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Interpreting the English Hallmarks on your Antique Jewelry
05 / 12

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

WHAT DO THOSE MARKS MEAN?

 

Did you recently purchase your first piece of English antique jewelry? Would you like to know what the marks stamped on your jewelry mean? We’re here to help! While most of this post is for those new to the English hallmarking system, there is at least one piece of information that I guarantee you will be news to a number of collectors and perhaps even a few dealers, read on to find out.

 

WHAT IS A HALLMARK?

 

A hallmark identifies the type of precious metal and the fineness or purity of that metal. Today a hallmark is a legal requirement in the U.K. If an article contains precious metals and is described as such, it must be hallmarked.

 

WHEN DID HALLMARKING BEGIN IN ENGLAND?

 

Hallmarking in England dates back to 1300 when King Edward I, passed legislation to prevent fraud by goldsmiths. Silver had to be .925 (the same standard as sterling silver today) and at that time, gold was required to be 19.2 carats. (Source: Assay Office, London)

 

As the years passed, the standards required for gold changed and vairous Assay Offices were established. Some opened and closed more than once over their long history. See the list of Assay Offices and their dates below.

 

THE ANATOMY OF A HALLMARK – THE BASICS

 

Here is an example of a fully hallmarked ring. Meaning (from left to right) it has a maker’s mark, a duty mark (not always part of a full set of hallmarks), a metal mark (gold), a purity mark, a city mark, and a date mark. The ones to focus on that will give you the basic information are the last three. The purity mark, what carat gold is it? The city mark, this will help you when looking up the date mark, and the date letter so that you can look up the year the piece was assayed.

 

A note on the metal mark. I am so familiar with what they look like, that they are almost invisible to me. But if this is new to you, visit the sites mentioned below, to get to know the marks for sterling silver (the Lion) and for gold (a crown). There are also marks for silver plate and platinum, but they are not covered in this post.

 

 

© Copyright Sugar et Cie

 

THE PURITY MARK

 

This ring above is a mourning ring, black enamel over gold, made in England from the Georgian period (and at the time this post was published, available for purchase) Sugar et Cie. It is 18Ct, 750 parts gold per 1000 or 75% gold and 25% alloy metal. Other purity marks are:

 

22 = 91.6% or 22Ct gold

18 = 75.0% or 18Ct gold

15 = 62.5% or 15Ct gold

585 = 58.5% or 14Ct gold

375 = 37.5% or 9Ct gold

925 = 92.5% or Sterling Silver

 

THE CITY MARK

 

The second mark is the town/city mark, where the piece was assayed (tested and marked). This one is for the London Office. Some you will come to know, some are more obscure, and some changed over time.

 

LOOKING UP THE DATE – WHEN WAS IT MADE?

 

A date mark is a good approximation for when a piece was made, although it is possible it could have been made in one year and hallmarked in another (later) year. The reference I like to use (easiest to navigate) when looking up a date mark is an online site called British Sterling.

 

Each Assay Office has its own date chart. So the easiest way to look up the date is to identify the city/office first and then look for the letter on that city’s reference sheet.

 

This is where a sharp eye and experience comes in. Sometimes it can be challenging to identify the correct letter/year.

 

Believe it or not, one letter for example, a “J” from one year can look like an “L” from another.

 

You need to look for a match to the shape of the letter. Don’t focus on the background shape/cartouche (read on for more on this little known tidbit). Sometimes it is obvious, and other times it is not quite as clear. After I think I have identified the year/letter or at least or narrowed down the possibilities, I take a second look at my printout of the date charts directly from the Assay Office, Birmingham. They have historical date charts by City. I use my loupe to study both the mark itself, and the version on the printed date chart.

 

If you are hunting for antiques in the field and are concerned you may not have wifi or a cellular connection, you can take your printout or purchase pocket guide on Amazon.

 

OTHER MARKS YOU MAY SEE

 

You may also occasionally see other marks.

 

Commemorative marks: (20th c.) to celebrate an event e.g. Silver Jubilee.

