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Blog: Swiss nine carat gold

Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved.

First published: 12 January 2016, last updated 24 November 2023.

I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.

I have done a lot of research into the hallmarking of imported watches, but one thing that had eluded me until recently was how the Swiss dealt with nine carat gold. There was a big market for nine carat gold items in the UK after it was made a legal standard in 1854, but it was not a legal standard in Switzerland until 1933, so what did the Swiss watch manufacturers do - miss out on a big chunk of the market in the UK? Not likely! Read on below for the full story . . .

This is from my page about Swiss hallmarking that can be found at Swiss Hallmarks.

If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.


Nine and 12 Carat Gold

Nine, 12 and 15 carat gold were made legal standards in Britain 1854. These lower standards of gold quickly became very popular because items made from them could legally be called “gold” but they were cheaper than the only previous legal standards of 22 and 18 carats, 9 carat gold in particular was much cheaper.

Note that it is only legal to call items gold that are made from one of the legal standards. It is illegal to refer to gold plated, rolled gold or gold filled items as simply gold although it is frequently done by amateur sellers who don't know that the full description must be used,; caveat emptor.

Nine carat gold contains 9 / 24 = 0.375 or 37.5% gold by weight, the rest is varying amounts of silver, copper and other elements to give different colours. The standards of 12 and 15 carat gold were replaced in 1932 by a 14 carat standard.

Before 1880, a small proportion of 18 carat gold Swiss watch cases were sent to England to be marked with British hallmarks before 1888. On the continent, 14 carat was a popular standard for gold, but 14 carat gold cases couldn't be hallmarked in Britain because it was not a legal British standard of fineness. The Swiss Precious Metals Control Act of 1880 specified two legal standards of fineness for gold, 18 and 14 carat. Swiss watches with 18 or 14 carat gold cases imported into Britain after 1880 carry Swiss hallmarks.


Mark in nine carat gold Swiss watch case

The lack of official Swiss legal recognition for nine and twelve carat gold meant that nine carat gold cases could not be assayed or hallmarked in a Swiss Bureau de Contrôle. This did not stop Swiss watch manufacturers from wanting a share of the large and growing market for watches with cheaper gold cases in Britain, and there was nothing to stop them making cases from one of these standards of gold, but the lack of an official Swiss hallmark was a problem.

Until 1888, nine and twelve carat gold Swiss watch cases could be hallmarked in a British assay office with traditional British hallmarks. This was entirely voluntary and most Swiss watch manufacturers didn't bother. But some did. English watch manufacturers objected to this, so from 1888 onwards new British hallmarks for imported watches with the word "Foreign" across the middle were specified. This effectively put a stop to the practice of getting any gold or silver Swiss watch cases assayed and hallmarked in Britain until 1907. This is discussed further on my page British hallmarking.

This left a problem for Swiss watch manufacturers. The British Merchandise Marks Act which introduced the new hallmarks for foreign watch cases, also banned the import of gold and silver watch cases that were not hallmarked. Watch cases of 18 and 14 carat gold could be hallmarked in Switzerland, and these Swiss hallmarks were allowed by the British Customs authorities. But 9 and 12 carat gold cases could not be hallmarked in Switzerland, so from 1888 Swiss watch case manufacturers simply applied their own official looking marks to 9 and 12 carat gold watch cases.

The picture here shows a crown stamp on the inside case back of a Swiss ladies' cocktail watch. The case has stamped on the underside of both the fixed lugs a "9" on its side followed by "375", so it is clearly 9 carat gold. The crown mark in the image is stamped twice inside the case back. These are not official British or Swiss hallmarks, they are marks that the case maker put onto the case that look sufficiently official that British customs and customers in Britain would be convinced that the case was in fact 9 carat gold.

If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.


Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved. This page updated January 1970. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.