Are You Getting Bullion For Your Buck?

Not all hallmarks at gold retailers in Singapore’s Little India are made equal 

5/8/2017 1:40:36 PM
written By : Nivruthi Prasad Print

During festivals such as Akshaya Tritiya and Dhanteras, Little India’s jewellers are abuzz with activity. Bright posters scream attractive offers and customers flock to jewellers, eager for a nugget of gold and good luck. After all, gold is more than just an asset to Indians, it holds immense religious and sentimental value as well. Jewellers are quick to cash in on these sentiments - but are you truly getting what you pay for?

Many gold retailers here are quick to claim that their gold is “916-hallmarked”. What does this magic number mean? And are all 916-hallmarked gold items cut from the same cloth? To understand more, India Se magazine recently went on a tour of the Singapore Assay Office (SAO), organised by gold jeweller Poh Heng in partnership with SAO. The SAO is the only industry accredited authority here, under Singapore Test Services (STS), that conducts tests of precious metal authentication. The tour of the SAO facilities took us through the sophisticated testing process, which involves X-Ray and fire assaying, one of the most accurate assaying methods.

Assaying, which is not mandatory in Singapore, may be an unfamiliar term to many gold buyers. Yet, say experts, it is a crucial process that sets apart the gold standard from the sub-standard-in other words, it determines the purity of the gold you buy. For instance, said Pamela Seow, senior executive at Poh Heng, the 916 stamp on gold jewellery supposedly indicates that you are paying for jewellery that contains at least 91.6% of gold, after mixing alloys to strengthen the metal for crafting jewellery. But here is the twist: SAO assay tests have revealed that even gold items previously stamped with ‘916’ can still contain less than 91.6 per cent pure gold. 

This is because the stamp may often be given by suppliers themselves after in-house assaying, and is not always a guarantee of the gold’s authenticity, added Poh Heng’s Seow. This is why SAO-certified gold retailers like Poh Heng don’t just take their suppliers’ word for it — they go the extra mile to get all of their gold jewellery assayed at SAO, even if their suppliers claim to have done it already. Samples are randomly selected from every batch of jewellery, cut up, and put through the assay process. From pendants to clasps, every single part of the jewellery piece is tested. If even a small component of the jewellery is of a lower quality than what the jeweller has claimed, it fails the assaying test and is deemed sub-standard. Most jewellers who assay their gold also have them hallmarked with the SAO’s signature hallmarking stamps to indicate they have passed the test — the SAO Lionhead, the standard fineness mark, and the jeweller’s mark. Even jewellery that is shy of the stated fineness by just a few decimal points cannot be hallmarked — the standards are that rigorous. To uphold assaying standards, the SAO also participates in the annual Round Robin Test Programme held by the International Association of Assay Offices (IAAO), where the different member countries conduct peer-testing to ensure that assaying methods are standardised and applied correctly across the industry.

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