Birmingham Assay Office
Founded in 1773 by an Act of Parliament, the Birmingham Assay Office is one of four assay offices in the UK that tests and hallmarks precious metal items as required by the Hallmarking Act. The Birmingham office, situated in Moreton Street, independently assesses jewellery – and has been doing so for over two hundred and fifty years!
Recent years have seen the expansion of the Assay Office’s services beyond statutory assaying and hallmarking duties to now incorporate diamond, gemstone and pearl certification, jewellery, watch and Silverware Valuations, non-precious metal testing, product safety and quality assurance testing as well as educational training and consultancy.
However, the aim of the system remains the same; protecting the public against fraud, and the trader against unfair competition, thus hallmarking being one of the oldest forms of consumer protection.
A history of hallmarking
Hallmarking dates far back into the 1300s when a Statute of Edward I established the assaying and marking of precious metals. The Statute of 1300 granted the wardens of the company of Goldsmiths, in London, to go out to the workshops in the city and assay all silver and gold.
Nevertheless, it was only silver that met the standard requirements and was marked at the time; the mark was that of a leopard’s head, which is presently used in the London Assay Office today. Eventually, gold came to be marked in the same was as silver.
1363 was the year that the marker’s mark was added to the hallmark. Initially, the marker’s marks were mostly pictorial, although the rise of the literacy rates introduced the system of using the marker’s initials.
Hallmarking of precious metals continues to be a legal requirement in the UK. In 2006, the Birmingham Assay Office, being the largest in the world, handled over twelve million articles per year. More recently, in 2015, the assay office relocated to its new premises in Moreton Street.
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