We tend to throw the word ‘hallmark’ around – saying this or that is the hallmark of a good restaurant, business, student, leader, etc. But do you know the real significance of a hallmark and what it means for your Irish jewelry? A jewelry hallmark is no arbitrary, subjective claim. It’s a solid, objective, official standard measuring the purity of precious metal, such as gold jewelry. A hallmark is different from a trademark or a maker’s mark. It is independent of any particular company or jeweler. A hallmark is actually a government-backed stamp of approval that the item is what it claims to be.
Hallmarking appears to date back to Byzantine times. Silver dating back to the 4th century has marks believed to confirm its quality. Through the centuries, different governments have established their own hallmarking offices and standards. That means that where your jewelry is made and sold matters. Hallmarks are not equal. There is no universal standard for jewelry hallmarking.
In Ireland, the Assay Office is responsible for hallmarks. Both a maker’s mark identifying the person or company who made the piece and the purity mark indicating the parts per thousand of precious metal are compulsory, as is the mark of the Assay Office. Jewelers can also add optional marks, usually to indicate the year when the piece was made.
At ShanOre, we are proud to have our jewerly hallmarked by the Assay Office in Dublin. We send each completed piece of jewelry to the Assay Office in Dublin Castle, where they are tested, inspected and stamped with the mark of metal purity. The Irish standard for silver is 0.925, and for 14k gold it is 0.585.
History of the Irish Assay Office
Located in Dublin Castle, the Assay Office predates Irish independence. Its roots stretch back centuries. People were making gold jewelry in Ireland in pre-Christian times, and there is evidence of guilds evolving over time. Today’s Assay Office is still governed by the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, which was officially founded in 1637 by Royal Charter of King Charles I. The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin still has the original document, which is quite lengthy and detailed outlining their authority.
In 1922, with the establishment of an independent Ireland, the Assay Office was no longer bound by the laws of the United Kingdom but by those of Ireland, first the Free State and now the Republic. But in practical terms, their role has not changed. They are still responsible for confirming and documenting the purity of silver and gold used to make jewelry, and of course of stamping it with a hallmark.
The term ‘hallmark’ comes from the fact that pieces of gold had to be taken to the goldsmith’s hall to be marked. So a mark from the hall became known as a ‘hallmark’, logically enough. Hallmarks are normally carefully placed so they are not seen when the piece is being worn. You’ll find them inside ring bands or on the back of a pendant, for example.