A group of UK silversmiths and jewellers have launched a campaign to restrict the use of distinctive traditional UK hallmarks, including city marks, to items hallmarked in the UK.
For over 700 years UK hallmarks have only been struck in the UK, but the campaign said that there is now a “considerable drive” by assay offices to set up offshore operations where items can be stamped with a UK hallmark, without ever having been examined by an assay office in the UK.
As a result, the campaign has set up a petition to parliament which it hopes will lead to the restriction of UK hallmarks being used at offshore assay offices.
UK assay offices have begun overseas initiatives in order to compete for trade across the world and allow manufacturers in places such as India and China access to an assay mark that is recognised throughout the EU and in other major markets.
However, the campaigners claim that when the strategy was initially considered, it was unanimously agreed by all the assay offices and the UK government that the assay marks applied by such an offshore assay office would be clearly differentiated from those applied by a UK-based office.
Speaking in January 2013, James Younger, while considering Legislative Reform (Hallmarking) Order 2013, stated in the House of Lords: “A feature of the scheme to permit offshore marking is that the British Hallmarking Council will authorise offshore-struck marks, which will be clearly distinguishable from the existing domestically struck marks.”
John Langford, director of British silversmith firm Braybrook & Britten, who created the petition, said: “Enormous effort was put into considering the risk of offshore hallmarking before the Hallmarking Act was amended to allow it.
“What is hard to understand is that there was unanimous agreement that the best way of avoiding consumer confusion and the risk of people ‘passing off’ foreign assayed items as having been assayed in the UK, was to use a different set of marks.”
He said the decision to use the same assay marks will have consequences for UK makers and those UK assay offices which do not have offshore sub-offices.
The petition, which as of publication had 1,030 of the 10,000 signatures needed for a government response, says all four UK assay offices designed specific marks to be used in offshore operations.
Despite this, the Birmingham and Sheffield Assay Offices’ marks have been approved by the British Hallmarking Council to use the same traditional UK hallmarks on items assay in their respective Mumbai and Malpensa assay offices.
Responding to the petition, Stella Layton, CEO and assay master at the Birmingham Assay Office, told Jewellery Focus that the Birmingham Assay Office’s anchor mark is a guarantee that the precious metal content of the item is what the hallmark defines, regardless of where in the world the item was tested and the hallmark applied.
She said: “The application of the anchor town mark outside the UK was legitimately approved by the British Hallmarking Council as required by the current legislation.
“This followed approval for Sheffield Assay Office applying the rose in their sub office in Milan, whilst Edinburgh and London are marking items with their UK town marks as they come off the plane at Heathrow, which has been a legitimate practice since 1999.
“Despite opposition from the assay offices, the import mark which differentiated foreign made from British made goods was abolished in 1999 in line with European single market principles.
“Since then the only town mark that Birmingham has been permitted to strike in the UK is the anchor, regardless of where the item was manufactured.”
She added it was “nonsensical, and totally confusing”, for the customer of the same organisation to use a different mark because the item was marked before it was put on a plane as opposed to when it was offloaded from the plane.
It is believed that the decision has not gone down well with other European assay organisations, which believe the mark could be used to ‘passport’ items into EU markets from countries whose domestic hallmarking standards do not meet their own market regulations.