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stamped and trademarked jewelryStamping and Marking Regulations

From Jewelry Metals: A Guide to Working with Common Alloys (MJSA Press).

Disclosing Gold Content | Disclosing Silver Content | Disclosing Platinum Content

Introduction

The legal standards for stamping and marking fine jewelry, along with base-metal jewelry either bonded or plated with precious metals, are primarily based on two sources that act in combination.

1. The National Gold and Silver Stamping Act, voted into law in 1905 and amended several times since, regulates how gold and silver jewelry should be stamped with quality marks and trademarks. Violating the act can mean forfeiting merchandise, paying monetary penalties, and serving jail time. It also allows competitors and jewelry trade associations to bring lawsuits against any violators.

2. The Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries establish the standards that the federal agency applies to claims made by jewelers in all marketing materials, including labeling, advertising, and other merchandising. Note: As of mid-2014, the FTC was considering revisions to its guides. These revisions include the possible addition of standards for palladium jewelry, which is not currently addressed by the FTC. For updates, visit ftc.gov or contact MJSA or the Jewelers Vigilance Committee website.

Despite popular belief, US law does not require makers of precious metal jewelry to stamp an item with its precious metal content. The law does require the following:

• If a manufacturer uses the term "gold," "silver," "sterling" or "platinum" to describe a product, then the manufacturer must disclose the precious metal content-unless the precious metal content is pure or almost pure. See below for specific rules about disclosing precious metal content. (As noted earlier, guidelines for palladium are pending.)

• If a jewelry maker wants to stamp jewelry by its quality or "fineness" (e.g., "14 gold," "925 sterling silver," or "950 platinum"), then, in addition to the fineness stamp, the maker must stamp the metal with its federally registered trademark. This second stamp, which should be in proximity to the quality mark, indicates that the maker is liable for the amount of precious metal the jewelry contains.

Here are basic practices you need to know-and do-to be compliant with the guides for specific precious metals.

Rules for Disclosing Gold Content

• Gold jewelry in the United States is traditionally described by its karatage. Only items that are pure gold can be identified solely as "gold." If gold is combined with any other alloying element, the amount of gold in the piece must be disclosed. In the United States, that generally means describing gold as 22k, 18k, 14k, and 10k. An alloy that is less than 10k gold can no longer be described as karat gold in the United States. (Note: Other countries do acknowledge 8k and 9k gold alloys. For example, in Great Britain, 9k gold jewelry is popular.)

• How accurate must karatage be? Legally, karat gold can be under karat by no more than three parts per thousand of gold. A piece containing solder is an exception: It can be below karat by up to seven parts per thousand.

U.S. Gold Tolerances

Karatage

Minimum
% Weight of Gold Allowed

Tolerance
(% weight)

Minimum % Weight of Gold Allowed, with Tolerance

   

without solder

with
solder

without solder

with
solder

24k

99.95

0.3

0.7

99.65

99.25

18k

75.00

0.3

0.7

74.70

74.30

14k

58.33

0.3

0.7

58.03

57.63

10k

41.67

0.3

0.7

41.37

40.97

• When determining the quantity (by weight) of gold in karat gold items, you need not include specific components that are exempted by the FTC guides. They include "springs, posts, and separable backs of lapel buttons, posts and nuts for attaching interchangeable ornaments, metallic parts completely and permanently encased in a nonmetallic covering, field pieces and bezels for lockets, and wire pegs or rivets used for applying mountings and other ornaments."

• If a piece is either bonded to gold to or plated with gold, there are specific descriptions that can be used, based on the layer’s weight (in the case of bonded metals) or the thickness of its plating.

o   Gold filled (GF)/gold overlay (GO)/rolled gold plate (RGP): A layer of gold is bonded to all surfaces by mechanical means, and the weight of the gold is a minimum of 1/20 of the total weight of the metal. The karat quality of the gold layer must be identified (e.g., "10k gold filled").
o   Gold overlay/rolled gold plate: A layer of mechanically bonded gold that is less than 1/20 of the total weight of the metal but not less than 1/40 of the total weight. These gold-layered items must be described with the fraction, karatage, and type (e.g., "1/40 10k RGP" or "1/40 10k gold overlay").

  • For gold-filled, gold overlay, and rolled gold plate items (other than watchcases), the FTC guides offer the following exemptions: "joints, catches, screws, pin stems, pins of scarf pins, hat pins, etc., field pieces and bezels for lockets, posts and separate backs of lapel buttons, bracelet and necklace snap tongues, springs, and metallic parts completely and permanently encased in a nonmetallic covering."
  • Karat gold can also be plated to another metal surface, mechanically or via electroplating, and identified by its thickness. There are a number of allowed names for this kind of plating, and in most cases, the karat quality of the gold plate must be disclosed.

o   Heavy gold electroplate(d)/HGE: A layer of gold that has a minimum thickness of 100 millionths of an inch (e.g., "10k HGE").
o   Gold plate: A layer of gold that has a minimum thickness of 20 millionths of an inch (e.g., "14k gold plate").
o   Gold electroplate(d)/GEP: A layer of gold that has a minimum thickness throughout of 7 millionths of an inch (e.g., "14k GEP").
o   Gold flashed or gold washed: A layer of gold that meets the minimum fineness required to use the term gold (10k and above), but doesn’t meet the minimum thicknesses stated above (e.g., "10k gold washed").
o   Vermeil: A layer of gold over sterling silver that has a minimum thickness throughout of 100 millionths of an inch. The karat quality of the gold can be added but is not required (e.g., "10k vermeil").

