Here are a few of the terms you will want to understand when you think about jewelry hallmarks. Strike refers to the placement of the hallmark and the quality of the impression made in the metal. Shape refers to the distinctive outline of the hallmark. Style refers to the design of the hallmark. Standard refers to the representation of the metal’s purity. Lastly, System refers to the methodology of the hallmark.
When assessing the strike of a hallmark, you should take into account the location of where the marking was placed on the piece. Some assay offices (institutions created to test the purity of precious metals) require the placement to be in a specific area every time. The size of the piece and the way it was made can also dictate where the hallmark can be placed. If you’re trying to locate a hallmark on a piece, don’t overlook areas like the posts of earrings, jump rings, pendant bails, and other hard to see locations.
The hallmarks are placed with a hardened steel instrument called a punch. The area available for hallmarking and the relative flatness of that area can affect how the hallmark appears. In addition, alterations to the piece and prolonged wear can affect how the hallmark appears in antique and estate jewelry.
The shape, or framing, of the hallmark in the stamp is usually indicative to the country of origin. Frame shapes are distinctive and use the arrangement of lines and notches to differentiate from other countries in design.
In Europe, hallmarks are a symbol of the country they represent. Many countries use the opportunity of hallmarking to pay homage to the nations flower, animal, or other national symbols. For example, in Austria from 1922 – 1925, the marking included a bear facing right. France used a swan and owl, and Portugal used a sitting boar.
Hallmarking is also used to signify the metal’s fineness or purity. In the United States, gold is represented in karats, and silver is represented in 3-digit numerals. Our recent post goes into common purity stamps in the United States, as well as alternate European markings. Additional popular markings of metal fineness include the Loth System and the Zolotnik System.
The Loth System is comprised of 16 parts, in a sequence of numbers from 12 to 16. It was used to mark silver fineness from the 17th century until the 20th century in the Austrian Empire, though many other countries adopted the system during that time, including Germany, Norway, and Sweden.
Below is a chart outlining the Loth System of metal fineness.
When assessing the hallmarks on a piece, the types are broken down into four categories: implied, symbolic, inclusive, and sequential.
Hallmarks that are based on an image alone are implied. This is one of the more difficult hallmarks to identify because it requires the assessor to have a working knowledge of punch imagery from many countries and periods. These hallmarks do not contain a fineness stamp, and the image stands alone. France, Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland have used implied hallmarks during certain periods.
This hallmark methodology utilized a country’s national emblem or landmark. These hallmarks may stand alone, but they are most often also used in sequential hallmarking. Germany, Malta, and Norway have utilized symbolic hallmarking.
Inclusive hallmarking may contain an indication of fineness, core imagery, the assay office mark, dates, or weight. Typically these elements are all contained in a frame shape. Many countries have used inclusive hallmarking, including Austria, Latvia, Poland, and Russia.
Sequential hallmarking contain all of the common markings seen in inclusive, but additionally, it may possess a duty mark, import, export marks, marks denoting length or weight, ora commemorative hallmark. England began sequential hallmarking on jewelry and precious metals in 1544; other countries who have used sequential hallmarking include Finland, Scotland, and Sweden. The markings appear in a line formation or a cluster on the piece, depending on the amount of surface area available.
Whether you’re looking to learn more about pieces in yourexisiting collection, or you’d like to make yourself a more informed buyer ofestate jewelry– knowing about European hallmarksof the past is crucial for understanding the history and origin of jewelry.