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Although there has been legislation governing hallmarking in Britain since 1300 the modern law is largely comprised in the Hallmarking Act 1973.

The Council has a responsibility to advise the Secretary of State with respect to the amendment of the law. Since the inception of the Hallmarking Act the Council has assisted the Department in respect of a number of pieces of secondary legislation, mainly to do with technical matters. For instance, The Hallmarking (Approved Hallmarks) Regulations 1986 permitted the Assay Offices to omit, for practical reasons, the date letter from small articles and also the use of adhesives as an alternative to solder to join parts in precious metal articles. These were as the result of representations from both the trade and the Assay Offices.

A year earlier than the Hallmarking Act, in 1972, the Covention on the Control of Articles of Precious Metals was signed in Vienna between Austria, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. The Convention came into force in 1975 and Britain ratified it in 1976. Since then, Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have acceded to the Convention, and Portugal and Norway have ratified it. Under the Convention special marks are authorised which are automatically accepted between participating countries, if applied at an approved Assay Office in one participating country, and if the marks denote a standard legally recognised in an importing country. Details are found in a Retailers Guide. Please go to the Publications section to view this.

The Council has been involved in the Hallmarking (Hallmarking Act Amendment) Regulations 1998 and The Hallmarking (Hallmarking Act Amendment) order 1998, both of which came into force on 1st January 1999. The Regulations implement the judgment of The European Court of Justice in the case of Ludomira Neeltje v Barbara Houtwipper (case c.293/93).

The first limb of the Judgement in Houtwipper stated that a Member State cannot require a fresh hallmark to be affixed to articles imported from another Member State in which they have been lawfully hallmarked in accordance with the legislation of that State, where the information provided by that hallmark is equivalent to that prescribed by the Member State of importation and is intelligible to consumers of that State. The Court also held that Member States practising independent marking only had an obligation to accept without marking or re-marking articles which had been marked on a similar (independent) basis in another Member State. The findings of fact to determine the equivalence of information provided by the hallmark is a matter for the national court.

The Court did not specify what was meant by "equivalent" or "intelligible" and, at the request of the Department and to accompany regulations implementing the decision, the Council prepared guidelines as to the interpretation of their terms.

The Council ensured that the Regulations dealt with a number of other amendments to the Hallmarking Act, some of which followed the Houtwipper decision and others where breaches of article 30 of the Treaty of Rome had been alleged. In summary, the additional amendments were as follows:

the requirement for a date letter was omitted;
the different marking on articles made in the United Kingdom and those made elsewhere is removed;
seven new standards of fineness are introduced;
the standard mark will be expressed millesimally so that for sterling silver the lion will be replaced by the figures 925. The traditional mark can still be struck on a voluntary basis, and
the lower standard of fineness for silver and platinum are redefined as 800 and 850 respectively.



     © 2002 British Hallmarking Council, Contact Details