 

Duty Marks: The Sovereign’s Head indicated that Duty had been paid on an item. They were used December 2, 1784 to April 30, 1890. During this period a variable tax was levied on all silver and gold assayed in Great Britain. Duty marks are less common and keep in mind the mark or symbol did not always change with the change of a Monarch.

 

A law was passed in 1842 to make it illegal to sell imported gold or silver in the UK unless it was assayed (tested) at a British office. However, the Foreign Mark was not added until 1867.

 

MORE ABOUT DATE MARKS – HERE’S THE LITTLE KNOWN FACT!

 

Here’s one of the interesting facts about dating your piece of antique jewelry (or anything with an antique British Hallmark). The cartouche or background for the date letter, are for silver. When it comes to looking up your mark for gold, the most important thing to match is the letter (as mentioned). The background may and can be different for gold. Here’s what the Assay Office says “The same letters were used for Gold, which has been marked in Birmingham since 1824, but with a background of a square with cut corners. There may be some variations in backgrounds during the late 19th century, especially on watch cases.” This may seem like a small detail but it has a big impact and I am guessing has led a number of people astray.

 

MYTH OR FACT

 

Myth or Fact? (1): Everything in the 18th and 19th centuries was hallmarked. If it doesn’t have a hallmark, it’s a fake or a reproduction.

 

This is a MYTH. Many pieces from this period were not hallmarked. However, if it is not hallmarked you either need to develop the skills to assess the piece on your own or ask an expert. An expert will look at the style, the materials used, the cut of the stones, the findings, and a variety of other factors to date it. Hallmarking gives you a bit more certainty (although even hallmarks can be faked) and helps you date it within a year (or two) rather than a range of time.

 

Myth or Fact? (2): Date Letters ran consecutively and repeated every 26 years

 

This is part MYTH and part FACT. Yes, the do run alphabetically and consecutively. However, the font can make it possible to confuse certain letters. Because of this, it is possible that a the letter i, j or l is skipped. As a result, the date letter cycle is usually 25 as opposed to 26 years.

 

HERE IS LIST OF THE U.K. ASSAY OFFICES

 

This is a complete list of U.K. Assay Offices. the second block are ones that are Historic and now closed.

 

Current

 

Birmingham Assay Office

Edinburgh Assay Office

London Assay Office

Sheffield Assay Office

 

Ireland

 

Dublin

 

Assay Offices Now Closed

 

Chester: 15th c. Officially opened 1700 – closed 1962

Exeter: Mid 16th c. Officially opened 1701 – closed 1883

Glasgow: Closed March 31, 1964

Newcastle: 17th c. – closed 1884

Norwich: Mid 16th c. – closed 1702. Note: The town marked changed over time.

York: Opened in the middle of the 16th c. closed in 1700, reopened 1701, closed 1714 and closed permanently in 1858. The town mark for this location changed and evolved over time.

 

06 / 10

 

EQUESTRIAN JEWELRY

 

Equestrian jewelry never seems to go out of fashion and now more than ever, it’s in high demand. Who doesn’t love a lucky horseshoe pendant, a riding crop brooch, hounds of all sorts, and of course right in the middle of it all, stirring things up – the fox!

 

ANTIQUE EQUESTRIAN JEWELRY & HOW TO WEAR IT NOW

 

For a variety of reasons, a good number of equestrian motif jewels happen to be in the form of a brooch. A category of jewelry that may be considered uninteresting or outdated by some, is now gaining in popularity as designers, celebrities and the trend setter in your office come up with new and fun ways to wear them.

 

Here are a few of our takes on how to incorporate the Equestrian Jewelry Trend into your wardrobe.

 

 

 

Clockwise from top left, Kendall Jenner courtesy of Vogue, Versace Safety Pin Dress courtesy of Richmond Classics, Versace Versus courtesy of Net-a-Porter, Vintage Tiffany Equestrian Stock Pins, Sugar et Cie

 

GROUP AND STACK

 

Start with a focus pin/brooch in a motif (Equestrian), gem/metal/color you love, or shape (linear or round), and work around it. Looking for something equestrian and love the combination of sparkling rubies and diamonds? Start with our latest addition, an antique riding crop brooch (pictured below). Pair it with a fox stick pin and a diamond bar brooch.

