September 2021 saw the British Hallmarking Council’s Touchstone Award presented for the first time in two years, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic like many other occasions and awards. With early confirmation that CTSI Symposium was taking place in Birmingham, Council members took a bold decision to go ahead with the Award to recognise the enforcement activities undertaken by local authority trading standards services over an extended two-year period.
We were rewarded by an excellent series of submissions, which showed the resilience of local authority trading standards services over this period and underlined the importance and variety of positive outcomes that this enforcement service provides to the precious metal sector and jewellery trade in the UK.
Two submissions in particular stood out: the winning submission from SCOTSS (The Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland), and also a submission from Hertfordshire Trading Standards, which was Highly Commended.
2021 Winners: SCOTSS
SCOTSS coordinated and organised two projects by Scottish local authorities that centred around sales of jewellery, firstly from ‘bricks and mortar’ premises, and as a follow-up a second linked operation centred around sales from online platforms. In the first operation, 20 local authorities took part and visited a total of 234 premises across Scotland. Some 23 of the 234 premises inspected were discovered to be offering for sale items of jewellery in breach of hallmarking requirements – a 10% failure rate. This related to non-hallmarked or incorrectly marked articles of jewellery (not exempt) being described as gold, silver, platinum or palladium. A total of 1,553 articles of jewellery were examined in the course of the project, with 247 precious metal articles found to be either not hallmarked or incorrectly marked, a failure rate of 15.9%. A significant issue in premises was the failure to display the compulsory ‘Dealer’s Notice’ that gives information on hallmarking for consumer information.
Nine local authorities took part in the online project with 43 websites inspected, the majority being small, independent jewellers based within the participating authorities’ boundaries, although some major suppliers were looked at.
The biggest issue reported by authorities was again the lack of the mandatory ‘Dealers Notice’ on 24 of the websites surveyed (56%). Two test purchases were carried out, resulting in five items being tested by the Assay Office. All of these were fully compliant with the requirements of the Hallmarking Act 1973. Some checks were carried out with the Assay Office to verify whether local jewellers owned makers marks registered with them, and to confirm that they regularly sent jewellery to the Assay Office for marking. Out of the 43 online shopfronts inspected, six (14%) resulted in advice being given relating to the application of hallmarks or the description of the metals being used.
It was good to see an active partnership from Edinburgh Assay Office through a training event in Edinburgh for officers of the participating authorities. It was also good to see the support being provided, not just in relation to training but also the provision of staff to accompany officers on their visits where requested and the provision of testing for samples of precious metal jewellery.
Highly Commended: Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire Trading Standards was ‘Highly Commended’ for its work with the online platform Amazon, as Primary Authority.
Following a number of issues with sellers on Amazon’s platform, highlighted by local authorities and also British Hallmarking Council (BHC) representatives, Hertfordshire took action to improve and update Amazon’s Seller Central jewellery advice. Seller Central is a publicly available information and guidance section of Amazon.co.uk, mainly to advise sellers on applicable legislation and guidance for listing their items. Updating the jewellery Seller Central pages ensured that the advice referenced precious metal misdescriptions and referred sellers to Assay Office guidance.
To tackle items wrongly described as gold, Amazon also created a rule in its system to search for problematic listings using targeted keywords. The effect of this rule, which came into effect around May 2021, has been the removal of approximately 5.7 million inaccurately described sale offers. This rule now runs continuously and will catch any further items incorrectly described, thereby preventing them from going on sale in the Amazon store.
This has had a significant impact on preventing the listing of items wrongly described from sale and ensuring that gold jewellery sold by Amazon and by third-party sellers is accurately and correctly advertised, removing inaccurate references to, for example, 8 carats, ct or 333 or 10 carat gold.
Part of the prize for winners of the Touchstone Award 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.
Eight officers from Scottish authorities attended the training event on 16 November, and because of some COVID restrictions on travel from Scotland, two officers from Hertfordshire were also invited to take part. All were treated to a fantastic day of learning about hallmarking and Goldsmiths’ Hall history, led by Dr Robert Organ, the Deputy Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office in London, who had recently retired after 21 years of service, but had generously returned to escort the winning team for the day.
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 lunch courtesy of the Goldsmiths’ Company. Overall it was a fantastic prize and a memorable day for everyone involved.
BHC Chairman Noel Hunter also attended on the day to present the Touchstone Award and individual prizes to the team from Scotland. He commented: “It’s been a real pleasure to present this award to SCOTSS and to Trading Standards Officers from some of the local councils in Scotland that took part in this project. It underlines hallmarking’s place as one of the oldest forms of consumer protection and it is great to see it being embraced alongside all the other demands that are being put on local trading standards at the moment. The fact it involved a Scotland-wide premises-based operation as well as an online element was remarkable, and I am delighted that Edinburgh Assay Office played a key role in supporting it.”
The Touchstone Award is an annual competition sponsored by the British Hallmarking Council to raise awareness of the importance of hallmarking. Details of arrangements for 2022 submissions will be available soon on the BHC website.