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Hallmarking - the oldest form of consumer protection Posted on April 28, 2016

The British Hallmarking Council (BHC), is a statutory body established to oversee the UK’s oldest form of consumer protection, which is the hallmarking of articles made from precious metals.

The hallmarking of articles made from precious metal (gold, silver, platinum and palladium) has been a legal requirement since the thirteenth century and is undertaken by the UK’s four Assay Offices, which are located in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Sheffield. Local Authority Trading Standards Departments have a duty under the Hallmarking Act 1973 to enforce the law.

The BHC has enforcement powers derived from the Hallmarking Act 1973. The BHC is funded entirely by the four Assay Offices and neither the BHC nor the Assay Offices receive any funding from the public purse.

Trading Standards Officers in Local Authorities throughout the UK to apply and enforce the law. The Assay Offices, in their own right and on behalf of the BHC, work closely with Trading Standards teams providing market intelligence, technical expertise and access to specialist testing facilities as and when required.

In addition to guaranteeing the precious-metal content of an article by way of applying a hallmark, the Assay Offices also provide a service to ensure that jewellery is safe to wear and, for example, is free of nickel or cadmium, substances banned in articles being worn next to the skin. Again, Trading Standards officers are responsible for ensuring that this important health and safety matter is observed by traders and in so doing ensure that legitimate businesses, observing the law in respect of fineness and health & safety matters, are protected from those elements of the trade who may be prepared to bend the rules or from rogue traders.

In the case of precious metal articles and jewellery, the average consumer is not in a positon to determine the fineness of an article and therefore relies heavily on the presence of the hallmark: it is a very long established and successful guarantee that what the consumer is buying is what the trader says it is. Regulation is vital to industry and consumers in providing that level playing field that allows companies to grow and to give consumers confidence in the market place.

by Helen O'Neill

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