What you need to know about jewelry hallmarks

Buying antique or vintage jewelry means first figuring out what it is, where and when it was made, and by whom. That’s why the first thing an experienced buyer will do is hold a piece up to a loupe and examine it for hallmarks. If jewelry has hallmarks and they appear authentic, identifying its value is a whole lot easier.

But many countries – including the U.S. – do not have an official hallmarking system and the hallmarks of one country can vary dramatically from another. How does a budding collector begin to unravel this puzzle?

A trusted dealer can help but if you want to learn to identify jewelry on your own, you’ll need a good guide. There are a few books on the market, but if you want the ultimate, illustrated reference book, be prepared to shell out a couple hundred bucks for World Hallmarks, Volume I: Europe, 19th to 21st Centuries, due out in its second printing this month. As co-author Danusia Niklewicz puts it, “This book will pay for itself with one correctly identified piece.”

I recently spoke to Niklewicz and William Whetstone, who compiled this tome with fellow appraiser Lindy Matula, about the basics of hallmark identification.

Is it common for people to confuse a maker’s mark with a hallmark?

Danusia Niklewicz: Yes, especially in the U.S. where we don’t hallmark goods. On our website people can send in questions about hallmarks and many times we receive maker’s marks instead of hallmarks. People think any maker’s mark is a hallmark and that becomes a problem. Maker’s marks aren’t nearly as well documented as hallmarks.

Many countries don’t offer lists of registered makers or their marks. Even in the U.S. and Canada, there is no requirement to register one’s mark. As a result, there is nowhere to research the identity of a signature or mark. You will only find hallmarks on jewelry made in countries that have laws that require independent testing of metal fineness and that document their makers marks with an official stamp – a government stamp or an independent lab stamp – indicating the results of such testing.

William Whetstone: In many places, especially Europe, it’s required that a maker register their mark at a hallmarking or assaying office so it can be tracked. In most European countries, a secondary system is set up where the assay office tests the pieces and puts their stamps on it to indicate that it was verified by an independent body. It’s similar to gem certification. Most people buying an expensive diamond today want a certificate issued by an independent organization like the GIA. Just like these certified diamonds that are laser-inscribed on the girdle of the diamond with the cert number, a hallmarked item is marked with the results of the testing.


Russian hallmark and maker’s mark

So what kind of assurance am I getting with a maker’s mark?

Whetstone: A maker’s mark can be the manufacturer, the company that sponsored the piece to be made, or the individual craftsman. In any case, whoever is marked on the piece takes the responsibility for it. In countries where they don’t even mark their pieces, the importer becomes the responsible party. Really, a hallmark is about the most important means of consumer protection within the precious metals. In other words, if you’re a maker and you stamp something 18kt, you take responsibility. You’re guaranteeing that it’s 18kt.

Niklewicz: In most European countries, including France and Great Britain, an item is not legal for sale without a hallmark. Germany doesn’t have hallmarking, but it’s the exception. A few countries, like Austria and Norway, have optional hallmarking. Italy doesn’t require hallmarking but it has better registration of the maker, a specific number, so what you see as an Italian mark was placed there by the maker. It’s a little more formal than any other maker’s voluntary marking.


Italian maker’s mark

Does that mean I’m safe buying jewelry made in Italy?

Whetstone: Not necessarily. I think it’s easy to recognize Italian marks but you don’t have the same protection or guarantee unless an item is hallmarked. There was a notoriously famous chain that marked their jewelry 18kt on one side and “Italy” on the other. “Italy” is not a guarantee. So you find the 18kt gold chain you bought is only 14kt gold. Who do you hold responsible? The merchant you bought it from can say, “It’s not my fault. It doesn’t have my trademark on it.” This goes on all the time. Under-karating is rampant in North America.

It’s caveat emptor here?

Whetstone: We were talking to assay masters at a conference in Geneva and they privately say they laugh at the consumer protection system within the U.S. because there is no policing of this.

Niklewicz: The U.S. is missing out on a huge European market because we don’t have the standards they demand. They consider our products generally inferior.

Whetstone: Tiffany & Co. sends jewelry to London to have it hallmarked so they can sell it on the European market. Most jewelry makers don’t realize how fast and inexpensive it is to have jewelry hallmarked now, given modern technology. If you’re selling something for $1,000 or more and it only costs $10 to get it hallmarked, that’s a worthwhile investment. You can also get volume discounts.


French maker’s mark

What can I learn from hallmarks if I’m collecting estate or antique jewelry made in France or other parts of Europe?

