Assay Office to export its skills

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Sheffield Assay Office is targeting business abroad after winning a four-year campaign to allow British Offices to hallmarking items outside the UK.

The Sheffield Office has a reputation for pioneering new innovations in the centuries old service.

Now, Assay Master Ashley Carson is pushing hard to ensure that it will be the first of Britain’s four offices to set up an operation on the Continent.

He believes the Sheffield Office could have staff overseas by the middle of the year and says the change in the law will allow British Assay Offices to compete in Europe with the Dutch, who have been a constant threat to their business.

“There are quite a few companies that have been lobbying us to do this for ages,” said Mr Carson. “Companies that we are talking to are looking at potential savings of up to £1 million on their costs.”

Mr Carson says UK hallmarks are recognised across the world as “the hallmark to have.”

However, an overseas jewellery manufacturer that wants a British mark currently has to send his jewellery to a distributor, who dispatches it to a British Assay Office, which tests it, marks it and then sends it back.

Following the law change, testing and marking will still have to be carried out by Assay Office staff, so British jobs wouldn’t be lost, but the staff can now be based abroad, at the jewellery firm’s own factory.

“We would effectively take over part of their premises and put in an Assay Office to carry out testing and marking. One or two staff would go out on a rotational basis and work there,” says Mr Carson.

The change in the law would bring other benefits, too.

At present, hallmarks are made on jewellery after it has been finished and polished.

Over the years hallmarks have become smaller and new processes like laser marking have been introduced in a bid to avoid the need to re-finish the jewellery after it has been assayed.

Assaying and marking during production would allow hallmarks to be bigger, easier to read and stamped, rather than lasered on, making them more aesthetically pleasing for customers.

Mr Carson has praised the support the changes to the law received from local MPs, led by Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield.

Mr Blomfield said: “Sheffield Assay Office has played an important role in the UK for 240 years. I’m delighted that they’ll now be able to compete internationally and extend their activities beyond the UK. This will not only just be good for the Assay Office but also for the regional economy.”