Retailers warned to be vigilant over bonded gold

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The British Hallmarking Council (BHC) has banned gold marking on items of bonded gold over fears that any marks may confuse consumers and retailers selling bonded gold jewellery into thinking they are buying solid gold items.

The rise in bonded gold items coming to the UK has been attributed to the US, where such products are available, but with the regulations and descriptions available to back up what the product is. In the UK, however, bonded gold items are not covered by the 1973 Hallmarking Act, which has lead to BHC banning gold marks on bonded items.

Bonded gold jewellery or items are produced when a thick layer of gold allow is bonded to a base metal or sterling silver core, meaning the article is about 10% gold by weight, but could easily be mistaken for an all-gold item by retailers or consumers.

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As a result, Trading Standards in the UK has approached the BHC to ask for advice on how to use the term “bonded gold” and how items can be marked or regulated in the UK.

The guidance offered by the BHC is now based on the gold plated and rolled gold provisions outlined in the 1973 Hallmarking Act.

The BHC has explained that no enforcement action should be taken in respect of the use of the term “bonded gold”. But stipulates that, assuming the core is 925 sterling silver, the article should carry a full silver hallmark or a 925 stamp if it is under the Hallmarking exemption weight for silver of 7.78 grams. Bonded Gold on a base metal core cannot be hallmarked in any way.

No stand-alone gold fineness marks will be permitted on bonded gold articles, which the BHC argues is “because they are potentially confusing and misleading to UK consumers”.

It is not permitted additionally to mark the article 9ct, 10ct, 14ct, 18ct and so forth, as is common practice in the United States. The only circumstance in which this is allowed is if the gold fineness is immediately preceded or followed by the words “Bonded Gold”, “Rolled Gold” or “Gold Plated”. For example, an article with a silver hallmark (or 925 stamp on underweight articles) can be marked as follows ‘925 & 18ct bonded gold/rolled gold/gold plated’.

It is also emphasised that the bonded gold layer must be of a fineness of at least 375 parts per thousand – 9ct gold – and of a recognised in UK standard. So, for example, ‘bonded gold’ of apparently 10ct can only be described as 9ct. This follows the practice for gold plated and rolled gold articles in the UK.

The guidance applies to all bonded gold, rolled gold and gold plated silver articles below the 7.78 gram exemption weight for hallmarking, as well as for those requiring hallmarking. The exemption is an exemption from hallmarking itself, not from the requirements of every other part of the Hallmarking Act 1973.

Christopher Jewitt, newly appointed chairman of the BHC said: “Some of the bonded gold items we have seen had very confusing markings and the consumer could easily have believed them to be 9ct gold throughout.

“The British Hallmarking Council supports Trading Standards and the Assay Offices in implementing and enforcing this important guidance to ensure that UK jewellers and consumers are protected from being misled.”

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