Whetstone: In some countries, hallmarks can tell you what city and what year a piece was made. At the very least, they allow you to figure out the country of origin and that’s really important. Somebody recently sent me a picture of an Art Deco piece they thought was French. It wasn’t. It was Egyptian. It was extremely well made. There were a lot of talented craftsmen in Egypt during 1920s who came from France and England and were doing very fine work. But this person thought the piece came from France. Does it make a difference in value if a piece is French Art Deco instead of Eyptian Art Deco? Yes, a big difference.

Does understanding hallmarks mean I can buy antique jewelry on eBay – or is it best to avoid that?

Whetstone: eBay is a viable market, providing you’ve done your research to make sure what you’re looking at is correct. I buy on eBay. One problem with buying on eBay is that I consistently see stuff that is just wrong. I informed a seller recently that something advertised as “made in the 1700s” was actually made in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia. In many cases, mistakes like that are innocent and they thank me and take it down. But that is why you have to read and do your homework before buying.

Want to learn more about evaluating old jewelry? Check out Bill and Danusia’s site, Hallmark Research Institute.

Related posts:

How to buy a jewelry loupe

How to photograph jewelry: tips from the pros

How to spot fake gems in old jewelry

How to buy ancient jewelry for $3,000 or less

Related products:

125 comments for “What you need to know about jewelry hallmarks

  1. gerald
    December 25, 2015 at 9:38 am

    What does 18KGERSC stand for in a ring?

  2. Mandy
    February 1, 2016 at 2:16 am


    I recently purchased a ring with the French eagle on it. The jeweler showed us a book which indicated that this symbol came into use in 1838, but he said the ring dates back further – he guesses to the late 1700s. He said the ring likely wasn’t stamped until it left the country. Based on your expertise, is this possible? Did the hallmarking sometimes happen later or is it only done when the ring is originally made?

    Much thanks!

  3. February 16, 2016 at 3:40 am

    Hi Mandy,

    To answer your question I turned to our HRI Historian William Whetstone that offers his opinion…

    With the strict practices in France the ring should have been hallmarked in the Royalist period up to about 1789, or after circa 1815.In the Revolutionary period (1789 to about 1798) the hallmarking was loosely controlled or non-existent, and in the Napoleonic War period (1798-1815) sometimes very consistent and other times rather chaotic. Though rare, it is possible that a [custom] piece made in the 1790’s may not have been marked, but then hallmarked post 1838, because it resurfaced and was then offered for sale. More than likely it was made post 1838 but in an earlier style. The identification of the maker’s mark should help to solve the problem.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Gloria VELLELEY
    March 11, 2016 at 10:50 pm


    I have a Gold pendant, which I believe is German in origin circa 1918/1920.
    It has a white latticework basket holding five pink Roses.
    My jeweller says he thinks the hallmark is a Fox.

  5. HRI
    March 20, 2016 at 4:05 am

    A quick google search shows that the website KGB Answers found your mark… they say it is…. (Note: they use the word hallmark but it is not a hallmark, just the required stamping legally required in the USA)

    18 karat “Gold Electroplate” made by the R.S Covenant Jewelry (hence, the GERSC hallmark).

  6. Yanyan
    May 19, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Hi, Catheleen,

    I have recently purchased a ring at auction. I have identified it as French 18ct gold, with a eagle’s head. There is also a maker’s mark which I am desperately trying to find out about, but has not been successful. Is there any way I can send you a image of this mark to have a look ?

    Thank you and in hope.


  7. Jay
    June 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve recently purchased a Tiffany 1837 18K ring on eBay. The ring actually has three separate sets of hallmarks. One on the outside reading “750 T&CO 1837”
    And One on the inside reading “© Tiffany & Co. 750” but then there is the third Hallmark inside the ring it is extremely small. Using a 40X Loupe I can see the tiny Hallmark is made up of five tiny marks. I can only make out one of the marks and it’s a very tiny “750”. What do the tiny hallmarks represent? They are so small they are barely readable with a 40 X Loop! I’ve never seen such small Hallmarks and was just curious what do they mean? Thank you so much! Always enjoy reading here.

  8. Yanyan
    June 2, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Hi, Jay,

    It sounds like a set of UK hallmark, I had a Tiffany necklace before, which was doubled up with UK hallmark in addition to Tiffany’s own. A typical set of UK hallmark consists of maker mark, metal fineness mark, assay office mark and date letter, it sometimes has a 5th mark, which is a traditional fineness mark.

  9. Gg
    June 12, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    What does the marking on a piece of jewelry mean when it is stamped Italy Als?

  10. Sharon
    June 18, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I have a ring i think its sterling silver it has the hallmarks SE then something that looks similar to something like a tulip bud and stem with a long tulip leaf either side thats the best way to describe it anyway sorry then theres a lion and then the letter E ive done a bit of research not much i think it comes from Birmingham and dates to 1980 im not sure. The ring has small orange stones would anybody know what they are please thanks. I doubt it’s worth anything i wanted to see if anyone might be able to figure the hallmarks out.