 

 

Our latest addition, Antique Equestrian Riding Crop Brooch with Rubies and an Old European Cut Diamond © Copyright Sugar et Cie 2016

 

Some color consistency in your group, generally yields a more cohesive look. You may have to play around with your pins a bit before you get the look you want.

 

THE UNEXPECTED

 

Wear your brooches, bar pins, hunting stock pins, kilt pins, double clip brooch/dress pin in unexpected places. Pin them to straps of a cocktail dress, to the front vent of a blazer (Versace Versus), or to the top flap of a pocket.

 

On our last buying trip, we acquired a pair of vintage diamond, pearl, and platinum lingerie pins. We think they will look amazing pinned vertically on the front cuffs of a menswear inspired white shirt (or in place of cufflinks).

 

CONVERT IT

 

If all else fails – convert it! We wouldn’t recommend touching something that is rare, but isn’t jewelry meant to be worn?

 

If it doesn’t work for you in its current form, you should feel free to change it. Some conversions are quite easy and some take a bit of advice and a good jeweler who knows how to work with antique jewelry (and who has a laser welder). It’s happening all of the time. Stick pins converted to rings or single stud earrings, brooches to pendants or barrettes. We’ve been known to convert a few ourselves.

 

The latest craze in equestrian conversions: foxes and hounds from stick pins/brooches to rings, horseshoe brooches to pendants and rings. So if you fall in love with a brooch and none of our creative ideas on how to wear it spark your interest – convert it!

 

THE BROADER TREND: EQUESTRIAN INSPIRED FASHION ON OUR FALL FASHION SHOPPING LIST

 

Equestrian seems to be a key style inspiration for multiple fashion houses for the Fall (2016). I especially love Vogue’s Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis’ take on the trend seen in: Great Gatsby Meets Downton Abbey in Wales (great title!).

 

 

model wearing riding clothes, jacket, pants and riding boots

 

Courtesy of Vogue – Photograph by Jooney Woodward

 

Both Chanel and Ralph Lauren’s Ready-to-Wear runway shows have included a bit of equestrian style. Each has paired multiple looks with riding boots: from hot pink tweed suits to long black coats piled with ropes of pearls.

 

long double breasted winter coat in black from Chanel's 2016 Fall Ready-to-Wear Collection

 

Chanel’s 2016 Ready-to-Wear Collection courtesy of Vogue

 

 

hot pink tweed suit

 

Chanel’s 2016 Ready-to-Wear Collection courtesy of Vogue

 

RALPH LAUREN (riding boots, jodhpur style pants, and more) BUCKTROUT TAILORING (hacking jackets), LE CHAMEAU (riding and hunting boots for the field and street wear), AIGLE (riding and hunting boots for the field and street wear), are all great sources for equestrian style.

 

The trick to this trend is in the contrast. Evening with day (Ralph Lauren’s silk brocade evening dress with riding boots), or frayed with traditional (Bucktrout hacking jacket with frayed jeans and stilettos). Avoid wearing it from head to toe, unless of course you are about to go riding.

 

tweed hacking jacket

 

Sarah Jacket, in Lovat tweed courtesy of Bucktrout Tailoring

 

frayed jeans

 

Frayed Jeans, courtesy of Man Repeller

 

Three different black tall riding boots

 

Riding boots: Ralph Lauren, Venerie by Le Chameau, Steve Madden

 

You can find the Ralph Lauren’s riding boots on Ralph Lauren’s site. Unfortunately, finding Le Chameau boots in the U.S. is currently a bit difficult. At the time this post was written, their website was not set up for U.S. eCommerce.

 

Looking for the same luxe look for a little bit less? Steve Madden’s Lace Up Boots are a great option.

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 model wearing long gold skirt with black riding boots

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear, courtesy of Vogue

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 model wearing long purple and gold brocade skirt with high slit and black riding boots

 

Ralph Lauren Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear, courtesy of Vogue

 

WE HAVE MORE EQUESTRIAN INSPIRED JEWELS AT SUGAR ET CIE – SO COME CHECK US OUT!