In June 2022 the British Hallmarking Council (BHC) Touchstone Award was presented at the CTSI Conference in Bristol. One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of the Touchstone Special Recognition Award to intellectual property protection specialists WRi Group by National Association of Jewellers Chair Heather Callaway and BHC Chair Noel Hunter OBE.
As local authority services continue to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has severely reduced the capacity of Trading Standards services, the BHC took the opportunity to recognise WRi for the outstanding support that the company and its founder Graham Mogg have shown to the BHC and the Assay Offices in detecting and tracking unhallmarked and non-compliant jewellery being sold online in the UK.
2022 Winners: WRi Group – Special Recognition Award
In a departure from the normal enforcement-based Touchstone applications, WRi carried out two significant online research projects that centred around sales of jewellery to consumers through the major UK platforms, a sector of the jewellery market that is of priority interest to the BHC.
The objective of the work, agreed with BHC, was to gain a better understanding of the threat posed by the online trade in fake and non-compliant gold and gold jewellery. An early piece of work carried out in 2019 led directly into the more recent 2021 research, which highlighted the following three main threat areas to the sector:
- Items being sold as gold without a hallmark, in contravention of the Hallmarking Act 1973
- Items claiming to bear a UK hallmark but which are in fact made of inferior metal or have forged hallmarks
- Items bearing hallmarks from outside the UK, causing a potential loss of revenue to the Assay Offices
The April 2021 research identified in more detail:
- More than 65,000 listings found on identified online marketplaces during the survey period
- 15,000 listings used the word ‘hallmark’ in the text – 390 of which appeared to be below the price of ‘scrap gold’
- 50,877 listings were found with no reference to ‘hallmark’ in the advert
- 48,753 suspected infringing listings where no hallmark was detected were found on one particular platform
- 52% of the sellers of these listings were found to be based in and around the London area
- 14,902 social media posts were found referring to the sale of gold globally
- Facebook had 1,142 listings and 321 user profiles
- 123 separate ‘.co.uk’ domains were found to be selling ‘gold’ products – there was a range of items on offer and some websites had links to either social media platforms or physical retail outlets
- £1,007,800 (circa £1m) potential infringer revenue from suspicious listings.
The findings clearly indicated the platform that posed the greatest online threat from ‘marketplaces’ in the UK, with listings making up a total of 52% of the data captured relating to sellers across that particular global platform. The data captured also provided detail on the number of potentially ‘suspicious’ listings based on the price of the items listed for sale.
Using the data collected by the project team, the BHC created an infographic which highlighted key findings and published it together with press releases from the BHC and Assay offices. This generated a lot of media interest in the problems facing the industry from online marketplaces and platforms, and informed both internal and external partners, as well as consumers, as to the ongoing threats from these online sales of gold and precious metal jewellery. It also helped focus the work of the BHC and Assay Offices in tackling this area of hallmarking work and supporting local authority Trading Standards services in their crucial role.
Part of the prize for the winning team is a training and information day at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, the base of the Goldsmiths’ Company and the London Assay Office, a magnificent venue that has been on the site since 1337.
Five members of staff from WRi, including CEO and founder Graham Mogg, attended the training event on 22 November 2022. All were treated to a fantastic day of learning about hallmarking and Goldsmiths’ Hall history, led by Adam Phillips, the Customer Service Manager of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London, who is a Freeman of the Company and the City of London.
The day included a detailed and instructive look at the hallmarking operation, from use of metal punches to the latest technology with XRF testing and laser hallmarking. There was also a tour of the Goldsmiths’ Hall building and the variety of uses it has been put to over the years, a presentation on hallmarking and current and historical issues, and a fabulous lunch courtesy of the Goldsmiths’ Company. Overall it was a fantastic prize and a memorable day for everyone involved.
BHC Chairman Noel Hunter OBE also attended on the day to present the Touchstone Special Recognition Award and individual prizes to the team from WRi. He commented: “The UK Hallmarking Act (1973) was put in place to protect consumers and honest retail jewellers, from sellers of non-compliant articles as well as counterfeits, but the application of the legislation to online trading activity remains untested and we have seen little appetite from some online platforms to adequately protect consumers.
“The work done by WRi highlights just a fraction of the infringements made by online sellers of precious metal goods in the UK and is giving BHC the evidence it needs to be proactive and to seek to strengthen enforcement powers where necessary to reduce detriment in the industry, both for business and for consumers.”
The Touchstone Award is an annual competition sponsored by the British Hallmarking Council to raise awareness of the importance of hallmarking.
Trading Standards teams can apply for the 2023 Touchstone Award here.