Jewelry maker’s marks are a fascinating subject immersed in rich history, culture, and artistry. Usually overlooked due to their discreet placement and minuscule size, the numerical markings and/or letterings on jewelry can help identify the “who, what, when, and where” of the piece.
From antique to contemporary pieces, jewelry maker’s marks on gold, silver, platinum, and other precious metals offer useful insight into the epoch, materials, and artist behind a piece. Gold and silver jewelry markings, in particular, are referred to as maker’s marks, purity marks, symbols, or date letters.
This guide to jewelry hallmarks dives deeper into those diminutive etchings, helping ensure that you’re buying authentic pieces from the best jewelry brands.
History of Jewelry Maker’s Marks in America and Europe
In the United States, the National Gold and Silver Stamping Act of 1906 required jewelry makers to add an accurate purity mark on their pieces, which offers a window into the materials used in each piece. In 1961, the U.S. government also mandated jewelers to incorporate a maker’s mark, which specifies the creator or manufacturer of a piece of jewelry.
The long history of Jewelry hallmarks in Great Britain began in the 14th century. The Hallmarking Act of 1973 regulates today’s standards, meaning each piece of British jewelry made before 1999 must include a “date letter” stamp, which indicates the registration date of the jewelry. Always keep this in mind when shopping for antique British jewelry.
Jewelry marks in France began much earlier, with some examples dating all the back to the 13th century. Something to remember if you’re buying French antique jewelry is the year 1797, when it was mandated for jewelers to include a maker’s mark framed within a lozenge — a rhombus- or diamond-shaped charge often placed on the surface of a shield.
Common Jewelry Marks
Here’s our comprehensive guide to jewelry marks.
- Gold Purity Marks
The purity marks on gold jewelry include a two-digit number followed by the letter “K” or a three-digit number. The letter “K” refers to karats, which is a measure of how much gold is present in a piece of jewelry. For example, pure gold consists of 24 karats (24K). Any gold jewelry with an engraving that reads “18K” or “750” means the piece contains 75% gold, while a “14K” or “585” mark suggests that the piece is 58.5% gold.
Jewelry etched with GE (Gold Electroplated), GF (Gold Filled), or HGE (Heavy Gold Electroplated) only appears to be pure gold, but it actually contains a small amount of gold. Manufacturers use other materials like copper as the main metal to create GE, GF, and HGE jewelry.
- Silver Purity Marks
Similar to gold, silver purity marks indicate metal content. For reference, sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver. Therefore, look for marks such as 9″25,” “STERLING,” “STER,” or “STG” when buying sterling silver jewelry.
Keep an eye out for metals etched with “Nickel Silver” or “German Silver” These pieces are not genuine silver and are actually made of nickel, zinc, and copper. Also, any jewelry marked with “Vermeil” is a piece of sterling silver with gold plating.
As for platinum jewelry, the purity mark “950” specifies a composition of 95% platinum with a combination of other metal alloys, while “900” consists of 90% platinum, and “850” contains 85% platinum.
- Jewelry Maker’s Marks
A jeweler’s marks can include company names, logos, designer signatures, and trademarks to determine who made the piece. For example, Tiffany & Co. has featured several maker’s marks throughout the brand’s nearly 200-year history, including the iconic “Tiffany & Co.” Furthermore, limited editions and collaborations with designers include the respective designer’s signature.
Cartier, one of the most popular luxury jewelry and watch companies, adhered to several of the French government’s guidelines. Many of their antique and vintage jewelry, as well as all modern pieces, have a Cartier logo and a serial number unique to each piece.
Van Cleef & Arpels is another luxury jeweler and watchmaker that includes a serial number on their pieces along with the brand trademark. Depending on when a particular piece was made, the maker’s mark either reads “Van Cleef & Arpels” or “VCA.”
Additional Symbols Stamped on Jewelry
Purity and maker’s marks aside, some pieces of jewelry have letters and symbols, particularly hallmarks, inscribed on their surface. Most of these letters and symbols originate from assay offices, which are official governmental establishments tasked to assess the purity of jewelry metals. In some cases, they are also responsible for the hallmarking of precious metal items.
Jewelry from the United Kingdom, for instance, features a series of optional and compulsory jewelry marks set out by the sovereign country’s assay offices. Among the compulsory marks is the Assay Office Mark — a symbol indicating the regional office that hallmarked the piece. These symbols include an anchor that represents Birmingham, a leopard’s head for London, a castle for Edinburgh, and a rose for Sheffield.
How to Avoid Counterfeit Jewelry
Since the demand for gold, silver, and designer jewelry is always high, coming across counterfeit jewelry in this profitable industry is a risk that buyers must keep in mind.
Here are some tips on how to avoid fake jewelry:
- If you’re buying jewelry from an online seller, ask for clear pictures of the jewelry marks to ensure authenticity. Of course, do some research before finalizing your purchase.
- Auction houses and jewelry dealers are good resources for learning more about jewelry maker’s marks. Therefore, before purchasing, try to request additional information from jewelry specialists.
- Never buy jewelry from sellers or shops with no return policy. You won’t get your money back if the piece is fake.
The best way to protect yourself from buying imitation jewelry is to familiarize yourself with the jewelry marks and signature hallmarks of luxury brands. Doing so is easier than ever, especially since articles such as this one are available to guide you.
Let Us Authenticate Your Jewelry
If you’re wondering if the engagement ring, wedding band, or necklace your ex gave you is real, visit Biltmore Loan and Jewelry in Phoenix AZ, or complete our online form here to get a market appraisal. If guaranteed authentic, we’ll give you the option to sell or pawn your item for a good price. Rest assured that we pay more than regular pawn shops.