Hallmarks guarantee quality Dec03

Conservative Members of the European Parliament have succeeded in shelving plans to harmonise the hallmarking of precious metals across Europe. The quality of our gold, silver and platinum in jewellery shops across West Suffolk could have been under threat if the proposed EU Directive had gone through.


Pure gold and silver are soft metals which wear away and lose their shape if made into jewellery without additives. Therefore, manufacturers alloy them with copper or other cheaper metals in order to harden them. This necessary adulteration of precious metals with cheaper ones provides the dishonest with an opportunity for easy fraud. Because of these wide possibilities for deception, the need for standards for precious metals, reinforced by a system of compulsory hallmarking, has long since been recognised.


For more than 700 years, the British hallmarking system has proved to be of great value in guaranteeing quality of precious metals, like gold and silver, offering a control standard for the manufacturer, retailer and consumer.


The British hallmark authenticates the quality of the precious metal purchased, based on an independent assay or analysis. The manufacturer values the hallmark system as it protects him from unfair competition from dishonest competitors who will pass off substandard products at a fraction of the price. Clearly, the hallmark minimises the risk of prosecution for the retailer and deception for the buyer.


The UK has been a signatory to the International Convention on Hallmarking since 1972, allowing the UK Assay Offices to strike the Convention Hallmark recognised by member countries e.g. Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.


Sadly, some European countries such as Italy, France, and Germany, do not have an independently verifiable system of hallmarking that allows their manufacturers to offer similar guarantees to their jewellery retailers and buyers. Italy is Europe's largest jewellery manufacturing nation and its lack of compulsory requirement for hallmarking has contributed to an EU-wide problem of under-carating and fraudulent products.


Despite this, the Italians, who currently hold the EU presidency, insisted on scrapping the independent assay and hallmarking on the grounds that a non-harmonised system in Europe distorts the market. This would have introduced an inferior system of hallmarking, thereby forcing the UK to relax and even abandon its own system. This would have been unacceptable.


As a direct result of intense lobbying from Conservative MEPs, nine EU member governments, including the UK, now oppose the proposal. In May there were only four. Earlier this week a top level committee of EU diplomats therefore decided that no further progress can be made with this directive and withdrew it from the agenda of a forthcoming Ministerial where the proposal was tabled for adoption.


The Italian-driven EU Directive on Precious Metals is a dangerous threat to consumers and the whole industry. It would allow manufacturers and importers in Europe to self-certify their jewellery and put it on the market anywhere in Europe, including the UK, without going through an independent third-party Assay Office. It would be impossible to trace the origin and reliability of any set of marks and it would deprive the buyer of any independent guarantee of quality and so diminish his confidence in the value of all jewellery! I will be working to ensure this proposal is permanently withdrawn from the negotiating table once and for all.