  11. Debbie
    July 5, 2016 at 8:02 am

    I have a ring bought in a Belguim diamond house, the only marks on it are 7 X 0.06 . It is supposed to be 18ct diamond ring. Is this the hallmark?

  12. HRI
    July 6, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Here is another multi person address…

    Gloria, a fox hallmark could be an Austrian hallmark used till 1922 on 580 gold. It would need to be verified to be sure.

    Yanyan, yes you can send the image via our website. Thanks for helping a fellow blogger. It is amazing how small some hallmarks can get!

    Gg, unless the AI is actually AL for Alessandria, there is not much more to be said other than it might be from Italy.

    Sharon, what you are describing should have an anchor if from the Birmingham Assay Office. Go to their website to know for sure.

    Debbie, the mark you have sounds like you have seven small stones (diamonds?) that weigh 0.06 cts each. No mark otherwise?

    Hope that helps!

  13. Gloria VELLELEY
    July 6, 2016 at 11:35 pm


    Thank you for the information about the hallmark I asked about.
    The pendant belonged to my mother and it was given to her by her father on her 18th birthday (1920) on his return from working in Germany. Austrian hallmark sounds good. The design is lacquered on the front. My grand-daughter will inherit it from me! I’m guessing it will be ‘Antique’ in 2020.

  14. Rafi Markus
    July 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I inherited from my mother a beautiful bracelet with watch. I would like to attach some photographs to an email message.
    My parents bought it in the early 1960s in Italy, in San Marino, if I remember correctly. (I was a child and cannot be sure.)
    This piece carries a jeweler’s or master’s mark CGA or ACG which I have not been able to trace on the internet.
    Rafi Markus

  15. Jet
    July 11, 2016 at 2:49 am

    I have recently acquired an edwardian lavalier with baroque pearl seed beads and possibly a tiny saphire in the center. It is marked 10k and then what appears to be either a crescent moon, or the letter C slightly seperate however followed by an H connected to an L , and I have been unable to find a similar mark online. At first I thought it was either a Krementz or Larter and sons mark done sideways to the 10k, however there is clearly a straight line at the bottom resembling an L if viewed horizontally right after the 10k CH.
    Thank you,

  16. Suzanne Candell
    July 13, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Hello, thank you for your very informative website. I purchased a beautiful ring in Arezzo from a reputable antique dealer. It is signed and numbered inside. I have a 10x loupe, and found what I believe to be the (very tiny) hallmarks on the outside of the bottom of the woven ring shank. The white gold strand is marked, the yellow gold strand is marked, and there is a third mark that appears to be an S. Is it possible for legitimate hallmarks to be on the outside of the ring? Thank you.

  17. Gail
    August 4, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Found a gold band possibly a wedding ring digging in my backyard..My house is the oldest house in the area around the 1850’s and was a hotel in the 1800’s.. The ring is about 1/4 in. in diameter, it has 4 marking in the inside and one on the outside, with which appears to be a intrigue pattern.
    The four marking are a crown, 18 ,cat face, a mask it could possibly be a shield and the letter D. On the outside was also a letter D which my jeweler found. All he could tell me is that it was very ,very old

  18. Mike
    August 11, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    I have a pendant marked kt18 instead of 18kt also the chain is marked 824 and 585
    Is the chain 18k over sterling? And is it common to mark kt18.

  19. laney gregg
    August 19, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    I have a yellow gold necklace. The only marking is a square on the clasp. No other letters or numbers anywhere. Also,a yellow gold bracelet that looks like a pineapple w/2 letters inside. One appears to be a cursive L but I have no idea what the other is. Please help me! The square mark may have like a diamond chip in the center. I can’t tell. Sometimes the way the light hits it.thank you so much!

  20. liz marshall
    August 29, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Hi I am studying a course on hallmarking does any one know what hallmark I would expect to see on an 18ct yellow gold wedding band thst has been convention hallmarked in austria I do know the austrias convention state assay mark thsnkyou liz from yorkshire

  21. Bobbie
    August 31, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Hello my wedding set has a stamp on it that says GM with a diamond symbol in-between the GM does any one know what that means?

  22. Teeka
    September 21, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Hi there… I’ve been searching and searching to identify a hallmark to no avail. I recently found a beautiful silver ring with a large blue stone (not sure what the stone is) set in 10k gold. The inside is stamped 925, 10k and A/©. I’ve looked through countries lists of hallmarks, but nothing…. Any ideas?

  23. October 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I have a bracelet marked with a “VI” on both sides of the clasp. It seems like it could be costume but also is very high nice quality.. somewhere in between. I don’t know how to take it as. Any help with the “VI” mark? Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *