Recent craze for selling scrap precious metals for the scrap value, has prompted me to write a short review on the matter of buying and selling precious metal wares whether made up in to items or in ingot form.
This has had another 'knock on' effect. I found a site on ebay offering for sale, various items that allow anyone to kit themselves out to, melt metals and mark the end results with such marks as 925 (for silver) str sil (also Sterling silver) , 375 (9ct gold) so forth and so on.
The general public can easily fall into a law breaking trap by sincerely beliving that he/she is being quite honest as the 'melt' that has been produced, from ONLY metals marked appropriatly. ie. all stones and other decorative items removed. leaving only the 9ct gold parts, therefor it will be honestly thought the result will be 375 parts gold and he/she may stamp with the punches bought for the purpose.......Unfortunately this is not so. There are impurities inherent in the melt, in particular, Solders. These are usually hallmarking quality but lower the whole melt below the legal standard for 9ct gold. Of course the same principle applies to all other precious metals that may be melted down in a amature workshop. This can lead to very serious consequences. At last check, the fines for misrepresenting of precious metals were, £2,000 AND up to 30years in clink!! I doubt that the extremes of punishment would ever be used but the law does provide for such extreme punishments to maintain the very high standards of our hallmarking organizations and British traditions. The most trusted in the world and they intend to keep it that way!
Apart from the process of melting silver and gold, maybe in a garden shed has obvious dangers, sadly I believe many people see it as a great way of making some cash when things are tight.
The also law affects the repair of precious metal with non hallmarking quality solders. So often, in my work as a practising gold and silversmith, I have been asked to repair a hallmarked item only to find that someone has 'had a go' with lead solder. Apart from being illigal, the lead, even the tiniest trace of lead will literally melt a hole straight through any precious metal. It actually burns it away a bit like most glues go trough expanded polystyrene (have you ever made that mistake? I have) This adds to the hazards of the innocent amature refiner as noxious fumes can result in the melting process. Another area of danger is melting chains. The metals used for chain work usually has cadmium in the mix as this improves mallability. This becomes airborn during the melting procedure and is literally deadly when inhaled. Even a small amount will kill.
It's hard to sum up the problems that I have highlighted here as there are many other apects of the precious metal business/buying and selling. According to a recent email I received from Goldsmith Hall in London, much attention is being given to the various problems arrising out of the things I have highlighted and there are ongoing investigations. I simply want to give some help and advice to anyone considering setting up a business in the precious metal market. Its not to say that it cannot be done, it can but please be aware of the issues and dangers. Finally, The Assay Offices can refine your metals for a very reasonable cost. And should you wish to either as a business or just for your own pieces, decide to refine and top up your bank balance! the Assay offices are great.
Take care and buy a good book!