Have you ever puzzled over the markings stamped on your fine gold jewelry? Depending on its country of origin, age, and maker, your gold item may be stamped with a variety of different markings such as a maker’s mark, a retailer’s mark, a mark to indicate the gold purity, a serial number, or a date mark. Deciphering these different markings can be a challenge! Some of the more common marks indicating gold purity are explained below.
Many modern gold pieces are clearly stamped with the purity of gold used (for example 9K, 10K, 14K, 18K, or 22K). This makes it easy on you! These markings are based on a 24 karat scale. Therefore, 14K gold is 58.3% pure gold (14/24 = 58.3), 18K gold is 75% pure (18/24 = 75%), and so on.
Some pieces are marked with the K preceding the number (K10, K14, etc.), or the abbreviation ct. may be used such as 10ct. or 14ct. Some Victorian pieces are even marked 1K0 (a 10 with a K in the middle) for 10K gold.
English and European items are often stamped with a three digit number to indicate the gold purity. ding the number (K10, K14, etc.), or the abbreviation ct. may be used such as 10ct. or 14ct. Some Victorian pieces are even marked 1K0 (a 10 with a K in the middle) for 10K gold.
375 or .375 = 9K gold (37.5% pure)
500 or .500 = 12K gold (50% pure)
585 or .585 = 14K gold (58.3% pure)
625 or .625 = 15K gold (62.5% pure)
750 or .750 = 18K gold (75% pure)
800 or .800 = 19.2K gold (91.2% pure)
916 or .916 = 22K gold (91.6% pure)
999 or .999 = 24K gold (99.9% pure)
Various purities are considered standard in various countries. For example, 19.2K gold is the standard purity in Portugal, but it is seldom used elsewhere. 12K and 15K gold were widely used in Britain during the Victorian era, but these standards were discontinued in 1932 in favor of 14K gold. In France 18K gold is the standard, and lower purities are not permitted. 22K gold is the standard in India and some neighboring countries.
Here are some further resources to help you understand your gold jewelry:
For a more complete review of European gold hallmarks, consult Poinçons d’or, de platine et de palladium (International hallmarks on gold and platinum) by Tardy. Sadly this book is out of print, but you may be able to get it through your library. Or better yet, make friends with your local dealer, and ask if you can flip through their copy!
In addition to a mark for the gold purity, English pieces are also hallmarked with a maker’s mark, year mark, and perhaps a duty mark. You can find detailed information on these marks in Jackson’s Hallmarks: English, Scottish, Irish Silver and Gold Marks from 1300 to the Present Day edited by Ian Pickford. This book is available in a handy pocket edition that you can easily take along as you search for your next treasure.
American pieces are often stamped with a maker’s mark. One helpful source in determining the maker for your older piece of American jewelry is American Jewelry Manufacturers by Dorothy T. Rainwater.