The gold that glitters still needs a mark
The hallmark is one of the oldest consumer protection mechanisms, so look for it before buying any precious metal
“We would get people looking for hallmarks all right,” she says. Coleman feels that a hallmark adds to the value of a piece and if she doesn’t see one, she presumes it’s a cheap imitation.
“It is a guarantee but it is quite expensive, especially for small craftspeople.”
However, most of the jewellery sold here is imported. “Sterling silver Irish hallmarked rings” is one sign Pricewatch noticed. But some Irish craftspeople are declining to send their work to the Assay Office to be hallmarked.
One jeweller compared hallmarking to testing the canvas of a painting rather than seeing the painting or piece of jewellery as a work of art.
“Strictly speaking, it’s illegal to sell jewellery that’s not hallmarked,” he said. However, he does agree that the consumer needs protecting and would like to see the State undertaking spot inspections, as happens in some countries.
Pricewatch asked the Crafts Council of Ireland what its view was of members not sending their work to be hallmarked. A spokeswoman said she was not aware of it. Susan Brindley, head of public affairs and communications said that the council “would encourage all our registered clients to operate within the parameters of the Irish statute”.
“As to why they’re not complying, I’m not certain,” says Le Bas, who feels that “it’s important that the National Consumer Agency follows up on it.” A large part of the problem, he feels, is the number of non-traditional outlets selling jewellery “and there’s an amount of ignorance on the part of proprietors”.
The Assay Office will buy from consumers any hallmarked item bought, provided it has not been altered, which is not the metal quality it states it is. This is a guarantee extending back to 1637. If you cannot read the hallmark, Le Bas says, you should ask for a magnifying glass and if you can’t see a hallmark then run a mile.
Le Bas suggests that, if concerned, consumers should make it a condition of sale that they have an item they wish to buy tested at the Assay Office. If an item is not up to standard, the office will then take it up with the retailer. “Items that are not hallmarked are not hallmarked for a reason. They may not be what they’re purporting to be. There’s no logical reason why they’re not hallmarked,” he says.