, or gold filled items, are marked Kt. G.F. or R.G.F.

A Leopard

The leopard is the city mark of London, England.  A leopard wearing a crown indicates the piece was assayed in London pre-1831.  A leopard without the crowd was assayed post-1831 in London.

A Lion

The lion walking to the left is given when the silver has been tested and passed the purity for sterling silver as set by the Britannia standard, 95.8% pure silver, which is more than sterling silver.  The Britannia standard was used 1697-1720, when the sterling standard returned.  If the lion is facing the spectator, he is the lion guardant used pre-1831; if he is facing the way he is walking, he is the lion passant, post-1831.  In modern times, the 925 stamp was used instead.

A Lion, an Anchor, and the letter G

A lion passant, an anchor, and the letter G together are the maker’s mark of the Gorham company.

A Letter

The letter, whether it is upper case or lower case, and the shape surrounding it, combine to indicate the year the piece was formed.  Each May, a different assay master was appointed and held office through the following April.  To match a precious metal piece to the assay master who oversaw its assessment, a system of revolving letters was used, one per assay master’s one-year term.  Twenty letters of the alphabet were used; J, V, W, X, Y, and Z were not included.  Each letter was used in turn, five times per century.  Each time the letter came into rotation it was varied in style or in the presentation of its surrounding shield.

Mercury’s Head

French silver intended for export shows Mercury’s head and a number to indicate the level of silver purity: 1 for 92%, 2 for 84%, and 3 for 75%.

Minerva’s Head

Minerva’s head is the French symbol of silver purity equivalent to 95% silver.  Minerva’s head and the number 2 combine to indicate 80% silver purity.

Person Holding Something over a Fire

Irish law from 1637 states all jewelry formed of precious metals must be hallmarked in three ways: letter symbol for the year of crafting, a measure of metal purity, and official insignia of the Irish Assay Office in Dublin.  The 9, 14, or 18 is turned sideways; the corresponding fineness grade (375, 585, or 750) is not.  The image looks like a person holding something over a fire.  The number 950 in a pentagon represents platinum.  The number 925 in an oval represents sterling silver.

Plat. or 950 Plat.

The band is 95% pure platinum, with 5% iridium, palladium, cobalt, or ruthenium alloy.

A Profile

The profile of the reigning English monarch indicated the proper tax had been paid to the monarchy.  This practice was discontinued in 1890.  An alternative tax mark was a cross now used as the millennium mark.

Pure Coin

The term “coin” or “pure coin” indicated silver of varying purity in the United States pre-1868.

R.G.F.

Gold plated items, also called rolled gold plated, gold overlay, or gold filled items, are marked Kt. G.F. or R.G.F.

Rose

The Tutor rose, also called the Yorkshire rose, a rose inside a rounded square box, is the symbol the metal has been assayed in Sheffield, England.

Scales

Scales surrounding a number are the sign of the common control mark used by signers to the Vienna Convention.  The scales and number are set inside a specific shape to represent the three most common precious metals: two interwoven circles (like binocular sites) for gold, a diamond shape for platinum, and a rounded letter M with a flat top for silver.

A Shield

Initials inside a shield are generally the maker’s mark.

Sterling

Sterling was adopted as the mark for sterling silver in the United States in 1868.  Optional markings are the number 925 or 925/1000.

T and co.

Tiffany’s maker’s mark is “T and co.”

A Tally Mark

English apprentices used tally marks on their pieces to keep count of them, so they would be properly paid.