This Guide will help you make an informed decision before purchasing, or selling fine jewellery on eBay - it contains information on UK hallmarking law and useful tips to make your buying safe and enjoyable.
Hallmarking in the UK is one of the oldest 'quality control' procedures. Items sold as platinum, gold or silver in the UK must have a full set of hallmarks, proving that the metal is as claimed. Hallmarks consist of 3 stamps. You can see the stamps, and lots more useful information at the Assay Office website - just search for Assay Office via Google, or email me direct for the web address
There are very few exceptions to this '3 mark' rule. Note that none of the hallmarks shown include solely a 375 or 925 stamp. Neither of these number stamps is a hallmark.
Precious metals are mixed with other metals to make them more hardwearing and more workable. There are several recognised purities of precious metals:
Platinum is hallmarked as 850, 900, 950 and 999 purities. Platinum is an extremely expensive metal and hallmarks are required at a weight of 0.5g and above. (Just about any jewellery item will weigh more than this.)
Gold is hallmarked as 9ct, 14ct, 18ct 22ct, and less commonly as 990 and 999 (very high purity). For jewellery, items are usually 9ct - 18ct as the higher purities are extremely soft and not suitable for items that will be worn. Gold is an expensive metal and hallmarks are required at a weight of 1g (almost any jewellery item will weigh more than this)
Silver is hallmarked at 800 and 925 purities. There are also higher purities, not suitable for making jewellery, as it is too soft. The most common purity is 925, and this is known as sterling silver. It's 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper and other metals. Silver is a less expensive metal and hallmarks are required at 7.88 grams. As a rough guide, most earrings, small rings and finer chain necklaces and chain bracelets will be under the legal limit for hallmarking.
Items that are plated in a precious metal do not require hallmarks.
There is some lovely fine jewellery on eBay at fabulous prices and much of it is better quality than that found in High Street Jewellers. Sadly though, many UK sellers are acting illegally by offering items described as gold or silver that is not hallmarked.
How do I know which items are ok, and what can I do? If you see say, a silver bracelet that you like and are unsure, first read the description thoroughly. Descriptions such as hallmarked 925 silver should arouse suspicion. A 925 stamp is not a hallmark - only the stamps outlined by the Assay Office site can be described as a hallmark. A 925 stamp is sometimes applied by a manufacturer, but means absolutely nothing, (despite many claims to the contrary!)
Next, ask the seller if the item is sterling silver, and how much it weighs. If it is over the 7.88g limit, ask for a close up photograph of the 3 hallmark stamps. Remember, it is illegal to describe items as 'silver' which weigh more than 7.88g and do not have a complete set of hallmarks. The seller is risking prosecution and a £5000 fine, yes, it's a serious offence! As a buyer you can never be sure that the silver jewellery you've purchased is actually silver, without the hallmarks.
I've seen a beautiful 10ct gold ring on eBay. It's just what I want. Is it ok? As you can see from the hallmark section, 10ct is not a recognised purity value for gold in the UK. If a UK seller is offering the ring, then they are likely to be breaking the hallmarking law. As above, ask for the weight, and a close up photograph of the 3 hallmark stamps and then compare them with the Assay Office site.
If an overseas seller is offering the ring, then UK hallmarking law does not apply. HOWEVER - how can you be sure that your gold ring is gold? If you do decide to go ahead, please be aware that goods imported into the UK from non EU countries are subject to VAT and DUTY. Factor those costs and the additional postage in before you bid! Is the ring still a bargain?
This amazing 18KGP chain is just what I want - why is it so cheap? As before, let common sense and a few cautious questions be your guide. I find descriptions like '18kgp' very misleading and confusing - and I sell jewellery! It means 18 carat gold PLATED. Other euphemisms for 'not solid precious metal' include 'filled' 'rolled' 'lacquered' 'coated' - if you're not sure ASK the seller specifically whether their item is solid gold/silver/platinum and save their response in case of a future issue. Exercise even more caution with sellers who are not based in the UK - your consumer protection in the event of a dispute is very limited.
A Final Note..
As with everything, a little commonsense will help you buy great jewellery on eBay, whilst avoiding the pitfalls. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. You can't buy a nice quality 18ct white gold and diamond solitaire ring for £20 even on eBay! .. for £20, buy a silver ring with a blingy CZ - it won't disappoint!
There is much buyer (and seller!) ignorance about hallmarking law, and I hope this short guide has been useful to you.