Birmingham jewellery experts are looking forward to new business opportunities after a new law meaning the precious metal palladium can be legally hallmarked.
The Birmingham Assay Office, the biggest in the world, has begun hallmarking palladium products in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter.
Hallmarking of palladium will be voluntary until January 1 2010, when it will become a legal requirement for any items weighing over one gram.
Palladium, one of the platinum group metals, shares a similar look and properties to platinum but is about 12 per cent harder and slightly whiter.
Importantly, it is much lighter and therefore significantly less expensive.
At a time when the price of platinum remains high, palladium may offer an appealing alternative to consumers, especially during the recession.
Birmingham Assay Office chief executive Michael Allchin said: “Palladium provides a new opportunity for the jewellery trade. Designs which may have been impossibly heavy or expensive in platinum can be very attractive and commercially viable in palladium.
“There are already some stunning palladium pieces on the market; the re-assurance of a UK hallmark will give the consumer added protection and confidence when purchasing palladium jewellery and we expect this to be a significant growth area for the industry.”
The hallmarking process provides a guarantee of quality for the consumer, with the recognised fineness standards for palladium to be 500 parts per thousand, 950 parts per thousand and 999 parts per thousand.
Marion Wilson, marketing director for the Birmingham Assay Office, expected most pieces to be of the 950 parts per thousand standard. She said: “We are expecting the market to grow and expect to see a big influx of items coming out. Many manufacturers have been waiting to have their pieces hallmarked for a very long time.”
She remained positive despite the downturn, saying: “There are still people with money to spend who like something new and different. It’s not the best of times economically but I definitely think [palladium] will be successful.”
The introduction of the hallmark will cement palladium’s standing in the jewellery trade but it is already being used across the sector. The Jewellery Quarter is still responsible for 40 per cent of the UK’s jewellery and could therefore substantially benefit from any increase in demand.
Retailers already using palladium were upbeat about the prospects.
Richard Sutton, managing director of Jewellery Quarter-based jewellery manufacturer Charles Green, said the hallmark was important because it “tells that little story” about the piece of jewellery by including the maker’s mark and date. He added: “It provides that little guarantee.”
Charles Green has had good sales of palladium and expects to see an increase with the new hallmark. Mr Sutton said: “We are selling palladium instead of platinum, especially to men. Men’s heavier wedding rings can be particularly expensive, and people are choosing the more affordable option.”
He thought this was “undoubtedly” partly due to tight finances in the recession.
Charles Green will have all its palladium products hallmarked, even though this remains voluntary until 2010, and will be introducing a new range of palladium products.
But Christopher Green, director of Crystalink Jewellery Manufacturing, specialists in certified diamond and gem set jewellery, was less enthusiastic. He thought that, despite the high price of platinum, people were still favouring the metal, saying: “Platinum is still very, very popular. It remains the best material, and people still want the best. The only time we use palladium is for a wedding ring but we very rarely use it.”
However, Mr Green said the introduction of the hallmark could have a positive effect and he would use more palladium if demand increased.
Lord Drayson, the Minister of Science for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, first proposed the motion to introduce a hallmark for palladium. An amendment was added to the Hallmarking Act of 1973.