Act Three: Amendments to the Hallmarking Act

New export and branding opportunities for the jewellery industry.

Three amendments have been made to the UK Hallmarking Act, creating new opportunities for brands and manufacturers. We hear from industry specialists about what the amendments mean for hallmarking in the UK and for the jewellery trade.

In February it was announced that three amendments had been made to the UK Hallmarking Act, bringing the 1973 Act up to date and making it better tailored to the current needs of the UK jewellery industry.

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The three amendments are as follows: firstly assay offices can now strike UK hallmarks outside the United Kingdom; secondly the requirement that a manufacturer’s or sponsor’s mark must include the initial letters of the name or names of the manufacturer or sponsor has been removed; thirdly articles of silver, gold or platinum bearing a hallmark can be plated with platinum without having to first obtain the written consent of an assay office.

The amendment process has taken almost four years to complete. It begins with The British Hallmarking Council making recommendations to the National Measurement Office for the changes it would like made to the Hallmarking Act. The NMO then hosts a consultation period during which it contacts the trade and public to ensure there is widespread support for any changes. Thereafter a draft of the proposed changes is written up by government lawyers and circulated for comment to make sure the revision does what it is supposed to do. A final draft is submitted to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Act is amended accordingly.

Sheffield Assay Office assay master Ashley Carson has been involved with one of the most important changes of the Act – allowing for UK hallmarks to be struck overseas.

“[The amendment] has been driven by the UK Assay Offices due to the fact that the Dutch Assay Offices have been able to carry out this kind of hallmarking for several years and it is now having an impact on the UK Assay Offices,” Carson explains. “Due to Mutual Recognition of Hallmarks, the UK accept Dutch Hallmarks.”

Birmingham Assay Office’s assay master and chief executive Michael Allchin says that offering UK hallmarking overseas will benefit jewellers and brands because hallmarking can take place at source without items having to go straight to the assay office when they enter the UK. “Where there are very large volumes of jewellery being made in either one big factory or in a confined area overseas it might be possible that there is sufficient work to justify a UK Assay Office setting up a local hallmarking facility,” Allchin notes. “Jewellery could be packed and shipped direct from overseas without the company abroad having to have offices or distribution anywhere in the UK. It might make it easier for internet sellers from abroad to gain more market share in the UK.”

This direct shipping has been welcomed at multi-product retailer QVC, which manufactures a number of its jewellery collections overseas before they are sold to customers in the UK. QVC’s UK buyer of gem-set jewellery Doug Moger explains: “From our perspective anything that can make consumers’ and retailers’ lives easier is a positive. To allow UK hallmarking overseas opens up direct dispatch, something the US is used to but we have not been able to do because of assay legislation.”

Direct dispatch allows manufacturers to send finished jewellery directly to consumers from factories in countries such as Germany, Thailand and India. As well as cutting down waiting times for orders it also means that products do not have to go through UK assay offices before they can be sold. But these changes do raise other questions. “On one hand it will increase competition for UK manufacturers from foreign factories, while on the other it might help UK manufacturers to set up overseas if they so wished,” says Allchin.

Carson says that he received several “very serious” enquiries about applying UK hallmarks in factories overseas and recently visited Thailand to gauge how the process could work. In the main, the feedback from the Assay Offices is positive. “[Hallmarking overseas] gives a potential UK purchaser a massive advantage and benefits,” Carson states. “Lead times can be greatly reduced, I estimate by at least 10 days, meaning that stock levels do not need to be high.”

On the flipside the changes do open up a conduit for fraudulent UK hallmarks to be stamped in overseas factories. “Retail jewellers, whether bricks and mortar or e-tailers, will have to be more vigilant to ensure that overseas hallmarks are genuine and not counterfeit,” Allchin warns.

Further, there are also concerns that the opening up of UK hallmarking overseas will take potential business away from the four UK Assay Offices. “The downside is that it risks taking business away from the UK and the livelihoods of those involved in the Assay Office and business at the moment,” notes Moger. But recent moves such as the opening of a sub-office inside Birmingham manufacturer Hockley Mint show that there is demand in the UK, too, for a more streamlined service and with it the creation of new job opportunities.

With a view to the change in regulations regarding sponsor’s marks, brands manufacturing both overseas and in the UK can now mark their jewellery with a company logo or brand name rather than the typical three letters of a sponsor’s or manufacturer’s mark as has been required to date. This will enable further branding opportunities for companies manufacturing both overseas and in the UK. “Large brands could have their whole range hallmarked in their factory if large enough, therefore once again streamlining their business logistics,” Carson explains.

The third amendment to the Hallmarking Act is focused on platinum plated articles of jewellery. The change expresses that articles of silver, gold or platinum bearing a hallmark can be “coated with platinum without having to first obtain the written consent of an assay office”. While platinum-plated jewellery exist in the UK – brands such as Crislu, QVC’s Epiphany range, Simon Carter and Argos sell platinum plated products – Professional Jeweller found that many retailers and brands were unaware of the written consent needed. “The previous version of the Act was badly drafted,” states Allchin. “This [change] just tidies it up so that platinum plated articles can be treated the same as gold-, palladium- and silver-plated pieces.”

Moger agrees that it will benefit QVC but says it will continue to randomly test platinum-plated products coming in from its factories to ensure that the products are made with the metals they purport to be.

If there is one thing that these amendments show it is the changing demands and needs of the jewellery industry. The demand for brand and company logos instead of sponsor’s marks is likely a result of the rise of branded jewellery. Likewise the growth of overseas manufacture and online sales teamed with the rise in customers seeking prompt service means that a more streamlined assaying process has become ultimately necessary.

This Hot Topic feature was taken from the July issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.



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