  • When a piece of jewelry is made only of karat gold and sterling silver (but not plated gold over silver), then the description or quality mark must indicate both the sterling content and the karatage of the gold (e.g., "Sterling 14k" or "18k 925"). The silver is identified first unless the weight of the gold content is one-half or more of the entire weight of the article.

o   In the case of sterling and white gold, because in this case the metals are the same color, the karatage must be accompanied by a fraction representing the proportion of the weight of the gold to the entire weight of the metal in the article (e.g., "Sterling and 1/5 14k" or "1/2 14k Sterling").

• The FTC guides also list specific exemptions for items that combine silver and gold: "joints, catches, screws, pin stems, pins of scarf pins, hat pins, etc., posts and separable backs of lapel buttons, springs, and metallic parts completely and permanently encased in a nonmetallic covering."

Rules for Disclosing Silver Content

Sterling silver: These pieces must contain at least 925 parts per thousand by weight of pure silver. How accurate must your description be? Legally, it cannot be off by more than four parts per thousand by weight of silver, except if the piece contains solder. Then it can be off by 10 parts per thousand.

Coin silver: These pieces must contain 900 parts per thousand by weight of pure silver. They cannot be labeled silver, sterling or solid silver. The tolerances for accuracy for coin silver are the same as for sterling silver. Coin silver lacks whiteness, compared to sterling. With the exception of its appropriateness for reticulation, coin silver is not used commercially for jewelry.

Silver coated or silver plate: The FTC guides provide no minimum thickness requirements, as they do with gold coverings; instead they state that all "significant surfaces" of a coated or plated piece must be of "substantial thickness" to provide a durable covering over the base metal to which it has been affixed. When determining this, the amount of wear to which a surface will be subjected must be considered.

• The FTC guides offer the following exemptions when determining the quantity (by weight) in a silver item: "screws, rivets, springs, spring pins for wrist watch straps; posts and separable backs of lapel buttons; wire pegs, posts, and nuts used for applying mountings or other ornaments, which mountings or ornaments shall be of the quality marked; pin stems (e.g., of badges, brooches, emblem pins, hat pins, and scarf pins, etc.); levers for belt buckles; blades and skeletons of pocket knives; field pieces and bezels for lockets; bracelet and necklace snap tongues; any other joints, catches, or screws; and metallic parts completely and permanently encased in a nonmetallic covering."

Rules for Disclosing Platinum Content

Alloys containing at least 950 parts per thousand of platinum: This jewelry can be marked or described as platinum with no qualifications, though it is also fine to state its platinum content. Other metals used don’t have to be listed.

Alloys containing at least 850 and less than 950 parts per thousand of platinum: This jewelry can be marked platinum, but the parts per thousand of platinum must be listed.

Alloys containing at least 500 and less than 850 parts per thousand of platinum, and at least 950 parts per thousand of platinum group metals (PGMs): This jewelry can be described and marked platinum, or an abbreviation, but the name and amount of each platinum group metal must be indicated (e.g., "600Pt./350Ir."; "550Plat./350Ru./50Irid."). Note: Abbreviation, punctuation, and spacing style can vary.

Alloys containing at least 500 and less than 850 parts per thousand of platinum, and less than 950 parts per thousand of PGMs, and base metals (such as copper and cobalt): This jewelry can be marked platinum, but the amount of each metal alloy also must be included in the marking (e.g., "600Pt./300Co./100Cu."; "500Plat./300Co./200Cu").

o   In labeling, promoting, and advertising such products, the FTC requires that each metal be described by its full name, using percentages rather than the "parts per thousand" marking (e.g., "60 percent platinum, 30 percent cobalt, 10 percent copper"). The percentages indicated must total 100 percent.
o   Also, the seller must disclose how the product differs from traditional platinum immediately following the name or description of the product-in terms of durability, luster, density, scratch resistance, tarnish resistance, hypoallergenic properties, ability to be resized or repaired, and retention of precious metal over time-unless the seller has "competent and reliable scientific evidence" that the alloy does not differ materially from traditional platinum products.

Alloys containing less than 500 parts per thousand of platinum: These jewelry products may not be marked or called platinum.

• When determining the quantity (by weight) of platinum in an item, you need not include specific components that are exempted by the FTC guides. They include "springs, winding bars, sleeves, crown cores, mechanical joint pins, screws, rivets, dust bands, detachable movement rims, hat-pin stems, and bracelet and necklace snap tongues." 

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