Do antique rings have hallmarks?

A hallmark is a small stamp, branded into a piece of jewellery to tell us more about its beginnings. The concept of marking jewellery in this way can be dated back thousands of years, so it’s not unusual for an antique ring to bear hallmarks that provide valuable information about its age, origin and quality. This blog post takes a quick glimpse at the history of hallmarking, before exploring what certain hallmarks can tell us about our vintage rings here in the UK. 



Emily, our Art Deco cluster ring, stamped ‘18CT’

Hallmarking can be traced back to ancient civilisations, when precious metals were first used for crafting jewellery and other valuable items such as art and weapons. The hallmark’s primary purpose back then was similar to that of today: for quality control and assuring the purity of metal. Evidence of trade organisations can be linked to Greek Ptolemaic Egypt (323 BC), the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) and the Roman empire; guilds which were probably responsible for issuing hallmarks.

The Middle Ages of Medieval Europe ushered in city goldsmiths’ guilds, which were responsible for keeping records of members and the marks they branded their products with. These marks identified city of origin, the craftsperson, and the quality of the metal used, legitimising pieces and earning cities reputations for their produce; including lace from Chantilly, Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, and gold jewellery from Florence. Foundations laid, these hallmarking systems continued to develop and standardise throughout the Renaissance period, with countries like England, France, Germany and Italy developing their own traditions and systems of distinctive symbols.

In the 14th century, the London Goldsmiths' Company began regulating hallmarking in England by law, establishing one of the oldest and most renowned hallmarking traditions in the world. Since 1478, it has been a legal requirement for UK-based workers to bring gold, silver, platinum and palladium wares to their nearest Assay Office to receive a hallmark legitimising their work with a purity mark, a maker’s mark, a location mark and the date of manufacture. Over 700 years later, it’s this very Goldsmiths’ Company that continues to assess our vintage finds for age and quality, create a unique certificate of authenticity for each.

The Industrial Revolution, growth of the jewellery industry and expansion in global trade throughout the 18th and 19th centuries gave rise to technological advancements in hallmarking processes, the establishment of further Assay Offices in Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh, and more comprehensive and standardised hallmarking regulations across Europe and the United States.



The hallmarks branded into Matilda, our Victorian lover’s knot ring. These include ‘15’ and ‘625’ for 15ct gold, the anchor denoting the Birmingham Assay Office, the year (1893) and ‘J.M’, the maker’s mark

Almost any piece of jewellery created in silver, gold, platinum or palladium in the UK from 1478 onwards will have visited an Assay Office for testing and hallmarking by a government official. Typically applied in a horizontal row, as close to one another as possible, this series of marks indicates metal purity, maker’s identity, location of testing, and – if created pre-1999 - the date of manufacture.

Common metal purity hallmarks in 21st century Britain include 925 (sterling silver), 750 (18ct gold) and 950 (platinum). These numbers denote ‘parts pure’. (18ct gold, for example, consists of 75% pure gold.) These numeric symbols only became standardised at various points throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, however. That’s why an Edwardian ring like Esme, for example, is simply stamped ‘18’ – or why mid-century Arabela’s platinum can be identified by a mark reading ‘PLAT’.

The maker’s mark can take almost any form, but it must be one-of-a-kind, and nearly always consists of a logo or a set of two initials.

The Assay Office mark reflects which of the four Assay cities the jewel was verified in. Since 1300 London has been denoted by the leopard’s head, derived from the royal arms. Later, in 1485, the three-towered Edinburgh Castle was taken from Scotland’s coat of arms and cemented as the hallmark for Edinburgh. Legend has it that meetings prior to the inauguration of both Birmingham and Sheffield Assay Offices in 1773 were held at a pub called the Crown & Anchor Tavern on the Strand, London, where the choice of symbol was made on the toss of a coin. As a result, Birmingham adopted the Anchor and Sheffield the Crown (which was changed in 1977 to the White Rose of York).

Date letter hallmarking became a legal requirement in the UK under the Hallmarking Act of 1973. However, in 1998, the British government abolished the compulsory use of date letters for hallmarking purposes and date letters have since become optional.




In the absence of an obvious date letter, hallmarks often bear tell-tale signs of certain eras.

Hand-engraved marks, for example, are indicative of any period preceding the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, when technological advances gave rise to standardised stamps that punched hallmarks into the metal with force. Later, the 1980s and ‘90s saw the advent of the laser-engravers most commonly used in hallmarking today, creating uniform marks with the utmost precision.

As touched upon previously, metal purity marks have evolved in format over the past 700 years in line with evolving recognition of metal purity itself, which makes any given mark a great indicator of age. The 950 platinum mark, for example, was first introduced in 1973.

If not immediately obvious, some research into your maker’s mark can also cast some light on where, how and when your vintage ring could have come to fruition.

Few human beings who aren’t qualified jewellery historians could possibly memorise such intricate details off by heart, so we suggest enlisting the Help with Hallmarks app or antique jewellery specialist in your local area for a thorough enquiry into your ring’s markings. You can also find some pointers on identifying your ring’s age by design and materials here.




Pamela, our Edwardian dress ring, whose markings have been assessed as ‘indistinct’

The short answer to this question is ‘no’; there are a number of reasons why an antique jewel might not bear any hallmarks.

For starters, it’s important to point out that this blog post refers only to hallmarking in the UK (since a comprehensive discussion of the hallmarking regulations across the world is simply impossible to offer in blog form!) If the inside of your vintage ring is blank, this in itself is interesting, since a lack of hallmarks might indicate origins from further afield. Although hallmarking is standard practise here, and has been for hundreds of years, it’s not mandatory everywhere in the world. The US, Canada, India and China are just a few countries where hallmarking remains non-mandatory at a national level.

Back here in the UK, items of jewellery deemed officially ‘small’ are exempt from hallmarking requirements. For example, any jewel below 1.0g of gold, 7.78g of silver or 0.5g of platinum do not need to be hallmarked. Naturally, these goalposts have shifted over the years. If your vintage ring is particularly delicate, it may well have fallen beneath the hallmarking threshold at the time of manufacture.

One force that shows no mercy, however, is the clock and its relentless hands. In some cases, a vintage ring might once have presented hallmarks that have since become illegible as a result of regular wear and tear over the years. Some hallmarks are even lost entirely to resizing.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that although hallmarking is technically a legal requirement for any registered maker here in the UK, the Goldsmiths’ Company cannot account for every small-scale artisan hand-making a jewel for personal use or a specific individual.


Our mission? To hunt out vintage engagement rings below £2,000 

Claire Roberts, co-founder of The Vintage Ring Company